Lauren Dixon

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since Apr 15, 2012
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Kalispell, Montana
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Recent posts by Lauren Dixon

I am developing a two acre property, with some existing great features. We have a seasonal creek that runs about 8 months out of the year, and a pond on site that fills when the creek runs. The house sits in the middle of the property, with about a 2% steady grade from the rear property line to the front. The front yard is about 3000 sq feet of gentle slope away from the house, toward the driveway and creek (the driveway crosses the creek with a small bridge). The front yard gets good sun, so I'm interested in making it into a food growing space. We've already developed the back yard into a great food production area, with multiple hugelkultur beds that are rocking our socks off every summer with great yields. The front, however, is something I've wanted to handle more carefully, so I haven't touched it yet. It is the prettiest spot on the property, bordered on one side by a nice pond with a splashy waterfall and flowerbeds on the other. This part of the property is the first thing people see when they enter, and is also visible from the community roadway.

My idea is to develop a series of swales on contour, leading across the front yard away from the house, toward the creek. I thought it would be a good way to catch the roof runoff from the house, and ameliorate the incredible mud that develops in the spring and fall from heavy rains. Apparently every ten years or so, though I haven't experienced it yet, the creek outruns its banks and floods the entire property and the neighbor's garage, so I'm thinking some kind of water management would prevent those disasters, as well.

In addition to the swales on contour, I'd like to add another small pond to the end of the yard fed by the swales above it, (as well as being fed by a spillway from the larger existing pond), then another series of two or three swales below the small pond, eventually leading back into the creek.

What do ya'll think of this idea? I'd love some input. Earthworks projects scare me a little, so I want to make sure this idea is well fleshed before I start digging. I had a PDC grad friend of mine say, "Almost everybody I know who has done earthworks ended up regretting them terribly!". Yikes!
8 years ago
I stumbled upon these three Roman treatises on Agriculture, written by Marcus Terentius Varro around 100 B.C..

As I sit, perusing these books with my morning coffee, I have been thrilled to discover quite a few references to stacking functions, composting, the importance of polyculture on the farm, earthworks strategies, etc. Check it out! You might learn something new.

On Agriculture:*.html
On Animal Husbandry:*.html
On Stewardship of the Homestead:*.html
8 years ago
Hi Jenni, and welcome!

I was hoping you'd be willing to discuss some of the techniques, difficulties, and permaculture perspectives about livestock on a small farm.

My place is 2 acres, and because we are in Montana with an extremely short growing season, we rely heavily on our animals to meet our food needs. We raise chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, and dairy goats on our little place, as well as keeping a couple of horses in a dry-lot paddock year-round.

In an ideal situation, we'd have pasture for our animals, we'd be raising at least some of the food they require, and we'd be recycling all of their manure back into the soil. As it stands now, we are hauling in nearly all of our feed, which is expensive and seems counter-productive to the permaculture model. We are, however, benefiting immensely from the manure output, so we've managed to close that part of the cycle, at least.

Can you share some of the things you've learned along the way, in managing livestock on a small acreage without benefit of pasture?

Thanks for joining us!
8 years ago

I love your setup! Thanks so much for sharing. I will be following your journey and blog, as you go! You have some beautiful ideas.

Hey guys,

So, through a series of mishaps and various disasters, I have found myself in the position of having to bring all 4 of my horses to live at home with me. I have a small 2 acre homestead, and have set aside 1/4 acre space for my equine friends. Obviously, this space will be strictly a dry-lot, with no grazing available, and heavy manure management will be necessary to keep odor and flies at bay. Are there any specific tidbits of advice you guys can offer, to help me succeed in this endeavor, and help to make the horses a benefit to my homestead, rather than a liability? So far, I am thinking that they will be helpful for transportation/fossil fuel reduction, fertilizer/compost production, and free chicken food as I build a manure compost pile (along the lines of Karl Hammer/Geoff Lawton's plan for no-grain compost fed chickens setups). Any other ideas?
Bill, thanks for your input! I am always excited to encounter someone else in the Flathead who is interested in Permaculture. I would love to hear about some of your projects here in the Flathead, if you don't mind sharing.

I do intend to plant some blueberries alongside the huckleberries that seem to thrive on the property. Our plan is to clear about 80 doug firs out of here. Once they are gone, we will run the goats and pigs through to "brush-hog" (pun intended), and then plant half of the clearing in a polyculture of meadow species for animal fodder, and the other half will become a new food forest with more interesting edges and diversity. We're pretty excited about this idea. We're also really excited about the idea of actually seeing the SUN. Ahem...
10 years ago
Wayne Stephen: I have seen Joel Salatin's system of creating what he calls "pig savannahs", which is a big part of what spurred my interest in clearing some trees. We will be leaving a few big, healthy trees scattered throughout the lot (taking our canopy down from 90% to something closer to 25%) and in the spring, we will be running our pigs through the area on a rotational basis to create some ground disturbance. The soil where these trees have been is a rather acidic, dry duff which will need a good disturbance and some added organic material to get it moving toward polyculture grass meadow.

