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Help with my Big Picture + perennial forage forest/polyculture mix

 
Posts: 9
Location: NC Foothills, Zone 7a, 49 in. rainfall.
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Hi,

First time poster, love the site.


The main, more timely goal here is to review my polyculture seed mix. Feel free to skim and skip to that part. But I'd love any input on my Big Picture, too!


Here's an outline of this long-ish post, followed by the main questions. Details are below the outline and questions.

1. My current knowledge level, the nature of my land, and mid- and long-term goals
2. Current plan
3. The tentative seed mix


Here are the questions (in summary form):

Q1. Does the overview I provide below sound sensible? Any big picture problems?
Q2.  Any specifics you'd change in the seed mix candidates and the strategy this year for seeding?
Q3. I want to take the "cheap and lazy" approach. If I don't fence the 1.5-2 acre zone 3/pasture area in this year, and don't get chickens, goats, and pigs on it this year, how forgiving will a mix of this nature be? From my book learning so far, it seems like letting much of it self-seed will be all right. It won't sit untended for more than a year but I want to get some benefits to the soil asap. And I live on-site so it won't be abandoned or anything like that.
BONUS QUESTION: Can anyone suggest some additional, interesting herbs? I think I have the basics covered here but I'd love some interesting herbs that I could use to make essential oils, incense, or something adaptogenic/tonic. I don't really need 10 different herbs for UTIs or fever. (Hopefully.)


1. My current knowledge level, the nature of my land, and mid- and long-term goals

My permaculture and gardening knowledge level is somewhere between beginner and intermediate. I have some limited gardening experience but have done extensive reading, also auditing Will Hooker's NC State permaculture course for free, reading lots of Permies, and have books from Hemenway, Mollison, and Holmgren. Willing to do manual labor when needed but definitely trying to take the slow, low, cheap and lazy approach where possible.

The land I'm on is around 25 acres, a lot of which is mixed forest that was probably last logged 60-80 years ago. Three quarters of the surrounding land is owned by timber people and was clearcut very recently. I currently live at one end of the property, in a house with a yard (where a mix of grass, clover, and plantain currently grows), and down the hill, is a fairly large (1.5-2 acre), relatively open (it's divided by an access road which has mature pine trees) field where I am told people grew corn 100+ years ago. Haven't tested the soil but it ranges from loamy to sandy mix to boggy. Seems healthy. There is also a creek that runs around two edges of the square field. The field has a gentle slope running from northeast (top) down to the south-southwest (SW facing slope, in other words). Currently growing in the field is a mix of what looks like orchard grass, various wild herby species, and something "reedy" that grows to about 3-4 feet, then leaves behind a brittle, pulpy, woody stem all winter. Last year I paid someone to mow/bushhog the field.

From the house (where I'm currently living) the field is about 1/4 mile. This puts it in perma zone 3, in my opinion - I'd prefer not to have to visit it every day until I build a house there (see goals below).

Some local stats:
* Foothills region of NC
* Hardiness zone 7a (0-5 degrees F)
* 49 inches rainfall

Goals (no particular order):
* Build an eco-home in the field area, making the field perma zone 1
* Establish a food and forage forest in the field
* Establish animal rearing practices: chickens, goats, LGB dog x 1-2 (for animal protection--the area has a few coyotes, plenty of other predators, and some bears), pigs, maybe others integrated with farming/foraging opportunities - pasture rotation, etc
* 60-70% self-sufficiency for our food, animal feed, etc - trade and other income sources would allow me to buy winter feed, for example, where needed. More than 70% would be awesome but I don't mind the idea of trading and buying and bartering locally.

2. My current plan

This is mainly ordered big, profound changes first down to smaller ones - pattern to details. The exception is item 1 because I want to go ahead and regenerate/get plants working on the soil this growing season, and planting seed now allows me the option of introducing animals slowly at my leisure this year or next.

Step 1: seed a mix of annuals and perennials for four seasons on the field, and in the yard . As many "layers" (7 layers concept) as possible, a bit less vines for obvious reasons and no trees yet. A user here suggested 50% N-fixer, 25% dry mass/biomass, 12.5% medicinal/herbal plants (for humans and animals), 12.5% aerating taproot plants. The method I am considering is "throw and mow" and I haven't ordered the seeds yet (planning to do that this weekend hopefully, hence this post)--with the covid stuff looks like lots of seed companies are behind, but most of what I plan to order can be planted/replanted any time during growing season.

