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New Property: WhatWouldYouDo?

 
Posts: 26
Location: Central Louisiana Zone9a:Silty Clay Loam: Alt.69ft.
6
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Hello Permies,
Tossing around ideas for this property and would love your input!
  Details: 3 acres located in Central Louisiana - Grow zone 9a - Low temp extremes 20-25F - Altitude 69ft. - Silty Clay Loam Soil. No official dirt tests yet. Rural - Used residentially for years: no agriculture. Surrounded by crop/pasture on 3 sides.
We get a lot of rain here at certain times of the year and deal with seasonal flooding during major rains, -the property has been worked to manage extra water but never with agriculture in mind. I can't give a lot of details in that regard because we've been here a short time and I'm going on secondhand knowledge along with experience from hurricane Laura, (Sept, 2020).
N.B. Pictures to Follow!
  The front half of the property: the property faces west with house sitting on northern end (also facing west), small barn/shed & driveway in the middle, and lots of trees stretching from north to south of property: mostly pecans, water oaks, Cyprus, & Crepe Myrtle. Among the trees towards the south is a small pond which is more of puddle during dry periods. It's loaded with frogs but is rather stagnant most of the year. The whole surrounding shore and tree area is bare mud/dirt with no growth aside from the trees, occasional grass, some moss, and a few mushrooms. There are some rolling mounds on the front and sides of the pond which makes the area more accessible during the flood season. The water from the whole front of the property is directed towards the pond, but in order for it to hold everything during heavy rain we need to deepen it as it tends to flood the tree lot. There are some grassy sections of open lawn in the front of the house and tree lot.
  The back half of the property (eastern) is completely open with full sun almost all day. It is level with our shallow pond, the two low areas of the entire property. It completely floods during really heavy rain, about 2-3 inches of standing water with no flow. A ditch runs across the back with a few young plum trees -again very little water flow. The plot dries up pretty quick (couple days) because of the amount of sun. Not sure about soil absorbency/potential yet but supposedly the soil around here is very deep. Maybe with some work it can start absorbing at least a bit more water?
  Plans: The back of the property gets the most sun and would be great for pasture & gardening were it not for the flooding. I'm leaning towards hügelkultur as the main gardening method because it would raise the plants above flood level, would use up our endless supply of fallen branches, and absorb/retain excess moisture. That said, I've not used the method before and would welcome thoughts on pros/cons for this situation, placement/facing on property, etc.. (If we go that route I would like to get them erected soon, but without having to worry about crops just yet: can they be planted with something else in the meantime?) As for pasture I have no idea what to do about that just yet; there are the other smaller swards of grass on the front of the property that stay above water during the rainy seasons, but they still get very soft, are completely separated from the barn, and are closer to the road than we would like. Keeping animals cooped in a shed for weeks doesn't sound ideal. We could try slowly building up the entire back half of the property with hügelkultur style rolling rills, but I'm hoping for even a minor improvement in the meantime. Maybe another pond for holding excess water?
Regarding the band of trees: the bare ground is a recipe for constant erosion, it's unproductive, and it dries out like dust in the summer. There's a number of elements I've been trying to weigh into the picture but have trouble coming up with a plan. I'd like to work some fruit into the property somewhere, (maybe there, if shade isn't a problem?) but full-blown forest gardening sounds a bit overwhelming. We still want to harvest nuts off the ground without scavenging too hard, and we need to be able to collect the constant flow of fallen branches without breaking our necks. The area needs at least a ground cover for erosion-control and water-retention, but beyond that I'm open to ideas. Property privacy is also in the plan as the plot is exposed to onlookers from all sides: we're leaning towards living fence / hedges all around and have talked about using the fruit for that. Ideas are welcome!

   So that's what we have for now: I can provide more information over the course of this discussion. By the way, I realize permaculture principles insist on one year of property observation before making changes, but unfortunately we've been having to make decisions sooner than anticipated for various reasons. We are pacing these projects; however we also have to look at the big picture in order make the most of passing resources. Your thoughts and ideas are most appreciated!
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Ariel View
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Flooded Pond
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pollinator
Posts: 406
Location: Victor, Montana; Zone 5b
126
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Hi Marie,

I would agree on deepening that pond to give yourself some extra water holding during flood season and consider if you can putting another small pond in your open area that acts as a spillway for overflow from the existing pond. Great idea to start a food hedge of fruit trees and bushes along the skirts for privacy, but will double as giving yourself much needed shade. I would definitely map out all of the contour of the property, even though it appears flat this might give you a better idea of how your water might flow across the landscape and build your hugels on contour to hold that moisture. Build up the soil with as much mulch as you can get and get foul too if your allowed.

