I've got about 7 acres and a nice house. I love in a Right to Farm community. The soil is pretty nitrogen depleted so I'm going to be peeing a bunch, but where do I start? Send like many of Paul's suggesting in BWB assume you've got 6-10 inches of soil. I have less than this, at least in some areas. But I am up on a foothill of the Berkshire mountains, so at least I can potentially do interesting things with water flow.
I'm thinking of using some downed lumber and snags to build a few hugelkultur mounds, but I'm worried I won't be able to dig down far enough to bury the things because of horrific terror-boulder-dirt. What does one do when one has very little soil and cannot adopt an animal pasture approach? How and where ought I to start? Would some of you nice Otis's out there share where you started? Bonus points if you're in New England or a similarly cold climate.
I understand how overwhelming it is to start. I think you’re going to find a lot of folks suggesting to break it down into small pieces. Just giving what you’ve described you could lay the extra wood on contour and cover in as much organic matter as possible. Along the same line you could have wood chips delivered and piled thick. You’ll be surprised how fast that conditions the soil underneath. If you just want to start small buy some Austrian Winter Pea, pic a spot and plant. Lots of nitrogen and biomass for next season. The main thing starting out is getting some roots in the ground. Even things that I wouldn’t consider soil building plants help so much. Plain old winter rye grass seed does a great job and will grow on concrete. I tossed handfuls on hard Carolina clay (pretty much pottery) and bysummer it’s three foot tall and ready for chop n drop.
You have a challenging situation. With that little soil depth, I am going to suggest that you concentrate on building up as opposed to digging down. Hugel mounds are certainly one approach to doing this and there is plenty of information on this site describing how to build a hugel mound. I have a slightly different approach. I still use wood, but in my case I build a frame out of 2x10 lumber (logs work fine too--I actually have both). I fill my frame using wood chips from wood scavenged from my property. I have about 300 feet of fence that is terribly overgrown and needs to be thinned back a couple of feet (since moving here 15 years ago, the fence line has encroached by about 10 feet) and after trimming I chip that material (I rent a chipper) and fill my garden beds with it. Then I inoculate with Wine Cap mushrooms, plant tomatoes (or whatever) in fertile holes and wait. After 6 months to a year, the wood chips are wonderfully broken down and make amazing, highly fertile compost. I actually don't need to add any nitrogen as the bacteria in the chips add plenty for me. If you are interested, I can help further.
But this is only one way to do things.
If you want to build hugel mounds, then by all means do so. Apparently you have the wood. I guess my question is do you have the soil to fill in around the logs. You could bury the logs as deep as they will go, but from the sounds of things, that will not be very far. Can you scrape together enough earth from around your property to fill in when you need extra soil? If so, then you should be able to build a hugel mound just fine. If not, maybe the raised bed is best.
Another thought for creating soil bedding is to have a straw bale garden. In this case, you line up a bunch of straw bales and treat with fertilizer (urine works great here) and plant in the straw. Assuming all is kept watered, the plants grow extremely well and by the end of the growing season, the straw bales have decayed away to just about nothing but high quality compost. You could use the left over compost as a soil substitute and add it to the logs. I would think this would only help speed up the log decay.
D.W., These are only a couple of ideas. If you like them, maybe you can use them or at least make some practical use of them. If have misjudged the situation, please let me know. Either way, good luck to you and please keep us updated.
that part of the country has a lot of glacial till. . you might try some raised beds. leaves are about to fall. get all the leaves, wood chips, organic matter you can and start making some compost piles. it might take a while for it too compost if you don't have something in the mix to ":heat it up" like maybe chicken manure or cleanout from a dairy barn, fish heads and bone racks from a seafood store or processor. or something like that. native Americans would bury fish in the rows of corn, beans and squash. that probably went on for thousands of years and those people thrived for a long long time.
Bruce makes a really good point about scavenging for organic items. One note of caution is the use of leaves. Don't get me wrong, leaves make a wonderful soil amendment and I have used them frequently--they really have softened up my soil.
