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permaculture on peat and water

Posts: 21
Location: Vancouver Island
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Second Topic on which I am trying to steer son in right direction

He has a few acres that has huge potential.

Dig down a couple of inches & there is black soil/peat, we plan to skim some of that off to set aside & dry, unfortunately (but absolutely not a bad thing), just underneath a couple of feet is water. So how to "play" with that.  This part I put out to you experts, as we are trying to start in a sustainable manner.

We cut down a bunch of dead cedars, & in a couple of weeks are going to get a bunch of them milled to use to aid in construction of greenhouse & outbuildings - Suggestions???  Others will be made into split rails for income
For above greenhouse, basically simple in design to begin with so we can protect for the winter - Pole, with plastic roofing (I inherited old commercial greenhouse plastic), bit of support siding/windows, open bottom for now, but protection a couple of feet from rabbits.

Currently has meat chickens (trial ones butchered without any one of them diseased so can continue), a few goats penned for now until a section of field can be fenced

Edge of property is a bear path, sometimes cougars...

Need a tractor, but need money for that, so for now have to work within means.

His/Our Goal, but we are new to permaculture aspect, that is why comments/advice so welcome... :)

Continue to harvest seeds/seedlings from out jobs (currently successful in dogwoods, lavender, and a few others)
Grow vegetables for self initially to see what does well for both sustainability & eventually market
With water easily accessible, build a natural pond near the greenhouse for ducks (saw a great video from France on permaculture with pond, greenhouse with both growth & animals & above stalls a seed starting area)
Have told him about permaculture forests (fruit/nut trees & shrubs)
Be smart is main goal

So, idea is to put rip rap fill & then a layer of crush on top of space dedicated for greenhouse
Then what?
There is a creek that dries out in summer, but as mentioned, water not deep, how to take advantage of this water blessing with swales in peat base?  Other benefit for future soil, there is a sand hill on property that we will be mixing with the peat when ready.

I know, I rambled...So in conclusion, The question is, How do we start forming/farming land given peat/water?

Thank you & ahead of time want to say, very much appreciate your posts
Posts: 920
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
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My situation is similar to yours with water, dig down five feet MAX in the middle of summer, you hit water; but in winter, that is at best a few feet, and after a lot of rain, there can be surface water in low places. Any digging needs to be done NOW before the rainy season hits. Otherwise it becomes a mudfest.

Digging/tractor is the hard part - can you trade any of the split rails for temporary use of a digging machine?

I gave gone to galvanized posts (like what is used for chain link fencing) as having "wet feet" simply rots out wood posts - cedar may be able to resist better, and yours is free, but the work of replacing a perfectly good fence or structure due to rotted buried posts, sucks!

Try to "press" fence posts in, rather than dig and concrete or refill and tamp. With wet/peat below, you don't want to disturb the soil integrity - if you use a tractor bucket or with a post pounder thingy, your posts will be much more stable.

All my "standard" fencing boards, attached "up and down" (vertically) also rotted on the lowermost three inches - top 4-5 feet perfectly solid, bottom 3-6 inches rotten. So I suggest, if using wood, run at least the first course left to right (horizontally) so if rot is an issue you can pull that lowest board and easily replace it.  

This is why one of my favorite building materials is (used) metal roofing: rot proof, maintenance free, critter proof, climb proof and rodent proof. Often obtainable for free when a barn or similar structure is pulled down.

For the greenhouse, DO take the time to skim off all soil/peat to the "summer" water level, instead of just rip rap and gravel atop the natural surface. This could other wise create an "island effect" where any structure will literally rise and falls with the water levels.

My neighbor built on a concrete slabs; they DID clear the first foot or so, before placing gravel and the slabs. BUT, he literally has to adjust the gate latches seasonally as the home and out buildings rise and fall so much they won't close.

Lastly, skip standard irrigation/watering type set ups; just dig shallow wells anywhere you will need water (garden areas). This may or may not be potable for animals, but will work for any plantings, and is really cost effective as there is little to no expensive plumbing to install or maintain. A small pond/fountain type pump can be used (powered by electricity, car battery, generator, solar) to fill a barrel/tote and left to gravity irrigate any plantings or garden areas.

My two cents worth when living with a high water table.
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