Step 1.5:
Meanwhile, we're also going to get about 10 chickens and a LGB dog up here in the yard to get started. Keep in mind we're planning to seed a similar mix in the yard here as in the field. The plan currently is to get a movable fence and chickshaw type coop (thanks to Paul Wheaton's awesome article on raising chickens) and move them through the yard which is something less than 1/2 acre. Add more chickens over time, probably add goats to the yard too, before the field becomes perma zone 1.

Step 2: Remove trees from field (those pine trees I mentioned, maybe others for better light), add trees (fruit, nut, other species beneficial to farming/permaculture or desirable to people). (Side note: debating whether to sell the pine, probably at very little profit, or mulch it into the fields - mulching 5-10 mature pine trees into 1.5 acres probably isn't the right thing to do after planting seeds, but maybe I could have a single large mulch pile and slowly distribute it over the next couple of years?)

Step 3: Add swales/related earthworks to the fields. This may entail reseeding the disturbed areas. Maybe some hugelkultur (not "hugelkultur swales," I know )

Step 4: Roundpost fence the field. Probably. Or maybe something else for fencing that I pay for that will come up faster (I'm still working and plan to weigh the relative efficiency of working for income and spending it on farm resources vs DIY). This is to prepare the field for later rotational grazing. Once the fence is up might put a dog and some goats there in the field, maybe even chickens (haven't decided yet about making that walk twice a day every day yet).

Step 5:
Build homestead at edge of field, scale up animal placement (slow and steady).


3. The tentative seed mix


First, a note: These are all possible candidates for "the mix." I plan to broadcast overseed, throw and mow except where otherwise required. Also probably reseed after intensive grazing. I expect to end up with a bit of leftover seed. Also, it doesn't literally all have to be "mixed," and in some cases I will likely avoid seeding certain thing in specific areas. In other cases the seeds will definitely be planted in specific, limited areas for various reasons. But for the most part I want it as polycultured and broadcast-mix friendly as possible.

I'm pretty aware not to let species like alder or russian/autumn olive get completely out of hand, too. Those will not be broadcast as part of the general mix.

Still need to finalize selection, so if it looks a little overly complicated, realize maybe 50-75% of what's here will make the final cut (unless you think maximum diversity is beneficial--open to suggestions!). Still looking for the best deals and finalizing quantities, too.

N-Fixer 50%:
GC/Herb:
Partridge pea
Cowpeas or iron clay cowpeas

Winter/perennial:
Hairy vetch (f)
Alsike clover (p)
Sweet clover (p)
Ladino clover (p)
Alfalfa (p)
Fava bean/Broadbean (p)
Austrian winter peas
Winter field beans
Crimson clover (w)

Shrub:
Siberian pea shrub
Autumn olive
Russian olive
Tag alder

--

Dry mass 25%:
GC/Herb:
Festololium
Chickweed
Sunflower
Maximiliam sunflower
Amaranth
Plaintain (plantago)

Winter/perennial:
Winter mustard (w)
Kale (w)
Winter purslane (w)
Mountain cranberry (w)
Cocksfoot/Orchardgrass (p)
Elderberry (p)
Raspberries
Blackberries (p)
Ground ivy (p)
Winter rye (w)
Perennial ryegrass (p)
Perennial buckwheat (p)
Tall fescue (p)
Oats (W)
Red winter wheat (w)
Cereal rye (w)

--

Medicinal 12.5%:
Mugwort
Rhodiola rosea
Black sage
White sage
Mint/mountain mint
Stinging nettle
Dang shen
Lavender
Wild passionfruit
Lemon balm
Nasturtium
Watercress

Less interesting:
Borage
Yarrow
Bloodroot
Motherwort
Bee balm
Mullein
Lovage

--

Aerating taproot 12.5%:
Comfrey
Dandelion
Chicory
Sunchokes
Tillage radish
Oilseed radish
Forage turnip
Arrowroot
Daikon radish
Carrot
Squash
Pumpkin
Hemp (autocbd) pending certification

(Note to self: clarify for winter/winter-kill)


Thanks for any help or ideas!
 
C. Nelson
Posts: 9
Location: NC Foothills, Zone 7a, 49 in. rainfall.
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Pics from today!

