Need Ideas on Designing New Farm

Discussion in 'Designing, building, making and powering your life' started by farmerd, May 29, 2012.

  1. farmerd

    farmerd Junior Member

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    I need some input on laying out a perennial polyculture for our farm.

    some background......
    my wife and i were able to pick up 43 acres in gadsden, sc (usa) for a steal about a year ago. it had recently be mostly clear cut, and is currently coming back in sweetgums, oaks, pines, black tupelo, blackberries and such. this land is near congaree swamp for those familiar to central, sc and has a much more rich topsoil than most of sc but does have clay subsoil.
    what we're trying to do is combine holistic management and ecological design into a workable small farm that is truly sustainable. in our model, we only plan to harvest the best fruits for sale and leave the rest for our own use or the natural environment. it is more important to use to reduce or eliminate the need for human intervention and reduce our labor input (once established) than to make a bunch of money. we just want to be able to live off our land.
    being that this will be a for profit farm we want to focus on some specific easily grown perennial cash crops (pawpaws, blackberries, blueberries, persimmons, pomegranates, muscadines, pecans, etc) , but we want to work these into a "food forest" type design scheme. we also want to retain what natural forest that is untouched and work with it where possible.my original plan was to roughly design 4 base keyhole type gardens (north, south, east, and west facing) and work them into the larger plan, modifying them slightly for variations in direction and microclimate. this idea will probably work, but it seems to lack the scale needed for a farm sized operation.
    i think i can overcome the obvious harvesting problem (ie having individual crops spread out everywhere in different "gardens") with careful mapping. atleast then ill know where everything is supposed to be come harvest time. The bigger design problem is that keyholes seem to be geared for smaller applications. for my scale, even linking multiple keyholes into one "garden" seems to small.
    heres how i see it in my head so far......
    i need a single lane road through my "food forest" that can accommodate a small pickup or gator, with smaller paths wide enough to accommodate a wheeled cart. smaller foot paths inside the "garden" could access individual plants. the problem i cant wrap my head around is the overall design of the garden. multiple keyholes in a mandala seem geared more to home gardens, and would IMO lack efficiency in harvest. also, for our application, the gardens need to be a larger scale to accommodate more individuals of any given species. i hope this sort of makes sense. this venture will occupy about 20 acres, and not all "gardens" will be cash crops. i guess what i need the most help with is an overall layout that will work with the for profit farm model....... any ideas?
     
  2. emilyjane

    emilyjane Junior Member

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    hey farmerd,

    you may want to look at the link below to get ideas for a model - this is a profitable permaculture project in South Australia and from what I've read they started out with a very crappy, barren piece of land so if it can be done there, it can be done pretty much anywhere.

    https://www.foodforest.com.au/

    Best of luck with it!

    Emily
     
  3. emilyjane

    emilyjane Junior Member

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  4. farmerd

    farmerd Junior Member

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    by the look of the map, that looks very much like a typical orchard, albeit diversified.

    i guess i should have clarified that im looking more for guidance on the patterning(?) for the layout of a large food forest. i think the mycorrhiza patterning shown in Edible Food Forest would work well for the access patterns, but i guess i need to do some more research a basic, repeatable pattern for the forest garden itself. i would like to take advantage of the benefits of a "true" forest garden, while finding a design idea to deal with the harvesting aspect of the for-profit system. there is nothing like this in my area, so im kinda on my own out here.....
     
  5. matto

    matto Junior Member

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  6. farmerd

    farmerd Junior Member

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    that's kinda the idea i had in mind. i envisioned creating a series of different "patterns" like Cam displays, then interlinking them around the terminal ends of the access patterns to form the "gardens".
    the issue i see with this type of pattern is that, when replicated, it begins to form a "pea soup" in the vertical space that i understand is undesirable. maybe there is some kind of fractal type pattern that could be applied here....... i need more research and ideas.
    ill have more time to devote to this problem in a couple of days when my last beginning farm class is complete. i had to finish a project for it that has had me tied up the last few months.
    dominic
     
  7. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    I think you need to be careful about trying to make a one-size-fits-all template for permaculture, but it is nice to have good workable guidelines to get you kick started.

    farmerd, what have you done about planning your water catchment and management. In many cases this in itself will start to give you a skeleton to work from. I think most good permaculture designers will tell you to get your earthworks (especially for water management) in place first.

    What is the slope of your land? Have you marked out your contours? These things will really give you a good indication of what to do next.
     
