New Project - Could send me to the insane asylum

DThille

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So, after some herbicide drift onto our orchard a year or two ago, I was a little grumpy with the farmer around our property. Following my journey this year toward more plant based food, particularly spray-free, as well as regenerative agriculture, we decided to take back some of our property that was being farmed conventionally for decades. My shorter term goal is to primarily use cover crops to create compost and mulch as we slowly plant out the area.

On Monday the surveyor was out to mark the corners of the property. My son and I went out to then mark the property lines with flags and do some other stuff. Two weeks prior I had seen that the farmer had spread anhydrous ammonia (nitrogen fertilizer) on the property after I'd told him not to bother with any inputs...of course, I'm pretty certain he thought we owned less land than we do. In the end, I estimate it is about 1.2 hectares (3 acres) that we are going to be working with. There are days I feel I've bitten off more than I can chew.

Here's the property marked off. The first image is looking north - it's about 475' in that direction...it's a bit tough to make out the flags.

20211108DSC_0205_FlagLineNorth.jpg



Now looking west.

20211108DSC_0207_FlagLineWest.jpg


We put the t-posts in to mark the corners after the surveyor had marked with lathe. We also used the bigger tractor to go corner to corner of the area so I could put in a post marking the approximate middle of this area.

With the broadcast spreader behind the lawn tractor, going west, I have laid down native tall grass prairie seed - a 50/50 mix of grasses and flowers, which is sold as a butterfly mix. When these perennials establish, they will ultimately create a barrier for any spray drift. Heading north, I laid down black sunflower seed - this is an annual, but will ultimately feed birds and will be a barrier for next year.

Longer term, the goal is to use permaculture design principles to create primarily food production. I intend to use a lot of fruit trees, as well as some nuts. I also hope to grow some Swiss stone pine which can provide us with pine nuts. We may put in some hardy sugar maples which would allow us to tap for syrup. Interspersed among the trees and shrubs will be gardening beds for annual vegetable production. We don't have a lot of perennial vegetables that will survive our winters, although Jerusalem artichoke is one that does so I intend to put in some of that.

Work from Sunday included beginning the creation of a raised bed...this is "compost" that I purchased 10 yards of, but it seems to be partially rotted manure more than finished compost. That is disappointing. Two weeks after delivery, the pile is still hot.

20211108DSC_0209_Bed_Sunset_Moon.jpg



Here is the first area laying down the prairie seed mix. With taller perennial plants, we will not only create habitat, but a natural winter snow fence which will help deal with some drifting and capture snow on our property.

20211107DSC_0200PreparingSeed.jpg


The seed vendor, Prairie Originals, suggested mixing the seed with damp sawdust so things would stick together and the light seed wouldn't blow off. Unfortunately there was no guidance on proportions and I used too much sawdust and water for the spreader to be fully effective...this was Sunday, so we did better on Monday.

20211107DSC_0201PreppedSeedSpreader.jpg



20211107DSC_0203Seeding.jpg


So far, so good. Of course, we don't know what the winter and spring will hold. If all goes well, in three or four years we will have a nice patch of native tall grass prairie plants. Between the purchase of the spreader for this project, the seed, and the surveyor, this is beginning to turn into a somewhat costly project, although that was expected. We are supposed to get our first snow this week if the prognosticators are worth their salt, so it was important for me to get this much done. I will get some snow fence up as well to capture some moisture, but that is less critical from a timing perspective. We did start a second bed with the "compost", but we will see if weather and timing allows us to get that done this year.

In the longer run, I could see a structure in the middle of the area (there's a Canadian manufacturer of geodesic greenhouses that would be nice) and have trees radiating out from the centre in a spiral pattern (sort of like seeds on a head of sunflower) with beds tucked in here and there in between. We shall see if that vision comes to pass.
 

DragonLady

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Wow that looks like an awesome project! I can't wait to see how it all comes along. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
Being from a place that has never seen snow, what do you guys do in your winter in regards to crops? And what is a snow fence? How do you harvest the snow?
 

DThille

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Snow is frozen water, so no crops grow. Some crops can be seeded in the fall so they get a head start in the spring once the weather turns.