2020-05-02-14.17.32.jpg
Upper lawn
Upper lawn
2020-05-02-14.17.51.jpg
Close-up view of upper lawn plants
Close-up view of upper lawn plants
2020-05-02-16.07.41.jpg
Field from access road (looking west-SW)
Field from access road (looking west-SW)
2020-05-02-16.09.09.jpg
Looking S-SW from top of field
Looking S-SW from top of field
2020-05-02-16.09.46.jpg
Creek at top of field
Creek at top of field
2020-05-02-16.13.26.jpg
Midway field on the access road facing W-SW
Midway field on the access road facing W-SW
 
C. Nelson
Posts: 9
Location: NC Foothills, Zone 7a, 49 in. rainfall.
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Oops, last pic should say "facing SW"

More from today...
2020-05-02-16.09.59.jpg
Another facing SW from top of field
Another facing SW from top of field
2020-05-02-16.10.31.jpg
Crawdad holes!
Crawdad holes!
2020-05-02-16.10.45.jpg
Muscadine grapes growing everywhere this year
Muscadine grapes growing everywhere this year
2020-05-02-16.14.41.jpg
Creek at bottom of field
Creek at bottom of field
2020-05-02-16.15.27.jpg
Looking up (E-NE) from the W-SW end of field
Looking up (E-NE) from the W-SW end of field
2020-05-02-16.28.10.jpg
Old blown-up moonshine still (look closely)
Old blown-up moonshine still (look closely)
 
C. Nelson
Posts: 9
Location: NC Foothills, Zone 7a, 49 in. rainfall.
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Couple of clearcut pics. No idea why they cut and left so much good looking wood on the ground. And with the huge machines they use now there's no need for the old access/logging roads, so they trashed 'em.
2020-05-02-16.03.52.jpg
Let's cut big trees and leave 'em on the ground
Let's cut big trees and leave 'em on the ground
2020-05-02-16.04.43.jpg
And trash some access roads for good measure
And trash some access roads for good measure
 
pollinator
Posts: 406
Location: Vermont, USA
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Hello!

I'm far too new around here to offer any advice on Big Picture issues.  But I had a couple of comments I thought I could add.

- What beautiful land!  Creek, sunshine, woods, shade!  So appealing.

- How long since the trees were felled?  I am a sucker for rotting wood.  As soon as I see a log on the ground, I want to add more logs and cover them with sod, compost, soil, and mulch.  And seeds.

- Don't leave out the borage and yarrow.  They will be so pretty in your field, and offer other benefits!  (Completely self-centered advice from me, who knows nothing about you.  Maybe you don't even like pretty flowers!  Just kidding.)

Best of luck!  I hope you get the assistance you need here.  There's certainly plenty of knowledge on these forums!
 
C. Nelson
Posts: 9
Location: NC Foothills, Zone 7a, 49 in. rainfall.
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Anne Pratt wrote:Hello!

I'm far too new around here to offer any advice on Big Picture issues.  But I had a couple of comments I thought I could add.

- What beautiful land!  Creek, sunshine, woods, shade!  So appealing.

- How long since the trees were felled?  I am a sucker for rotting wood.  As soon as I see a log on the ground, I want to add more logs and cover them with sod, compost, soil, and mulch.  And seeds.

- Don't leave out the borage and yarrow.  They will be so pretty in your field, and offer other benefits!  (Completely self-centered advice from me, who knows nothing about you.  Maybe you don't even like pretty flowers!  Just kidding.)

Best of luck!  I hope you get the assistance you need here.  There's certainly plenty of knowledge on these forums!



Thanks for your kind and encouraging response! I'm currently finalizing the list based on a closer reading of Gaia's Garden, plus what's available now. Will post what I actually end up ordering. And I did add borage and yarrow back :-)

The trees were clearcut 7-9 months ago, but they're on bordering property. Might get up to some guerilla gardening in the future, though. If you meant the ones in the field, the downed trees fell on their own due to wind 5+ years ago, not sure exactly when. Forestry is on the long-term to-do list.
 
Anne Pratt
pollinator
Posts: 406
Location: Vermont, USA
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I had never seen borage before I planted it last summer.  The flowers are the loveliest shade of blue, and hang from the plant in a teardrop sort of way, facing down.  So pretty.

Yarrow is nice in groups; like Queen Anne's lace, the flowers are in a bit of a flat circle, facing upwards.  Mine are all white (native wildflowers here) and have recently invaded the garden.  In my last home, I grew different-colored ones, but they grew very tall in a place where I didn't expect it, and many of them leaned over.  I actually like the shorter (maybe 12") wild ones better.

Since you like my flowers, I'll mention that bee balm is really cool, too, if you like plants that spread prolifically.  Beautiful shades of pink and red.