  8. farmerd

    farmerd Junior Member

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    the reasons im looking for a few basic layouts is mainly due to the sheer size of my project and the necessity of a somewhat efficient harvest. also, my land is basically flat. i have a small 1or2 ft rise in one portion, but it is nearly imperceptible. as for water management, i am the water sink in my area. our property is what used to be (and still is to some extent) a river bottom forest. my main management issues with water is draining a seasonally high water table where required and building up the elevation where required to reduce "ponding". our current plan is to construct a 5-8 acre pond centrally in the property that is 3-4 ft below current grade. that will facilitate seasonal drainage in cultivated areas, and allow some overflow surface drainage in high precip years. this also provides the necessary materials for regrading where required and for construct of our naturally built home. the two base soil types the comprise our place are a very similar clay structure, and the transition from one to the other is nearly imperceptible. there is also the restraint that this system has to be relatively efficient at harvest time as to reduce the needed labor and time. i feel that some compromises will have to be made to get this system tweaked for commercial as well as sight requirements, but the result should be much more sustainable than the highly sprayed commercial american orchard.
    if i could visualize a repeatable (but easily modified) set of "base" patterns and their arrangement, then actual design and adaptation to our particular locale would be easier on me.
     
  9. farmerd

    farmerd Junior Member

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    i should also add that im trying to put together the bulk of the crop list now so that additional supporting plants to form the guilds can be researched to help solve this equation. i hope to have a somewhat complete plant list put together by the end of the summer so i can begin collection and replication of the plant materials needed to begin installation of this project. if i can put together one workable guild soon, i should be able to tentatively layout the project, and begin to make adjustments where necessary. i dont expect this to be a "once and done" type project. i know it will take a bit of work to optimize. i also want to try to push the envelope and experiment with some tree crops that maybe a zone or two warmer or colder than my place is.
     
  10. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    Can we take it that this is the main thrust of what you are looking to do?

    I can't help get the feeling that a commercial farm is set out in neat straight rows for just this reason.

    How many people will you have to work your 20 acres? At the moment I work probably less than an acre of mine and I would struggle to care for more than I do - granted mine is not yet a peak functioning food forest and still in the construction phase. If your main aim is to just 'live off the land' do you really need to put 20 acres under production? How many people are you catering for?

    Even with the best design how much time would you really save?

    I may just not be understanding your main aim for your property though.
     
  11. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    The labour to farm 20 acres without some sort of design efficiency that incorporates straightness or pockets of monoculture, or even timed harvests in certain areas (polyculture harvesting from the same spot and time), would, in my untrained eyes, seriously hamper an attempt at making money.

    The labour in starting 20 acres from scratch in one go also frightens me.

    I think Grahame's questions are prudent and deserve resetting your plan and answering them. It would be heartbreaking to see you over-extend yourself and lose money in plant deaths and wasted time.
     
  12. farmerd

    farmerd Junior Member

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    good questions.

    i am not a straight commercial grower, but i am looking to become a small farmer as a profession in the coming years.
    when we found and bought our land, we were able to get twice what we were originally looking to buy. one of the reasons was due to it being basically clearcut. standard practice in this area is to remove the somewhat mature, diverse natural forest to sell the larger pines, and replace it with a monoculture of pine saplings for future timber harvesting. i dont really want to do that. my over arching plan for the "food forest" area of our farm was to work with the remaining natural forest and install mainly fruit/nut producing trees with perennial flowers/vegetables and native occurring trees and plants also having a home in the new guilds. we have no intent to treat this as a commercial orchard in harvest either. the goal is to selectively harvest only the best fruits produced for sale. for example: when blueberry harvest time rolls around, ill hit the spots with the blueberries to glean the best fruits to sale and leave the bulk in place either for the use of the natural world or to pick later for our personal use. i can only believe that most of the fruits produced in this type system will not be market quality. those sale-able fruits would be, in theory, completely chemical free.
    i guess in a nut shell, i dont want to just be status quo and plant a bunch of pines...... im sure my pollinators wouldnt appreciate it either. i understand the scope of labor and planning required to do this, and i know it will take some time to get in the ground. i just want to turn an unexpected gain (in the form of 20 extra acres) into a system that provides us with atleast some extra income because farmers around here dont make much money. if i can get this system running, it would be a huge accomplishment in sustainability in an area where monsanto rules unchallenged.
    i know this is a extremely large and complicated and expensive when viewed like a small home installation. if theres a way to jump this ideal to the next level (ie the small farm), then this community would be on its way to becoming viable in the eyes of mainstream ag.
     
  13. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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