Also, I think I should point out that we are clearing about 1/2 acre of trees, in the middle of a 1.5 million acre national forest system, which is 99% Douglas Fir. The Forest Service has been intentionally selecting for the Doug Fir around here for about 50 years, routinely girdling all of the broad leaf species. In fact, we have a beautiful Silver Birch grove about 100 yards behind our property consisting of about 250 large trees, all of which have been recently girdled by the Forest Service. Doug Fir with it's rapid maturity, and good straight grain appears to be a favorite of the lumber industry, and therefore, well protected by the Forest Service. That combined with the continual suppression of wildfires for the last 75 years in this area has created a 1.5 million acre monoculture of Fir with lots of very dry, crackly underbrush. It's a fire bomb waiting to happen.

Our main interest is to remove these Doug Firs and introduce a wider array of species, including some conifers, but also broad leafed trees, fruit trees, nut trees, nitrogen accumulators like buffalo berry, edible berry bushes, etc, as well as opening up some grassland and creating more forest edge for life to flourish. We do have a few neat little Doug Fir/Huckleberry guilds on the place that nature designed, and we will be leaving those alone.
10 years ago
Michael Qulek: My instincts seem in line with your thinking on this issue. As I walked around the property today, the first trees I slated for removal were the obviously dead, dying, or diseased, and second, the small overcrowded ones. I kept quite a few big, old "grandfather" trees that looked to be thriving, and also selected any smaller trees beside the big old healthy trees that looked to be leeching resources from the big guys. The logger had zero input into which trees needed to come down. He only advised me about whether a certain tree would be good for lumber, firewood, or hugelkultur scrap. The decision was all mine, and I held the spray paint to do the marking. I was never pushed in any direction, which I appreciated.

My father went to college for forestry, and dropped out in his second year after discovering that forestry is all about securing human profit. I'm not sure I want the opinion of a "real forester". I'd rather hear the opinions of permaculture folks who are looking out for the best interest of the ecosystem and the land as a whole package, rather than just looking out for the trees.
10 years ago
Michael Cox and Kelby, thanks for your words of advice and encouragement!

Kelby: When Paul Wheaton talks about Doug Fir being an invasive species, I think he's pointing to their tendency to become a tree monoculture, essentially smothering out all other species. I have seen this in action on our property, where the Doug Firs have managed to kill or seriously stunt all of the Maple, Silver Birch, and Ponderosa. There is also some debate about whether or not the Douglas Fir actually releases poisonous substances meant to kill other plant species and wipe out the competition. As Ernie Wisner (if I remember correctly) put it, "The Douglas Fir is designed for combat". They are big, beautiful trees, but I don't see any way that our fruit trees will survive competition with this species.

Michael: We will definitely be hugelkulturing any wood scraps that we get out of this deal. We have two large hugelkultur beds built out of mostly Doug Fir logs and trimmings, and those garden beds are freakishly productive. More sunlight will equal more hugel beds on our property. Thanks for the reminder about this. Now I'm a little bit more excited about this ordeal!

These trees are definitely prolific. We have some young Doug Firs on the property that have grown a full 3 feet in 3 years, since we moved in. These trees can reach full mature size in 30 years or less, which is why nothing else seems able to compete with them. They are unbelievable.

See that? I'm talking myself into it, bit by bit.

Tree guy just left and we walked around, marking the trees destined for removal. All in all, I think we chose about 50 trees to take out. He kept telling me, "This property is going to look GREAT once these guys are out of here. Just wait until you see how much sun you'll get!" I needed to hear those things. I'm getting braver about this.
10 years ago
I am needing some moral support!

We have a 1.5 acre stand of mostly Doug Fir, with the typical oregon grape/rugosa rose/huckleberry understory. We have dense forest on all four sides of our property, which results in considerably less sunlight than we, or our gardens, really need. We have been struggling with seasonal depression in the wintertime, due to low sun angles being blocked by trees, trees, and more trees! We also struggle with much less growing space than we really need to supply our family with food, which was our goal when we purchased this property.

We have just received an offer from a logger with a portable sawmill to come to our place, take out all of the Doug Fir on the South side of the property (which will leave about 50-75 Fir and Cedar trees on the North side), mill us a pile of lumber, all for an easy, cheap trade. I really would like to move forward and accept his offer, but am having a major moral fight with myself over the removal of so many trees at once. Paul Wheaton calls the Douglas Fir an "invasive weed", which makes me feel a little bit better, but truth is, I know the character of each and every one of these trees personally. I know exactly where they cast their shade throughout the year, what bird species tend to hang out in each tree, and find it difficult to take out trees that have lived on this Earth in some cases 3x longer than myself! That being said, we cannot really move forward with our planned paddock shift grazing system for our livestock, and our polyculture orchard, without opening up a considerably larger amount of sunlight.

Decisions, decisions. Help me out, guys. What would you do?
10 years ago