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Advice for starting out?

 
Posts: 2
Location: Arlington & Between the Hills, VA
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Wasn't sure which forum to post in, hope this one makes sense...

I'm in the process of buying ~8 acres near Harpers Ferry WV to build a second home, over time to become my first home when I retire or there's a viable internet option for my tech work (c'mon SpaceX!).  I'm now starting to design the landscape beyond the site plan for the house and am looking for advice on where to begin.  My goals are a mix of connecting with nature and growing some of my own food (I have a community garden plot in town which is fun but too small, excited to expand just short of becoming "work" rather than "recreation").  Definitely interested in a permaculture approach where human uses are knit into the larger ecosystem rather than carving out a sterile space for monoculture farming; also as a dietary vegan (and lazy person) I'd prefer to coexist with wild animals rather than keep livestock (though excited to try beekeeping, intend to connect with nearby horse / dairy farms for manure, and expect my neighbors with hunting stands will continue to keep the deer population in check).  

The land is on a mountainside with rugged timberland above it to the ridge, creating a corridor for wildlife to NPS land along the Potomac River (less than a mile to the river)... So deer, black bears, and coyotes live nearby and use the spring on the site as a water source.  It was logged ~3 years ago and has grown over with grasses, brambles (invasive Wineberry, some Black Raspberry), ferns, and tree saplings (mostly Tulip Trees in the cleared areas, Paw Paws around the edges of the remaining older trees).  The soil is full of cobble-sized rocks (not great for traditional farming, but useful material for building raised beds?) and blocked by decaying tree trunks left by the logging.  There is also a pair of very old one-room log cabins on the land which I'm intending to rehab as a rustic seasonal guesthouse and garden storage space.  

I've been struggling with the design because the weirdly shaped lot, existing logging roads and cabins, springs, boulders, and varied topography don't lend themselves to a neat rectangular layout and because my goals are some undefined mix of small-scale garden production, aesthetically pleasing native plantings framing outdoor living spaces (think Piet Oudolf), and preserving / improving wildlife habitat.  Thoughts?
 
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Ami Williams wrote: intend to connect with nearby horse / dairy farms for manure



I advise against this.  Manure these days is likely to be contaminated with persistent herbicides.  http://www.thesurvivalgardener.com/category/aminopyralid/
 
pollinator
Posts: 131
Location: 48°N in Normandie, France. USDA 8-9 Koppen Cfb
53
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Hi Ami,

You say "I've been struggling with the design because the weirdly shaped lot, existing logging roads and cabins, springs, boulders, and varied topography don't lend themselves to a neat rectangular layout"

Happily, nature doesn't come in rectangles, so I'd be rejoicing!

I'm thinking that with some deeper knowledge of permaculture, you too would rejoice and not see it as a challenge.  My advice is that having invested in the land, invest now in some solid learning about permaculture - Zones, sectors, Patterns and so much more, so that you can make informed decisions, and avoid serious mistakes.

You could start with the free material offered by Geoff Lawton, I achieved my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) with him -his resources are very good. His website is HERE  
Free videos are HERE
Join The Permaculture Circle (Free)

'Intro to Permaculture' with Andrew Millison of Oregan State University HERE Also Free. I did this course and it gave me enough information and understanding for me to draw up a design for my property, so I'm happy to recommend it. I was just so hungry for more after that I took Geoffs PDC.

I'd second Tyler's comment about the manure - be very careful - really get to know the people and their farming practices before you bring on your land enormous quantities of something you might regret later. Horse manure  - do they have a separate pile for after they've wormed the horses?  Same goes for free/cheap compost from local town dumps - full of lawn herbicide (I've done that one, not pretty) and Straw that's been doused in Glyphosate just before harvest?  Not being a doom and gloomer - just want you to benefit from our mistakes/learning!

Perhaps start small so you dont get overwhelmed? maybe begin near to where you plan to build? (permaculture learning can help with that too!) Take time to observe and get to know your land through the seasons before you make any decisions, and above all, enjoy your journey.
 
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Ami Williams wrote:Wasn't sure which forum to post in, hope this one makes sense...

