Hello, permies! I thought I would start a thread to document my permaculture ventures in southeast Michigan, zone 6a. I've been working mainly in an area (about 2/3 acre) to the north of our house, but set back far enough that it gets terrific morning and mid-day sun (some trees shade it in the late afternoon). There is a slight slope from NW to SE. Our main issue is soil that has been abused for decades. Historical photos show that it has been dug up and compacted repeatedly because of an adjacent (now defunct) quarrying operation. There are patches of nearly pure sand, and other areas that are so clay-y that you could make pottery. Plus it is ROCKY and just generally pretty terrible. The only things growing here when we started were some straggly grasses and lots of crown vetch. We have a lot of work to do to build back the fertility, and the main project this year has been adding lots of organic material (compost, wood chips, straw... anything I can get my hands on).
I have lots of fun progress pics that I'd like to share, but I want to make sure I know how to insert pictures, so here's a test:
This is where we started this season--this photo is from May 18. We had two long-neglected raised beds that I cleared of grass & vetch and planted some annual veggies. The trees you can see in the top left of the photo were nearly all dead elms that we subsequently had removed. Here's a view of the raised beds (from the other end) a few weeks later, but before the real madness began.
OK, going to try for another update now that I have hopefully figured out how to post pictures.
Here is the small stand of mostly-dead trees that we had removed:
And here's the crew grinding stumps, once the trees were gone:
This was all done at the end of June. This left us with loads of logs and wood chips, so I spent the 4th of July weekend with a rented loader, moving stuff around and constructing three hugelkultur beds just east of the raised beds.
I also used a bunch of the boulders from the yard to make a raised bed south of the other ones. This is down-grade, so my hope was that it would catch water running off from the other beds (which used to just head right on down the hill to the river). Here's how the whole thing looked by the end of that (very tiring) weekend:
[Edited to fix the enormous picture size... I think I've got it figured out now!]
I believe vetch is a nitrogen fixer. If your vetch comes back (as it probably will) you might consider treating it as a living mulch. On top of that, most nitrogen fixing legumes work in concert with beneficial bacteria. That's what you're buying if you buy an inoculate for your beans. Just cut back the plant to root level when it begins to form seeds to release natural fertilizer to your vegetables.
Also, fava beans are a kind of vetch. If the wild vetch does very well on your property, you might want to experiment with growing these. This will be my first year trying them, but it can only be a winter crop here. I think they're actually better adapted to colder climates like yours.
Nice looking garden, especially for one in such an early stage.
Casie, yes, you're right about vetch being an N-fixer! I plan to let it recolonize (except maybe the annual beds, as I'm worried it might choke everything else out...). The area to the west (left in the pics) is going to be an orchard, and I think it should be a perfectly fine ground cover as we work to get other things established. Plus the bees seem to love it, too. Thanks for the tip on fava beans--I would love to try planting those! I made the rookie mistake of incorporating a bunch of wood chips into my hugel mounds, so I'm planning to plant them pretty much entirely with legumes next year. I'd love to try a variety of dry beans.
OK, one more update and then hopefully this thread will be caught up to the present day.
The next big piece of progress was getting a fence! We have seriously intense deer grazing pressure, and I would frequently see them standing right in the middle of the garden, munching away and staring at me. I was antsy to get this done before we planted a whole bunch of fruit and nut trees that were sure to get eaten.
So far it seems to be working...
These pics were from early August. The annual beds did great this year, with a couple exceptions (cabbage worms!), and this has just 100% become my happy place. I feel like you guys probably get this.
The last *big* project, tackled just over the last couple weeks, was to grade the area where all the dead trees came out--which was a hole-y, boulder-y, ankle-breaking mess. We had some guys bring out a Bobcat, and it went from this...
To this (complete with my homemade A-frame level, and swales flagged out--Tyler, I was typing this while you typed your question! Swales, yeah!).
I feel like I should put "shoveling" on my resume at this point, but I am so proud of how far we've come! Here is one of the mini-swales.
We've planted a dozen trees so far: apple, pear, plum, hazelnut, pawpaw, almond, fig, nectarine... plus a whole bunch of seaberry and goumi. Seeded the whole area with a cover crop mix (mostly rye and clover, along with some pea and hairy vetch... because I need more vetch, heh). I plan to get a bunch more perennials in as we play around with guilds in this area and hopefully continue to build soil fertility. But, here it is as of this morning! We're getting a bunch of (much needed) rain today, but as soon as it lets up I'll be running out to plant more berries and grapes.
Everything is planted and mulched and looking happy! Well, except for the elderberries and goji berries that were damaged during their travels to me... keeping my fingers crossed they will be OK. The blueberries sure are adorable, though.
So I said it was rocky around here... this is what I meant. Which leads me to a question--what would you do with this pile? I've considered using some of the bigger rocks in an herb spiral, maybe piling up the smaller ones along the base of my fence where I think groundhogs are getting in... maybe piling them into the swale to help warm things up?? Every time I plant anything I get another few of these, so it appears to be an endless resource. That's me trying to look on the bright side. Give me your best rocky ideas!
A few more updates! We have had a ton of rain the last few days, and the swales are holding water here and there! It's not enough for the whole expanse to fill up, but they're doing their job, I think. Even before all the rain started, these little mushrooms had popped up in the swales but nowhere else, which made me think those areas were damper than the rest of the soil.
This is another common early colonizer of the disturbed area. Anyone recognize it? I think it is some kind of thistle, but not sure if it's friend or foe.
As a biologist who studies reptiles and amphibians, I've been happy to see some of these buddies hanging out in the garden. The brown snake was buried in a pile of wood chips--I was relieved I didn't injure her with my shovel! The toads are ABUNDANT just about everywhere.
I was also happy to find this monarch caterpillar in the parsley!
Here's a view of the main "zone 1" garden as of the end of September. I can't believe we're going to have fresh tomatoes into October! Delicious but a little scary.