Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
Does anyone have any good advice, guidelines or resources on farm design/planning? When we moved here our farm had been out of use for years. It is 21 acres, flat with a tiny pond in the middle. We have a blank canvas. I just want to do my best to start with a design that will let us add or remove enterprises as easily as possible.
Is there a body of literature on farming feng shui I can dig into over the winter?
If you haven't started raising barn cats, now would be a great time. I have 8 -15 (I don't count how many come for the supplemental feeding I do... but it's less than half what you would feed a "pet" cat ) barn cats. I (nor anyone else) can't touch any of them... when they (I'm not that stupid ) are blooded by the cats. However, we have no problems with small vermin (including squirrels).
I would tend to agree with those in the "observation" group. There is just no substitute. We've been on our place about 6 years now. We had a drought followed by a great deal of rainfall in 2007. I took 2 or 3 days just standing in the rain and seeing how it flowed along the ground - it was EXTREMELY valuable information. I took pictures so that I wouldn't forget what I had seen. I refer to those pictures before I build or rearrange anything. We now have our garden "down stream" of the flow that we felt was most gentle, but consistent. We ran a line of fence around the garden to slow it down even more as it enters that space. What we have been left with is a slow and steady oozing into the garden beds during rainfall.
Another thing that I have observed about myself is that I will not travel very far for water. Our place has water and power at the barn. All industry has been built around that central location to take advantage of those conveniences. Sure, I could build rain catchments, but we have had two drought years out of 6...it just isn't reliable enough to really count on. We milk at the barn so that we have water to use for cleaning the animals and the buckets, the garden is on the side of the barn so that we can run drip irrigation when nature isn't coming through (and to divert rainfall away from the barn floor), we have a converted bus parked near the barn where folks can come and stay for awhile (that puts them near our garden privy, power, and water...and where they can chip in with the work!), we have our birthing stall there in case we need to pull an all-nighter (at least we can have a fan if it is hot and some light), etc. etc. More than power you need to consider where your water is...that's why so many cities are built on rivers...it's always been about the convenience of a water source. Best of luck...happy planning.
Figure out what you want to do with your land. We have just started reading more about permaculture and like the idea of planting in zones. The zone closest to your home is you more intensive, most of the things here require the most care. With each zone out from your house, it requires less management and care. Are you planning on farming for income? If so, divide your land into areas or fields. You may need to look closely, but are there areas that are lower or higher than others? Is there some way to designate that one area is different than another? If so, designate those fields on paper and get your soil tested. Take 5-10 samples of soil from each field, mix each field sample together and get them all tested. You can get the basics for ~$30 per sample. Its totally worth the $$ if you are growing for income. You need to know where your starting. If you are not expecting to farm for income, you can still test your soil, but I would begin working on figuring out where the best soil for planting is, where the best pasture is, etc. And remember, you can always build-up your soil and make it better. We've worked on consulting for several small farms and have lots of ideas! Hope this helps.
Love the common sense keri Jo posted about gravity and flow! Yet another fine example of the observe your land through all the seasons tactic! I'm sure I'll be using that on our property too, as we have a creek on a portion of our property, then it's all uphill from there. Until we figure how we'll be watering the back portion, gravity and flow will just have to be the answer! We'll be doing soil samples, too, as soon as the snow melts off enough to get to the ground! You also may want to look into sites about huglekulture if you have slash piles or downed wood on your land to use...
I think my biggest advice is to build a system with a business plan. This may require a co-manager because systems often require a bigger knowledge base than the average farm, but in the end, I think you need multiple operations (and trophic levels) to build an environmentally sustainable system. As a trained systems/agricultural ecologist, with about 4 years of farming and less than one year of marketing experience, I know less about the business planning, so I'll comment on what I do know, systems design.
What is a system?
Throughout history, farms depended entirely on natural processes to build their resource base: organic matter in the soil (SOM). From my perspective, this resource is the basis of agricultural 'systems.' Historically a few methods have been used to build SOM: livestock, aquaculture and periodic flooding. Of these, the easiest to learn and implement with the best market for the intermediate product is the livestock version, called "mixed agriculture" or an "Integrated Crop-Livestock System". Specifically, these farms depend on ruminant animals: cattle, goats, sheep (and bison, yaks and a few other species, sadly horses don't seem to build soil as well or as fast) can digest a broad array of forages and build up microbes in the soil. Through the work of the microbes in their gut, they help build SOM. Mob Grazer evangelist Greg Judy calls them a "microbe tank." If you have good soil, you will spend a lot less money on disease prevention and fertilzers. Building good soil can take a while, but it makes other farming crops a lot more fun. If you don't need INSTANT cashflow, taking the 5 years or 10 years to build up your soil and a full-fledged agricultural system that can last indefinitely seems worth it to me. Sadly economic considerations generally triumph over environmental. Even sadder is that most farmers haven't even heard of these systems since they studied ancient/medieval history in grade school.
Once you've built up a half acre or more of soil, you can use tillage to sustainably harvest this soil resource in the form of crops. Remember, you grew that soil! Don't let anyone tell you that tillage is an entirely bad thing. Strip-till and no-till agriculture might be good alternatives, but if you've built up your soil resource, I see little reason not to use the most well-proven tillage options out there. Eventually, you will use up most of the resource that you built up when the field was in pasture and you will need to replant forages and start the cycle over again.
Starting with these principles in mind is the most important basic understanding I think a farmer can have while trying to design a farm. After that, we can then figure out specifics: layout "sweet spots" for fields of half an acre or more that are mostly flat that we will want to convert in and out of crop production. Within those fields someone (perhaps a vegetable or row crop enterprise manager) will formulate their own cropping rotation with both cash crops and legume cover crops.
I definitely agree with this principle.
Another thing to consider while planning, and also when you can't wait and want to jump into farming, is to make things as portable as you can.