Ian Taylor wrote:Well my almost lifelong goal of having a homestead has nearly come to fruition. I have about 90 acres under contract for sale, land that used to be my great grandmothers and including ha1-23df1a very modest house. We have already lived here for over a year now and that has given me some time to asses and plan properly. I couldn't be happier that we did almost nothing the first year because the plans have changed a lot since just last year, the original plan was to clear some big chunks of land and start farming big ag style on a home scale, after reading some books and reading about what people on here have done everything has been rewritten. Had we started development last year, this year would have just been fixing all the problems we caused. I think i'd like to perhaps start a blog to collect bit and pieces about the development of the site, I actually wish there were more blogs detailing permaculture homestead development in great depth in similar climates. Most of what I have seen is either hobbyist scale, people hoarding all their acquired information up until they write it into a book and sell it or people building a great site but then just taking a couple pictures and writing a few short blurbs.
This is what we have for land:
Its 88.5 acres on the Helderberg Plateau, which is a small plateau which is basically the northern terminus of the Catskill Mountains. We are about 15 miles from Albany and situated at about 1200' asl. It is technically Zone 5a although to the best of my knowledge we haven't had any temps below -15 for a few years now, even with the supposed "Arctic Vortex", so we may become 5b in the near future. The soil is heavily dominated by clay although is fairly fertile and there are only scattered locations of poor drainage. The front 10 or so acres have at least 4' to bedrock although the remainder of land in the back ranged from a couple feet to only inches or exposed in places. Most of the land is semi flat although nearly all of it is on a slight north facing grade, in fact the only south facing slope I know of on the entire property is where I have sited my vegetable garden.
Old Growth Trees: We have about a half dozen maple trees this size and 2 Red Oaks around this size, from looking at similar trees they would appear to be around 200+ years old. Not very useful but they certainly are beautiful and rare in this area, top is a sugar maple, bottom is a red oak.
Wild Edibles: We have 2 patches this size with red and black raspberries, we have 9 wild mulberry trees (only 2 are female though) and scattered blackberries along the trails in the woods and have 7-8 full size shagbark hickory trees.
Water Features: The top is a picture of what I suppose you could call a pond except its only 2 feet deep. I'd like to backfill it about a foot or so and grow rice in it, it is spring fed so stays at this level currently year round except for right after the spring snow melt. The bottom picture is our big pond, its about twice and big and stays a consistent 8+ feet deep all year, I may tap this to use for irrigation at some point, it is about 25 feet higher in elevation that the gardens at the very top corner of our property next to the road. It needs to be cleaned up a bit but besides being about 10 yards from the road and 100 yards from the house its a great pond, currently there are a good amount of willows and silver maples growing along the edges and even into the pond.
Here is just a rough outline of the property:
So that is what we have to start with, the goals for the property are:
To produce 40% of our food by the end of the 2015 growing season, that will come mostly from the vegetable garden, solar greenhouse and our small livestock, by 2018 that number hopefully will rise to 80% by the addition of the rice paddy, our orchard coming up to production and expansion of our livestock holdings.
Also to produce 80% of our home heating fuel onsite starting this coming year. Then after we finish our new house (Sometime around 2020ish) to bring that number up closer to 100%, higher than 80 isn't feasible in our current house, it is terribly designed and very poorly insulated (Its a tiny 800sq/ft house and would have taken about 600 gallons of heating oil to heat had we used only oil this past year, we burned 300g and about 2 cords of wood) but building from scratch can fix that.
What we have done to it so far:
A 2000sq/ft vegetable garden that I started this year. We have Potatoes, Cabbage, Celery, Broccoli, Onions, Beets, Carrots, Winter and Summer Squash, Corn, Peppers, Tomatoes and Beans. The fertility for this years garden was purchased as composted cow manure from a local dairy farm which is cut about 50/50 with sand and then mixed with our heavily clay soil. Fertility in future years should be able to be provided by our Rabbits and Ducks and by yard compost. I also plan to add about 500sq/ft more space for next year.
I have also begun making stone lined beds around the outside for small edible shrubs, just highbush blueberries intercropped with herbs so far. I have also begun to replace the fence with a stone wall, we have miles of stone walls, many of which still totally standing on our property. I like the image of walking through the woods and stumbling across a 250 year old stone wall that is still good as new with a pile of 50 year old chicken wire rotting away to dust next to it. This is called permaculture after all, why not make our infrastructure permanent, if the stone seems to keep out mammalian garden pests I think I may take up and re-purpose the chicken wire fence, stone looks way nicer anyways. Thats just 5 hours work, but boy is building these hard work, I cant imagine building all the miles of ones we have already in any one persons lifetime.
So far we only have rabbits as far as livestock, they are so far extremely easy to take care of. Every post online talked about how they would inevitably fight to the death or burrow out of their pen but in the 2 month's we have had them so far they have done none of these things. That ugly looking log structure is a shade house I built/dug for them to keep cool and they have a den in the side of the shed. They are fed a heaping bucketfull of foraged greens in the morning and a big handfull of pellets in the afternoon, besides filling their water periodically that's all the care they seem to have needed so far. They are also very handy if you ever need to strip bark off of logs, I give them all the scrap bark from splitting firewood and they eat it right up. We started with 4 and now have 4 more, we had our first litter about 3 weeks ago.
Here are the beginnings of our orchard, I just bought Stefan Sobkowiaks excellent orchard video a couple weeks ago and have already put some of his ideas into practice. One row has been planted so far (3 Apples and 2 Black Locusts) and I have space for about 3 more rows where I would like to incorporate Pears and Plums as well as some fruiting shrubs like Seaberry and Honeyberries. Once the trees are up to size I think we can grow much of our annual bean crop by trellising it off the trees in the orchard also.
Plans for the future:
Expansion of the vegetable garden to produce large quantities of annual staples such as field corn for cornmeal and nixtamal, potatoes, shell beans, squash, and tomatoes for canning.
Expansion of our rabbit herd to include a number of ducks as well for meat and eggs.
Fill out the allotted area with orchard trees to produce apples, pears and plums
Build a 20x40ft sunken solar greenhouse at the north side of the garden (Plan is to start this spring of '15) for production of winter vegetables, small scale aquaculture with tilapia or catfish and small olive and citrus trees.
Build a thermally efficient ~1200sq/ft house abutting the greenhouse
Relocate some of the worse for wear stone walls from back in the woods to around the house to create beautiful and functional yard barriers.
Here is a plan of how the finished product will hopefully look. The small map is of a the field right behind our current house that you can see if you refer to the main property map earlier in the post.
The black square is the planned site for the house, the green square will be the solar greenhouse, hopefully beginning construction on the greenhouse this coming spring. Dark gray is either current or planned stone walls, the light green indicates land that is or will be cleared of trees, the red is the vegetable garden, the tan line next to that will be animal paddocks, the huge blue circle with plants is going to be the rice paddy. As far as the dots orange is a fruit tree and blue is a nitrogen fixer, some of these have already been planted or were growing wild when we moved here.
So that's about it, I plan to update as we progress and within the next few month's i'd like to start a blog detailing our experience with some more specific things that have been involved with this process. The idea is to share as much info as possible, I want everyone to be trying permaculture so the more knowledge we put out into the public sphere about what is possible and how easy it can be the more we can further that wider goal as well.