Tuesday, April 19, 2016


In September 2013 we took a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in Vermont.
In October we found our new home, and in December we bought it and moved in.
That winter we made plans.

Our high-level goal:
Build a low-maintenance, beautiful outdoor space that provides more food than the two of us can eat while relying on minimal off-site inputs once established.

This breaks down into specific sub-goals:
  1. Plant perennials (fruits, nuts, berries, etc) because they provide far more food for far less work than annual crops that need to be re-planted, rotated, and intensively managed to avoid soil depletion.
  2. Plant annuals (tomatoes and other fruits & veggies) to start getting food in the first year, and for exercise & aesthetics.
  3. Keep animals to manage pests and produce proteins, fats, & fertilizer onsite.
  4. Plan ahead . . . but still adapt as we go.  We want to maximize what we get from the money and time we're able to invest.
We chose this property because it has good solar aspect, is close to work and friends, and at 2.5 acres is manageable but has plenty of space to grow food for 2 people.

The southern half was almost all lawn when we bought it.  It slopes mostly East, but also South.  In our climate (43°N latitude and USDA Zone 5b), southern exposure is best for the extra sunlight and higher temperatures.  Eastern exposure is the next best, because ground that sees sunlight earlier in the day warms up earlier.  Since low temperatures typically happen right before first light, this gives smaller temperature swings (both high and low) than ground with afternoon light.

The northern half is covered in trees and shrubs - some of which we'll keep (the maples, oaks, and autumn olive), but much of which will eventually get upgraded to more productive alternatives.

We're focusing on just the lawn for the first few years to save the work of clearing trees and brush, and because it's flatter and has better solar aspect.

We decided to put raised beds for an annual veggie garden in the front yard, dig a nice garden pond, and install 3 swales (ditches on contour) to manage water flow.
The idea of a swale is to hold surface water long enough to let it soak into the ground, and to catch any topsoil that might be suspended in it (from, say, erosion due to heavy rain).  They're not as critical in a mild climate like ours (which gets even precipitation throughout the year) as they are in a desert, but still serve valuable functions.  They're great for planting trees.

We decided to put a hand full of fruit trees in the uphill-most (and longest) swale, and a few in the front yard as well.  The middle swale has perennial flowers, and the lower one has perennial herbs.

Since I was lucky enough to find a detailed topographical map of the land (2' contour intervals) and I use CAD software for my day-job, I built a 3D model that we've been using for planning.

After deciding what we wanted and where to put it, we chose to do the earth works first (digging swales, the pond, and raised beds), and to rent an excavator.

While we could have dug beds and more-than-adequate swales by hand, we knew we'd get a lot more done in the first year if we rented machinery and put everything in with help from friends over a weekend.

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