Saturday, May 17, 2008

Permaculture Design Update

Was over to the gas station today, when a couple of young horsewomen rode up on a horse. Ah yes, I said to myself, someday this gas station will be a beer-lotto-cigarettes station only. For the record, the horsewoman bought a pack of gum.

Good news & bad news on my soil amendment experiment: the clover seed germinated after just nine days, and there was some visible in all four plots. Then the winds came and blew a bunch of sand onto it. I don't know if it's going to make it. We really need to fix up this sand and get something growing in it.

The campus is blessed with an Ingersoll-Rand long-boom off-road forklift "Inga".  Morpheus gave me a lift to get this crane shot of the cottage.  We're looking west by southwest.

Let's pan to the left.  The light-colored area on the left is the barren sand of "pad 3" originally intended as a building site.

Let's pan to the right.  The light-colored area on the right is barren sand of The Crater (source of Pad 1 (where the cottage is), Pad 2 (beneath the photographer), and Pad 3.)

Here's the partially-completed 3-d Sketchup model of my design, viewed from a similar angle.  Visible here are some of the West Field trees, the roof water catchment tank, the 'shroomery, the trellis, and the ice storage.

Shameless plug:  

Here at Wright On Sustainability (Permaculture Design and Engineering for the Post-Carbon World) we strive for solutions which are right for the short-term and long-term, right for the site, the region, and the planet, right for the client.

Espousing the Greatness:  

I thought, let's take seriously this seven-generations thinking.  Accordingly, the p/c design for the HDT cottage has eight phases and goes through the year 2150 AD:

By End of June 2008
By 1st frost Fall 2008
By last frost Spring 2009
By 1st frost Fall 2009
By 2020
By 2050
By 2100
By 2150

How to walk through a design of six zones and eight phases?  In earlier posts I went zone-by-zone because the inner zones came clearer to me first.  In my May 5th presentation to the client, after an ad-lib overview, I mostly went by phase, and within phase by zone, going outward in space and forward in time.  The clients were politely complimentary but didn't dive for their checkbooks.

Let me here try a patterns-to-details narrative, without getting too ridiculously detailed.
First, we should review the client's goals.

Hunt Utilities Group Strategic Direction - develop buildings for Agricultural Resilient Communities
Buildings which heat themselves.
Buildings which produce no sewage.
Buildings where you can grow your own food.
Campus overall goals of landscaping and gardening
“Goals: want to see HUG to have more permanent production with only a smaller yearly veg. garden area.  Want to emphasize the longer term plants, orchards trees and shrubs.

Food Production, Short term – to eat right away, Long term – fruit trees etc.
Soil Building
Water management
Experimentation and research
Cut down on dust”

As full-time resident of the cottage, your designer wears a small client hat himself -> I added these goals:

Cottage specific goals – all of the above plus:
Access. Doors face S & W, civilization is to the N & E.
Storage. There is not a closet in the house.
Resilience to Grid outages. The house is all-electric.

Cottage and Site assessments incorporated by reference
See previous posts:
2/7/08 - Cottage assessment
4/9/08 - Client interview and site assessment
4/23/08 - Long-term strategy appropriate to the region

Design Concept

The area is managed as a silvopasture, a savannah-like habitat with widely spaced nut-bearing trees and shrubs. The herb layer is almost all perennials, some edible and some for animal forage. (This no-till perennial approach will make a nice comparison to the adjacent field which is undergoing soil building in preparation for annual cropping of the organic kind.)
To maintain the solar resource for the cottage, the vegetation height increases going around from the south to the west – on the south side are mainly low-growing plants with edible roots and tubers, stepping up to mainly hazelnut trees on the southwest, and then to large oak, pine, hickory, and maple trees on the west.  

The long-term strategy I envision for the campus would have these primary aspects:
  • Planting more native deciduous nut-bearing trees.
  • Replacing the native pines with edible-nut-bearing pines.
  • Husbandry of cold-hardy animals, both working and edible.