I'm in the process of buying ~8 acres near Harpers Ferry WV to build a second home, over time to become my first home when I retire or there's a viable internet option for my tech work (c'mon SpaceX!).  I'm now starting to design the landscape beyond the site plan for the house and am looking for advice on where to begin.  My goals are a mix of connecting with nature and growing some of my own food (I have a community garden plot in town which is fun but too small, excited to expand just short of becoming "work" rather than "recreation").  Definitely interested in a permaculture approach where human uses are knit into the larger ecosystem rather than carving out a sterile space for monoculture farming; also as a dietary vegan (and lazy person) I'd prefer to coexist with wild animals rather than keep livestock (though excited to try beekeeping, intend to connect with nearby horse / dairy farms for manure, and expect my neighbors with hunting stands will continue to keep the deer population in check).  

The land is on a mountainside with rugged timberland above it to the ridge, creating a corridor for wildlife to NPS land along the Potomac River (less than a mile to the river)... So deer, black bears, and coyotes live nearby and use the spring on the site as a water source.  It was logged ~3 years ago and has grown over with grasses, brambles (invasive Wineberry, some Black Raspberry), ferns, and tree saplings (mostly Tulip Trees in the cleared areas, Paw Paws around the edges of the remaining older trees).  The soil is full of cobble-sized rocks (not great for traditional farming, but useful material for building raised beds?) and blocked by decaying tree trunks left by the logging.  There is also a pair of very old one-room log cabins on the land which I'm intending to rehab as a rustic seasonal guesthouse and garden storage space.  

I've been struggling with the design because the weirdly shaped lot, existing logging roads and cabins, springs, boulders, and varied topography don't lend themselves to a neat rectangular layout and because my goals are some undefined mix of small-scale garden production, aesthetically pleasing native plantings framing outdoor living spaces (think Piet Oudolf), and preserving / improving wildlife habitat.  Thoughts?



Nice to hear from you Ami. I am vegan too. I want to have the most sustainable way on land growing to be independent as far as it can go from civilization around us, with any others. Growing all the things needed for that will be important for this. I am interested in veganics for an approach, and using composting. I personally think natural predators among wildlife suitable for the area are better for the populations than what any human hunters manage. I have learned rocks are better for raised beds, as wood rots a bit, and bugs and spiders come finding hiding spots for themselves among the spaces there.
 
Ami Williams
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Location: Arlington & Between the Hills, VA
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Thanks for all the advice (sorry to not reply sooner - exhausted from election work on Tuesday) - pre-covid I'd thought to do a hands-on permaculture class, but with everything up in the air and travel discouraged I haven't yet made any plans, and I will definitely check out the links.  

As far as the manure, are there any particular guidelines for what to do / avoid?  The sources are family farms and hobby barns; and several relatives keep horses, so if I had information to share with them we could probably figure out whatever changes need to be made to ensure the manure is useful.  Another maybe strange question - can wild scat be gathered and composted?  There's quite a bit of it around the spring... And is it ok to include the bear and/or coyote or should it just be the deer, rabbits, etc?  

Thinking more about my struggle to draw useful maps, it occurred to me that I have trail maps that are drawn in terms of elevation and distance rather than lat / long overhead maps; maybe vertical slices perpendicular to the contours would be a better way to design some of the plantings on the slopes?  

I've also been daydreaming about creating a frog pond adjacent to the runoff from the spring; given the rocks I think it would be hard to get a smooth base for a plastic liner, but maybe a clay liner?  
 
pollinator
Posts: 409
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
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For the map, hit google earth, that should offer an aerial view that you could print and play with!  

If not suitable, hit the local airstrip, talk a hobby pilot into taking pics for you or take you for a ride to do the photographing yourself. Seeing your land from above can be immensely useful, showing where the wetter areas are (more lush, green growth) and even wildlife paths.

Just make sure you have the correct GPS coordinates, and perhaps put brightly colored boundary markers so it is easy to detect from the sky. You would be amazed at how hard it is to find locations from the air without the usual visual landmarks.
 
