I've been reading/watching everything I can get my hands on in regards to permaculture, but before I put my first foot forward, I need a kick in the you know what . I currently do hydroponic and soil gardening while overseas so I have a pretty decent knowledge in that capacity but the freedom with permaculture is really intimidating.
I've got 20 acres of partial forested, off the grid land at about 4,000 ft altitude near Missoula, MT. The soil is sandy-loam. I've got a bare, compacted from heavy machinery patch of land that I'd like to do something with. I'm planning long-game here as I won't be expecting, nor do I need, any yield for the next 5-7 years.
Establish a food forest. I'm not picky on what I plant. I'll eat whatever.
When I return, I don't mind daily upkeep, but in the meantime, I'm limited to 2 months of user input in the summer and 2 months in the winter.
Would growing buckwheat as a summer cover, winter rye as a winter cover before I leave and planting fruittrees a reasonable summer plan? Do I need to work on the soil for a year before I put trees in the ground? I've got access to some chicken and horse manure through my parents. Like I mentioned, I'm willing to take things slow.
I don't know if this is worth mentioning but I'm going to dig a couple of swales on the south facing hill. Also, I've got two, 2-year old hugel beds that I should have probably put mulch on two years ago. Fun, Fun!
Garrett: for every hour of work you plan to do, read for 10. If you can afford it, do one or both of the following:
1. enroll in an online Permaculture design course. (Geoff Lawton has one each year the next is in April 2015) a comprehensive course will not only teach aspects of design by WHY certain things are done and how they relate--you will learn how to site buildings and dams and swales or gambions, you will learn about chanampas, and rice paddies and gardening in arid areas. You will learn about succession, the importance of soil pH and what immigrants (weeds) tell you about your land and which ones to encourage in order to revive land. You will learn how to build dams, move earth, site, green houses and hoop houses... how to begin the process (I can tell you to start by learning about orientation, aspect, slope, climate, latitude and longitude and how far above sea level your land is. ) After you have that down, figure out the slope and take just a bit of land (around 3-4 acres to start--learn or practice understanding contour and how water falls (contour is perpendicular to water flowing down a hill)
Learn how to design swales on contour because you START by siting your dams and ponds (water catchment even if you are in a place with lots of water) , then determining access with roads or paths, then with preparing legumes and other plants you can broadcast after the swales are dug, then growing tree seedlings (both legume annual, perrenials and trees and then fruit trees) Understand succession is a MUST.
Although you indicated you have 5-7 years, I would encourage you begin in stages BUT 5-7 years is not that much time--the sooner you can start the better. There are ways you can fast track succession but for sustainability you are going to develop a manmade ecosystem to mimic a natural one. You will be replacing immigrants with designed in plants and you will create more water sources and more edges--learn about edges if you do not know about them already.
Natural succession can take anywhere from 15-75 years or more --Permaculture speeds up this concept exponentially--but it ALL starts with knowing the above then moving to paper and designing water retention elements, then water usage, then soil state and soil needs. do NOTHING without learning about soil and water at least. Do LESS than you think you need to--maybe think about where you want your zones. I presume you know about zones by now so plan out where you would site your home (NEVER at the top of the property if you can help it--try for midslope and depending on where you live, not too near the bottom or water , not too near the top--try for a south facing slope if you have one --unless you are in very hot country.
In MT--get your slope understood then your water then the soil (that can be adjusted when you make some dams/ponds, building swales and designing in hugels or other water /mound retention methods--do not build swales unless you already have your first layer of seed (perennial nitrogen fixers) and inoculant ready to broadcast and some chopped straw mulch to lightly cover.
Be sure to also check for prevailing winds (evaporative factors and wind tunnel considerations) and know what water is available. You will try to build your dams at the highest points in your land and you will seek to farm or site your PC area, in a place with no more than 20 degree slope.
Hope this helps.
2. The other thing you can do is take some time off and volunteer for a stint or seminar at a localpermaculture site---nothing beats hands on information and experience.
Hey Garrett, it sounds like you have a good start on a beautiful piece of land. Queenie has offered some good advice on getting some knowledge. Though, I expect you have already gathered quite a bit here and else where. Personally, I would starting making a plan, possibly with a map. Take stock of the character of your place (slopes, wet, dry, natural useful plants, bare spots, distance from your living quarters, etc). Get some trees in the ground because the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago! Getting a jump on things is really going to benefit your cause. You will make improvements to your plan as you learn more. If you wait until you know it all, you may never start.
Buckwheat, clover, alfalfa, tillage radishes, etc seems like a good plan to start the soil improvement. Get the hugels mulched and growing something useful. You may be able to aquire some old straw or hay that would make a great mulch for the bare spots. It will help to add organic matter. I am sure that while spending some time there, the land will give you some ideas about what needs to be done. Good luck and enjoy!
Thanks for all the advice and encouragement. It sounds like it's never to early to get started on this stuff. I am of the advantage that I don't need immediate yields. Thank you Amos for the Northwest specific species recommendations. Honestly, that has been the more intimidating part of the process.
I saw Paul at a farmer's market a couple of years ago and should have introduced myself; next time.
Fantastic input guys and gals. I burned through those Pilarski videos as well as a host of others. As it were, Pilarski's workshop is concluding two days after I get back. Jetlag permitting, I might be able to make one of the days.
Miles, I've got pictures but nothing taken with permaculture in mind. I'll post something up next week