Jacke & Toensmeier have adopted Alexander's Design Pattern approach to forest gardening, that is, patterns which solve design problems.  Below are the patterns from J&T used in this design, and how they are instanced.  Being gardeners, J&T don't list many house patterns like root cellar, greywater.  The design also includes such things but they are not emphasized in this post.  There is also quite a bit of site prep to be done, soil decompaction and such, which I'll leave to later postings.

At the landscape scale
1. Productive Landscape Mosaic (Campus-wide)
“When sterile, unproductive, and monocultural landscapes dominate the built environment, local ecosystems and culture suffer. Generate mosaics of productive and beautiful habitat throughout and around cities, towns, and suburbs by creating a full range of healthy and useful ecosystems on public and private lands.”

The 70+acre campus is already a mosaic of forest, old tree plantation, old fields, wetland, and a nucleus of buildings.  This pattern can be enhanced over time.

At the site scale
5. Site Repair (Entire cottage site, esp. crater)
“People often build or garden in the most beautiful spot on their land, leaving the rest of the site to its own devices. Leave the most beautiful, healthy, precious, and comfortable places on your site alone. Build and garden in those areas that need the most repair and attention.”

The cottage is built on a worn-out cornfield, on a pile of sand excavated from an adjacent pit, in an unsuccessful attempt to bury the septic line deep enough to keep it from freezing.  We are going to fix all that.  Presently The Crater would look right at home on Mars, but I have a vision of it as a grassy gathering place, where Hunt Utilities Groupies would sing their company song "I'd like to build the world a home", which I've been practicing up on guitar.

6. Outdoor Living Rooms (N of cottage)
“Those forest gardens that function best are lived in most. Design your forest garden so that it looks, acts, and feels like an outdoor living room.”

The storage shed and north wall of the cottage formed two sides of an outdoor room.  A trellis forms the third side, and has the additional functions of hiding the rainwater catchment tank and shading the mushroom logs.

7. Zones and Sectors
“Plants or animals that require frequent care or yield frequently often don’t get the attention they need because they are ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ far from the eyes and hands of those responsible for them. In addition, we need to appropriately deal with forces and factors that radiate into or out from the site.”

Zone 0, the cottage itself.
Zone 1, the grounds within 30 feet or so.
Zone 2, the grounds within 100 feet or so, bounded by the septic line on the east, the trees to the south, the trees to the west, and the north side of the crater.
Zone 3-4 (field east of septic line, and the woods to the west down to the pond, and the tree line south by the road).
Woods north of Old Main are considered Zone 5, unmanaged long term.
NE Red pine grove and SE oldfield expected to come under closer management within 2 generations.
Here I will just highlight wildfire.  The road forms a firebreak to the south, and the pond is a firebreak to the west but does not go very far north.  A northwest firebreak may be needed to protect Old Main and the Shop.  The pond is a potential firefighting resource, but a long pipe and powerful pump would be needed to deliver it to the buildings.

Of the garden
13. Oldfield Mosaics (Field south and west of cottage)
“Early- to midsuccession mosaics of trees, shrubs, and herbs constitute one of the most productive and beautiful habitats to mimic, but a multitude of forces can make this stage of succession difficult for woody plants. Plant woody plants into grassy, bacteria-dominated soils in clumps, rather than as isolated individuals, to create a mosaic of annual and perennial herb patches with clumps or masses of shrubs and pioneer trees.”

17. Forest Gardens in the Woods (West woodland)
“How can we forest-garden in existing woods without major disturbance to the forest? Assess the structure of the existing woods to see what community niches may be missing, then fill in with useful plants, preferably native species.”

The strip of woodland on the west, between the cottage and the pond, is an early-succession habitat with trees less than about ten years old.  We can "get in on that", planting edible-producing trees such as sugar maple, shagbark hickory, and butternut.

20. Forest Edges (South of berm)
“Most forest edges in cultural landscapes are a sudden shift from woods to field, with no transitional space to speak of. This limits the potential for beauty and productivity at this useful edge environment. Develop a diverse and productive forest-edge community using a mixture of useful trees, shrubs, and herbs.”

