I'm new to the forum, but I have been reading about modern homesteading and permaculture (and related topics) for some time. Mostly, I was just idly dreaming without actually putting much into practice, though I have been trying to garden in the shady, poorly drained patio of my rented house.
Now, however, I might have an opportunity to purchase a house with some land, almost 3 acres. I realize this isn't much compared to a big farm, but it is a lot compared to a patio. I am excited about the possibilities with the land, but a little confused as to how to start. I don't own the house and land yet, but having some guidance would make it much easier to go ahead with the deal.
Currently, the three acres are full of weeds, which seem to have occupied the rows that were previously planted with an annual row crop. I was thinking about starting by gradually converting that land to mixed crops, especially perennials. However, it is somewhat nerve wracking to think of having all that land and needing to do something with it. Also, the house needs some work, which isn't too intimidating, but most of our disposable funds would probably go to getting the house ready at first, so we are wondering about start up costs for growing any crops.
I was wondering what resources you all could direct me to/ advice you could give me about getting started with permaculture.
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
Buying a new home is always an adventure. For starters, I would suggest starting your main kitchen garden near the house.
This is where the bulk of your food will come from, and the closer it is to the kitchen, the better it will be tended.
Since you will probably be spending a lot of time (and cash) fixing up the house, the bulk of the land could be put into cover crops until next spring. A mixture of cover crops, such as clovers and buckwheat will both suppress the weeds, and add nitrogen to your soil. If possible, mow the existing weeds before they go to seed. Then plant your cover crops.
This will give you ample time to study the land through the seasons, watching for drainage problems, shade/sun patterns, and micro-climates.
Next spring, you will be better prepared to start your food forests. Plus, you will have 3 seasons worth of organic matter to work into your soil.
I know what you mean about being overcome by the massive increase in land no matter from what size to what size - it's a BIG increase. But very exciting at the same time. We went from 1 acre to 17 and, like you, had a house to fix first. So we did what John said - regenerated just the veg garden that was quite near the house (but not near enough so we're making another one right under the kitchen window). We left all the rest as 'meadow' and watched with wonder at all the wildlife that it supported. Over 3 years we have changed that balance and now the wildlife lives in all the vegetated areas we have created near the house and the fields are partly used for livestock and crops but still partly left for wild biodiversity.
Remember also that 'weeds' can tell you a lot about you soil and in many cases can actually be beneficial (we have a fair amount of discussion on the forums about just this subject - I'll see if I can sort out some good links but you can search on 'weeds' and probably get a whole ton of stuff).
A good permaculture maxim is "small and simple" - working on small manageable pieces and getting them right, then rolling out that method further when it works right for you and your land.
unless you have a lot of animals 3 acres is very doable..and the weeds are a good sign. Weeds are covering your soil keeping it from blowing away and they are feeding it, so don't let the weed be daunting to you. When you get there start small and start with your trees..clear only the small circle you need to around your trees and get them in, leave the weeds around until you have more to plant and be building up the soil in the meantime. Any weeds you remove to plant the trees, use as mulch away from the trunk in a circle..and put all your household waste and anything you can find to build humus on top of your soil as a sheet compost mulch.
In the meantime make a list of what else besides those fruit trees you love to eat, would buy generally and can grow in your climate and order plants or seeds, preferably perennials or open pollinated so you can save your own seed..and go slow and small at first..things get expensive if you try to do too much too fast and you'll have things die..go slow.
Are you wanting to stay with the annuals, or are you wanting to have a lot of trees???
If you want trees, check out your states forestry department. Some sell very affordable fruit trees and some do not.
I saw a lovely youtube about a family who titled it, I think, "Garden of Eden". They heaped up wood chips and they planted through the wood chips. This is very similar to the "Hugelculture" that some people here are trying out: once the wood has decomposed enough the rotten wood supplies both moisture and nutrients.
Go out and look at the property after a big rain, you want to know if the property is a mudpit or cold air catch before you buy too.
See if you can identify some of the weeds too, they really can tell you a lot about what the soil needs.
Get involved -Take away the standing of corporations MovetoAmmend.org
1) Get a comprehensive soil test. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard about someone buying a chunk of land, only to find out afterwards that it's hopelessly contaminated with chemicals/motor oil, etc.
2) Get familiar with the local zoning and building codes. No sense buying a place with permaculture in mind if you're forbidden from doing most of the things you want to do. Find out what all you need a permit to build and ask around how seriously they take building code enforcement.
I agree with Brenda whole heartedly, especially the part about utilizing the "weeds" as your friends. We're in the early stages of planting our food forest, and there is a certain "weed" throughout the area that I quit digging up because after reading Gaia's Garden I realized what a great mulch plant it is. Now I let it grow for a while, then whack and drop around our new little trees. This weed grows amazingly fast, and you can just tell by looking at it that it must be loaded with good nutrients. When I see some of it getting tall, I pull it or cut it, and invariably one of our fruit trees is always near by ready to receive the mulch. I am also using all the cardboard I can get my hands on to smother some other grassy/weedy areas, leaving all that biomass in place. I just started reading another widely referenced book on permaculture - Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke. A large section of the book is specifically about what order to do things in. So I'll soon find out if I started off correctly. If not, it's still pretty early and I can easily adjust course. Best of luck. Wish I had 3 acres.
Certifiable food forest gardener, free gardening advice offered and accepted. Permaculture is the intersection of environmentalsim and agriculture.
Companion Planting Guide by World Permaculture Association