A snow fence is a temporary fence that has enough solid to it that it disrupts the wind so the snow can drop and drift. It can be used to sort of control where drifts are depending on prevailing winds (for instance so that doors don’t get blocked by snow drifts). In my case, I want to put some snow fence on this bare, flat landscape so that I get some drifts…hopefully in spring then some snow will be absorbed into the soil and not just run off. If all goes according to plan it will help with moisture reserves. That’s what I mean by “harvesting snow” - putting structure in the way so some drifting occurs rather than just blowing soil away. In time, once I have enough plants in play, they will catch the snow and I won’t need the snow fence.

This past winter was bad - there was very little snow and dirt blew off the fields into the ditches of the roads. I’d like to prevent that on my property.
 

DragonLady

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This past winter was bad - there was very little snow and dirt blew off the fields into the ditches of the roads. I’d like to prevent that on my property.
Oh wow I've never thought of that as we have grass (or weeds!!) growing all year round. I just thought that only the snow would kill all grass etc but didn't think that everything would die off with just the cold... up there for thinking I guess lol
 

DThille

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Oh wow I've never thought of that as we have grass (or weeds!!) growing all year round. I just thought that only the snow would kill all grass etc but didn't think that everything would die off with just the cold... up there for thinking I guess lol
Snow cover insulates the earth from the cold. Here, for perennials, we have to concern ourselves with cold hardiness. Our country property is in Zone 3 (there is some variation as to what a particular location is considered for its zone…to look at definitions, a search of USDA Cold Hardiness Zones should help). It isn’t frequent, but in winter we can get down to -40 (where the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales meet). We typically do get below -30C for a period each winter, at least as overnight lows.

6381DEED-352D-44E0-8670-ED1BD05DE2C9.jpeg


My wife and I were in the country yesterday. Among a bit of other puttering, we put some burlap around some of the new fruit and nut plants to protect them from being browsed by deer and snowshoe hares. We also put up 100’ of snow fence (the orange in the photo). This disrupts the wind and creates some drifting. The hope is that we capture enough and have a slow melt in the spring so that it soaks into the soil rather than running off. As things progress we intend to improve the soil such that it absorbs more by increasing soil organic matter.

We got our first snow just under 3 weeks ago now. It will be green again in the spring. Now I plan, and order seeds and materials.
 

Cobbadiggabuddyblooo

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Great job mate. There are some farmers down in New SouthWales here in Oz who have taken a similar approach and have planted original grasses and bushes near the Murray River and they all work at retaining the goodness in the soil structure and filtering so the run off going back into the river is water cleansed by nature like it used to be... Took them a number of years to get things back in balance but now they are reaping the rewards of their commit all, patience and fortitude .
 

DThille

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I was back in the country today, returning the Christmas tree to storage and picking up some meat from the freezer (we get it through a neighbour out there who raises grass-fed beef, hogs, chickens, and turkeys). I decided I was going to move some snow.

20220109IMG-7822ShopSnow.jpg


After using the snowblower on the tractor (and front end loader a bit), the place looks more lived in. At any rate, I topped up the bird feeder and went for a walkabout.

20220109IMG-7827OrchardSnow.jpg


The currants in the foreground are about waist height, so it's nice to see some snow drifting, particularly after the summer drought we had.

20220109IMG-7828SnowshoeHare.jpg


Tough to see in this and following photos (forgot the real camera in the city, so had just the phone) and saw this snowshoe hare (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowshoe_hare)

20220109IMG-7832SnowshoeHare.jpg


As you can see looking out, some of the stubble in the field surrounding our property (which had been tilled under in fall), without anything to stop the wind, it just blows and takes the snow with it. That's why I'd put up the snow fence.

20220109IMG-7833SnowFence.jpg


It doesn't pay to buy cheap stuff. The snow fence had previously torn, but at least after it started creating some drifting. One never knows how much more snow we will get nor how effective the remaining snow fence will be. At least, I've trapped some snow on our land, so hopefully in the spring melt some will soak in. Over time, as I develop this property I will have trees and shrubs and perhaps some structure out there that will lead to drifting.

It was a lovely day out with clear blue skies today. We are coming out of a cool snap and it was about -24C this afternoon.
 

Mandy Onderwater

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Oh goodness. I'm someone who loves snow, so to me this is beautiful! It's so cold though, temperatures are a bit lower than I've ever experienced.