The only thing I know about other than gardening is chickens.  My advice:  do lots of research before building a coop.  Lots.  Backyardchickens.com has a wonderful section on coops, with many examples.  Don't buy a cheap coop - it will definitely cost more in the long run.  Heck, it'll start costing more after the first few rainstorms, not to mention how easily predators can get in.  There is probably a lot of good advice about chickens here, too, but I have been reading the gardening and permaculture material more, since it's newer to me.  Speaking of chickens and gardening, it's wonderful if the eventual food forest can be a place for the chickens to free range.  They need cover (both shade and hiding places) and dense plants to forage through.  If they're to be confined all the time, there are higher feeding costs and to be humane, the cost of building a really large run.  

I'm excited by your project on that beautiful land!  I admire your careful planning; I'm much more haphazard, much to the chagrin of my partner.  Tonight he said, "You need to learn to do one thing at a time, not 16."  Not a chance.
 
Anne Pratt
pollinator
Posts: 406
Location: Vermont, USA
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Oops - rereading, I see you have already been researching coops.  New recommendation:  chickens need shade, probably even more in NC than in Vermont!  Make sure they always have access to some as you move them around.

A farm near here got a big chicken coop and about two dozen chickens.  Although they could get out, all the chickens remained under the coop most of the summer, where it was cool.  They also need shade to hide from hawks.
58751106642__0CEBE7F5-62F6-4ED7-9ECC-FD318D4C75EF.JPG
[Thumbnail for 58751106642__0CEBE7F5-62F6-4ED7-9ECC-FD318D4C75EF.JPG]
58751108720__D22CF937-5B88-4632-B6CD-CF23E329546F.JPG
[Thumbnail for 58751108720__D22CF937-5B88-4632-B6CD-CF23E329546F.JPG]
 
C. Nelson
Posts: 9
Location: NC Foothills, Zone 7a, 49 in. rainfall.
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Well, after much deliberation and shopping around, just spent $$$$ on seeds, but got enough for the full 2 acres and then some, for this year--including fall plantings.  And since many are perennials this should nearly be a one-time expense. For more details on the rationale, see original post, above.

The goals remain the same as outlined in post #1, but the much-refined, somewhat simplified, updated actual seed blend is below (with varieties where possible). An example of a refinement is removing all plants that are unsuitable for forage due to possible toxicity issues. (Not guaranteed, do your own homework, too.)

Where possible I purchased inoculated seed but still had to buy some inoculant for a few N-fixers.


Spring Blend
N-Fixers
Red ripper cowpeas 20lb
Black-eyed peas (bush type) 20lb
Lablab 5lb
Birdsfoot trefoil 5lb
White dutch clover 4lb

Biomass
Buckwheat 8lb
Orchardgrass 4lb
Creeping red fescue 15lb
Perennial ryegrass 4lb
Amaranth 1lb
Mustard (also an aerating taproot plant) 2lb

Sparse quantities:
Blueberries
Maximilian sunflower
Earthwalker sunflower
Peredovik sunflower
Plantain (plantago)
Winter purslane
Purslane
Watermelon (tendersweet orange)

Herb/Medicinal
Amounts vary
Mugwort
Mountain mint
Stinging nettle
Dill Lavender
Lemon balm
Nasturtium
Watercress  
Beebalm
Borage
Yarrow

Aerating Taproot
Amounts vary, but quite a large amount of each
Comfrey
Dandelion
Chicory 5lb or "a lot"
Sunchokes (already planted the tubers)
Consider squash, pumpkin, beets

Fall/Winter Blend
N-Fixers
Birdsfoot trefoil 5lb
Common vetch 15lb
Crimson clover  4lb
Ladino clover  2lb
White dutch clover 4lb

Biomass
Hairy vetch 4lb
Orchardgrass 2lb
Creeping red fescue 15lb
Perennial ryegrass 4lb

Mustard 1-2lb (also aerating taproot)
Mountain cranberry (relatively small amount)

Herb/Medicinal
Few herbal/medicinal plantings in fall, currently only bought blue sage. Also planning to get white, black, and purple sage for fall. May add wintercress as well.

Aerating Taproot
Chicory 5lb or "a lot"
Comfrey
Forage turnip (purple top)
Daikon radish
Maybe get Jackhammer radish

NOTE: Some of what's missing compared to post #1 is missing because it was out of stock. Would still love to get raspberries and maypops and a few others!
 
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