However, leaves alone will be hard pressed to make enough fill to be noticeable for much of anything. I used to rake my neighbor's leaves for compost. He has about .5-1 acre of land densely covered by wonderful, tall oak trees. I would go rake them up and shred them using a vacuum attachment to a leaf blower and dump them into a 4x8' trailer with 2' tall sides. The shredded leaves would be mounded over the top and I would frequently take 4-5 of these trailer loads per year and add them to a garden bed about 30'x6'. The leaves would mound up a good three feet, and I would partially chop and partially weigh them down with some sticks so they don't blow away. By spring time, there were barely any leaves left and there was no appreciable rise in the level of my garden bed. I was expecting to see the garden bedding add up at least a few inches, but there simply was no appreciable mass left over. My garden soil changed from hard, dense brown clay to something much darker and much, much more friable, so they were great for the soil, but they just did not pile up like I expected them to. So while I strongly encourage the use of leaves in a compost pile, don't expect them to give you tons of garden bedding when you are done.
The other common answer you'll hear for "Where do I start?" is "At the door step." It's especially helpful to think this way for zone designing.
But first, as mentioned, before making that initial step outside, in the permaculture design process it's important to think about your own personal long term goals and objectives, and your needs and desires; and also consider your capabilities and assets.
Additionally, having buy-in really helps. Consider who else may be your "client" to serve? Family? Friends? Community? Critters? They can be your "cheerleaders" to help make progress and share in small successes. Get them involved to help defeat the blues.
I personally like to have a (digital) document via Google Docs, listing mission, vision, and long, medium, and short-term goals, as well as unique personal challenges and characteristics. A notebook would work too, of course.
Parallel to your "people analysis" is the "land analysis" and then assessment and design, and then the "doing" part.
How well do you know your land over the seasons? The permaculture principle to "observe and interact" comes into play, here. In my digital document, I list as many nuances and observations from being on the property as I can.
Where does the sun hit the land in winter? What is the average rainfall? Where do I need more privacy? Where is the soil best/worst? What animals pass through? Best access? Sunny slope? Yada yada yada. Just a big ol' document of observations.
The PaDM in Chapter 3 lists several Permaculture design methods to choose from after you know what you're working with. Map overlays, random assembly, component characteristic matching, zone and sector design, and flow diagrams are all examples.
The fact that you have a home plus land is fantastic! Something to be proud of.
And even if you feel like you aren't "doing" anything in the moment, sometimes that can be the best thing, you know? Simply observing and thinking while letting the land express itself... that's still progress.
I agree with observation being one of the most important steps to getting started; even if it feels like you aren't actually accomplishing anything. After I began observing and noting the important things, I began to feel more confident in the permaculture design features I put in place. It's also saved time, in the long run, since I typically don't have to go back and make any big modifications due to an unforeseen drawback in the other seasons.
I also like the idea of starting close to home, then working outward. Kitchen gardens are a good first project (after observing the water flow/source and sunlight during each season). By having it close to home you are more likely to work on/in it than you would be if it was a 15 minute walk across the pasture.
Lastly, I would recommend starting and finishing the bigger projects before jumping in to more projects. I have a bad habit of getting multiple things going at once then, either, not getting anything totally done, doing them just enough to be functional, yet having to go back later and fix/improve things.
Best of luck and looking forward to seeing your progress!
It sounds like you are not living up to your own expectations. I suspect your expectations may be unrealistic. You dont have to accomplish everything in the first year ... or even the first five years. You have already made some good decisions in terms of house and location. To chase off the blues, made sure that your daily agenda contains at least one project that you can complete in one day. Hopefully, it will be something that can be done in an hour or two. That way, you will be successful each day.... even if you have other projects you are working on.
Incidentally, assuming you are a Type A person (I refer to myself as Type A on Steroids), get used to the fact that you will never have all of your projects completed. For me, that is one of the Joy's of being on a homestead.
"Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions." ... Mark Twain