Did you want to keep the field as a field with just some dedicated gardening? or did you plan on getting a food forest style system in place. If your leaning toward food forest, just get as much biomass as you can and start planting heavy. The best way to keep moisture during the dry season is to get shade and the best way to keep the moisture under control is to have roots.
 
Marie Repara
Posts: 26
Location: Central Louisiana Zone9a:Silty Clay Loam: Alt.69ft.
6
rabbit books homestead
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Daniel Ray,
  Thanks for your input! I had not thought about the spillway but that makes a ton of sense. Mulch is not a problem in this state, though clean mulch might be. I assume in suggesting foul/fowl you mean ducks for keeping the ponds: they would certainly help with our mosquito problem! I've been looking for simple ways to avoid outside feed inputs before buying, any suggestions would be appreciated.
  The current field is large enough for our projects that we would like to divide it between pasture and annual gardening. We're only planning on a few dairy goats right now and since grass grows fast around here the pasture needn't be large. Incorporating some trees within the hedges would definitely help with shade, and I hadn't thought about trees helping to absorb that water faster. Food for thought: thank you!
 
Marie Repara
Posts: 26
Location: Central Louisiana Zone9a:Silty Clay Loam: Alt.69ft.
6
rabbit books homestead
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Glancing through pics and hadn't noticed just much higher the neighbors field is: that explains a lot.
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Posts: 31
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I had a low area that would get standing water because the neighbors property dumped on it, I was able to create a swale to direct the water into an existing ditch. By chance is the ditch at the front lower than the back?

I would try to either get the standing water drained somewhere, or if that isn't an option try to dig one part down and use that dirt to build up another raised area that doesn't flood (saving the topsoil of course).
 
Marie Repara
Posts: 26
Location: Central Louisiana Zone9a:Silty Clay Loam: Alt.69ft.
6
rabbit books homestead
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Hello John,
Unfortunately the front ditches are quite a bit higher with mini dams that keep excess water from rushing down towards the the rest of the property from the road. We have discussed drainage systems with the neighbor on the other side of the property but the problem with this area is that the ditches around here just don't flow after a certain amount of rain; they pretty much just hold water until it dries up. I think digging is definitely going to be the way to go. We can use the dirt for building up other areas and/or for hügelkultur projects.
 
Posts: 27
Location: Colorado Springs, Zone 4b
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So first off, if you're like me you want to do everything right away. And you can justify it because those trees you want will take most of a decade to start producing so they need to get planted NOW!

You'll wear yourself out. Do a little bit at a time and you'll last a lot longer. We just bought our first house (on an urban lot) and between fixing it up and getting ready to plant a forest garden I have my time accounted for at least through most of the coming year.

Chinampas come to mind, though it doesn't sound like you have enough year-round water for them to work. Basically you dig channels and build raised areas in between. I think it must be a tactic for utilizing swamps. Anyhow you can do aquaculture in the channels and the raised areas are watered but not waterlogged.
All this is kind of foreign to me since I'm in CO and needing to deal with too much water has never been a problem.

Your Hugelkulture idea sounds like you might be on the right track. My brother built one and was disappointed (Colorado, so rather dry and the thing never really composted. I think for it to work right you need lots of green stuff in with the wood. And since it's composting, it might take some time for it to be ready.

It seems like increasing water infiltration will be key. And figuring out what to do about the runoff from your neighbor. It could be an asset or a liability.
Deep-rooted cover crops would be a minimal-effort strategy that might loosen up the soil. A subsoiler might be a good option at some point, too.

A strategy I'm using is deep wood chip mulch, 12 inches is the target, to maintain moisture and build soil. In your case it'll decompose a lot faster but I wonder if as it decomposes and the worms work on it it would improve your infiltration rate. Silt/clay sounds like it would get waterlogged easily. I've gotten a couple loads of wood chips from the local tree trimming company (for free). Paul in the back to Eden documentary composts the wood chips and uses them for his garden, so they're multi-purpose.

Most of all enjoy your new place!
Daniel
 
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