Posts: 52
Location: Reeds Spring, MO; zone 6b Ozarks
18
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Ami, I have been in a similar situation to you on a smaller scale—we have just a half-acre quasi-suburban property that has a very strange shape and orientation and all kinds of little complications with utility lines, slope and aspect, etc. I ended up hiring a permaculture consultant from my area to draft a working map for me, and I have been happy with that decision, though now that I am a couple years further into my learning about permaculture, I think I could tackle another plan myself. And we have modified the original plan along the way, too.

I use the overhead Google Earth view when I am drawing a new version of our property map, as others have suggested. Having contour lines is really important too, though. Our designer had the tools to layer the contour lines onto the Google Earth overhead view; I'm not sure what you would need to do that yourself, but I think that would be ideal if you can even approximate it, so you can see where things sit in relation to each other both horizontally and vertically.

Another resource to consult, though it's pretty clunky to use, is the USDA soil survey—that tool can give you lots of information about your soil that might shift some of your decision-making. It is a bit of an advanced tool, aimed at ag professionals, but I have found that I can glean some helpful insights from it in my amateurish way nonetheless.

 
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Ami Williams wrote:  Another maybe strange question - can wild scat be gathered and composted?  There's quite a bit of it around the spring... And is it ok to include the bear and/or coyote or should it just be the deer, rabbits, etc?



Welcome Ami. I would second the recommendations to loon into the free resources others have mentioned for more information. You’ll need some clearer goals and specific plans/questions before people can give you specific useful advice. Lots of information can also be found by searching the forum (like search for “manure” or “free manure” or “contaminated manure” and see what conversations have already happened around these topics). The best place to start is with (1) learning and (2) developing a vision of what you want. I advise poking around the forums and YouTube to watch walk-throughs or how-tos of how other people are approaching their permaculture food forests. Get inspired, form a vision, search here for questions to your answers, and ask questions.

As to the scat question: maybe. In my area (Midwest) surrounded by cornfields roundup is found in nearly every single deer. It’s so bad one of the universities was doing a study feeling roundup treated corn to deer to check where it collected in their tissues and some of the control deer (they fed clean corn to) had more roundup than those eating the contaminated food. They didn’t check ahead for a baseline and assumed those deer were clean. It is a pervasive chemical through the food chain here now: deer, bears, coyotes, eagles. I’m not sure the roundup also passes in their stool, but I think the bigger point is don’t assume nature is free from our pollutants.

I operate on a good-better-best scale. I think defining things as either good or bad inhibits progress. For me (and it’s different for everyone) my optimal manure source would be keeping my own animal to produce it (even if that animal wasn’t used for milk or meat and was just an outdoor pet). The next notch down might be wild scat (but I don’t get much here). After that, I would look for a local certified organic animal farm and discuss what might be in the manure. After that a local farmer who was willing to answer lots of questions. Then bagged organic manure or composted manure from the store. Then standard steer manure from the store.

Right now I just don’t use any manure. I mulch, compost, and chop and drop vegetation and haven’t used any fertilizer products. However I suspect I have great soil naturally, and this isn’t what everyone gets to start with.
 
lesley verbrugge
pollinator
Posts: 131
Location: 48°N in Normandie, France. USDA 8-9 Koppen Cfb
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Hi Ami,

I found this website useful for creating contour maps.
 
Posts: 10
Location: New Brunswick, Canada
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lesley verbrugge wrote:Hi Ami,

I found this website useful for creating contour maps.



Oh wow, thank you for linking this site! This is going to make path and swale planting so much easier. I love map software :)
 
pollinator
Posts: 212
Location: WV
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lesley verbrugge wrote:Hi Ami,

I found this website useful for creating contour maps.



Yes, thank you for that link. I've messed around with it for a few minutes and think I've got the hang of it.
 
pollinator
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Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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You will probably have deer, raccoon, and possum problems if you try to grow food for yourself. It’s another factor to consider.
 
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The safest way is just avoid manure, grow your own 'crops' for composting.  I have converted to vegetarian in most things, but I do eat things with feathers, eggs, milk,and cheese.  I am working towards getting the chickens to help with the compost,  hope to try growing forage crops and grasses in garden paths for compost material

Paul
 
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