The narrow strip of trees between the road and berm is almost a pure forest edge about six hundred feet long by thirty wide, currently dominated by Jack pine with some young oaks.  We don't want really tall trees in front of the cottage, but Whitebark pine has edible nuts and gets only about 30 feet tall.  Over time this strip might be converted into a Whitebark pine dominated area.

In the garden
24. Definite pathways (not laid out yet but will be.)
“Soil compaction is one of the major banes of healthy, living, productive soil. Create definite pathways and growing areas clearly demarcated, that tell human visitors where and where not to walk.”

A lot of the campus is sort of undifferentiated open ground, which invites driving the Cat around willy-nilly, to the great detriment of struggling ground cover.  This is a bad habit we need to get away from, so say I.

25. Strategic materials depot
“Moving around large quantities of mulch is one of the more difficult tasks in forest-garden establishment and management. Clearly, the location of the mulch piles is a key ingredient in determining how much work and time this will take.”

Currently I am thinking just east of the crater is the place for the SMD.  Phase one is looking for several dozen of yards of compost to amend the soil.

32. Nuclei that merge (West field)
“How can we establish forest gardens when we don’t have money, time, or energy for extensive broadscale plantings over large areas? Plant perennial polyculture nuclei that expand and reproduce until they fill the available space.”

I would like to get these nuclei started this season:

North row of large tree nuclei (just south of crater)
1. West – Siberian Stone Pine, Korean Nut Pine
2. Middle – Siberian Stone Pine, Korean Nut Pine
3. East – Bur Oak

South row of large tree nuclei
1. West – Butternut, Shagbark Hickory (both Juglandacea)
2. Middle – Bur Oak
3. East – Whitebark Pine

37. Gourmet decomposers (‘shroomery N of cottage)
“The vast majority of net primary plant production in forests passes through decomposers. How can we tap into this energy flow to feed ourselves? Integrate food fungus production into your forest garden using logs, stumps, wood chips, straw mulch, manure piles, and enriched soils.”

39. Lumpy texture (Height increasing clockwise from south)
“Many forest gardens we have seen have a smooth, thick texture because the gardeners have tried to use all the layers all the time. This creates numerous problems in the forest garden and does not truly mimic the structure of natural forests. Design planting density and layering patterns to create lumpy texture.”

South of the cottage is low-growing stuff:  potato patch, berry bushes, hopniss, jerusalem artichokes.  Southwest there is room for at least twenty hazelnut trees.  On the West side there is room for a few large nut-bearing trees.

43. Native species (Bur Oak, Hickory, Maple, Hazelnut, Nut Tree Mix)
“We feel concerned about the loss of native species and the explosion of opportunist exotics, but many of our most desired and useful plants are not native. What should we do? Look to native plants to perform your desired garden functions first, before looking to nonnatives.”

49. Ground cover carpets (Drivable groundcover, deer forage mix.)
“How can we manage weeds when we don’t continuously disturb the soil to prevent their germination and spread? Can we do so in a way that gains us other benefits as well as reducing our workload? Plant dense carpets of ground-cover plants that fill the available niches for unwanted plants in the forest garden, suppressing weed germination and growth. Select species that also perform functions such as attracting beneficial insects, improving the soil, producing food, or increasing populations of native plant species.”

The near-term planting plan for most of zone 1 and 2 is ground cover of one kind or another.  Detailed design of an edible perennial understory is deferred to later phases.


I attempted a design which does the minimum necessary to accomplish the stated goals.
The plan is cautious regarding perennial polyculture, with a small number of nuclei and edible perennials to start with.
It does not call for massive plant purchases, major earthworks, or in-ground irrigation systems. Many of the house and Zone 1 improvements were already planned.
The plan leverages Flora's earlier seed mix designs, and uses some soil amendments already on hand. There should be a lot of leverage from improving the soil tilth.
Most of the first-year dollars are devoted to the urgent priorities of beautifying the grounds and improving the resiliency of critical house functions, with less dollars going to the important priorities of long term food production and water management. The soil amendment and site prep work is both urgent and important. It’s the most massive part of phase 1, but should be low-risk.

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