I do hope that the property will turn into the beauty you are imagining it being! You definitely got the space for it! :D
 

daveb

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lloks like a good project . enjoy was looking over that mix of seeds very nice, snow cant decide if it wants to stay here or notsnowed then warmed up dropped off again and snowed here we are part way in jan. and ground here isnt even frozen and it should be froze a foot deep
 

DThille

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Thanks…yes @Mandy Onderwater I understand that it’s a bit cooler than it gets in Australia. That’s a challenge limiting some of what we can grow from a plant hardiness perspective and we also have to take the season length / heat units for what vegetables and crops we can grow. It’s a longer season here with more heat units than where I grew up (about 900 km away) so the farmers grow a number of crops I never saw as a youngster.

The next couple of days we’re expected to get to negative single digits, which will make walking the pup more pleasant.
 

Mandy Onderwater

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Thanks…yes @Mandy Onderwater I understand that it’s a bit cooler than it gets in Australia. That’s a challenge limiting some of what we can grow from a plant hardiness perspective and we also have to take the season length / heat units for what vegetables and crops we can grow. It’s a longer season here with more heat units than where I grew up (about 900 km away) so the farmers grow a number of crops I never saw as a youngster.

The next couple of days we’re expected to get to negative single digits, which will make walking the pup more pleasant.
Where I live is sub-tropical. We don't get temperatures below 0. At worst it will get to single digits. Seasons are also opposite, meaning we have our summer/wetseason right now.

Back in the Netherlands my father would always grow strawberries, rhubarb and pear trees. They grew really well in that climate and the pear tree always survived the winters (at least -10 degrees Celcius). Later years my mom started growing chives as well, which lived for many, many years until the dog got into them. I bet there are many options for you as well, that would survive through the winter so you have little work to get something started once spring hits.
 

daveb

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Where I live is sub-tropical. We don't get temperatures below 0. At worst it will get to single digits. Seasons are also opposite, meaning we have our summer/wetseason right now.

Back in the Netherlands my father would always grow strawberries, rhubarb and pear trees. They grew really well in that climate and the pear tree always survived the winters (at least -10 degrees Celcius). Later years my mom started growing chives as well, which lived for many, many years until the dog got into them. I bet there are many options for you as well, that would survive through the winter so you have little work to get something started once spring hits.
even here compared to DThille we are ( that looks like area i passed through years back out toward brandon Winnipeg ) his temp zone is 15 to 20 degrees F (8- 11 C) colder then here in Vermont where i am. but part of reason why i do hydroponics weather and temperatures outside arent a factor PS i just got cuttings from a friend of a dragon cactus to try his is massive indoors in a south facing bay window
 

DThille

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Daveb - we live in Winnipeg (zone 2) and our property is about 35 miles or so SW in zone 3. Our winter temperatures can get as cold as around -40.

I have some pears planted, as well as apples, semi-sweet (or tart) cherries, currants, haskap, plum, hazelnuts and a few other berries planted out there as trees / shrubs. Chives are just about a weed here and rhubarb is essential (so versatile). From a winter hardiness perspective, we can grow asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke) as far as perennials go. When it comes to annuals, frost free season length is a limiting factor. Late May through early to mid-September is usually what we can count on to be without frost, but there are some plants that need to be put into warmer soil so getting into June.

It’s all intriguing and I’m getting more interested in pushing the envelope of what we can do. I’m not ready at present to go whole hog on season extenders like cold frames, but in time we will likely have some infrastructure in place. Of course, there is also the issues / questions around microclimates as we make more modifications to the property. Time will tell.
 

DThille

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This week was a bale of fun...on Monday my son and I picked up a dozen straw bales and brought them out to the country, then went to a Hutterite Colony about 4 miles from our place and got some flax bales (flax stems are tough and break down slowly so are good for paths, rather than mulch you want to decompose). Yesterday we went to a forage business that our Hutterite contact had put us in touch with and got a bundle of 18 bales. After picking them up, we experienced some new roads as we drove across country as the forage business is located 22 km due east from our acreage...it was interesting to see how the melt was progressing. We had one slight detour due to a flooded road. There's a lot of water on the land as it slowly drains and / or sinks in. Overall the ground is still frozen and we are about 6 weeks from our average last frost date.

20220408DSC_0380bales.jpg


Unloading them was a bit of "fun" as they were somewhat frozen together. We unloaded most of them in the country and brought two back to the city for use as mulch in our raised beds and likely other spots.

We were being observed warily....

20220408DSC_0382geese.jpg


Here is a photo looking east on Monday.

20220404DSC_0366CanadaGeese.jpg


Here's a wider view of the same general direction yesterday:

20220408DSC_0391landscape.jpg


That patch of snow farther out is where my pathetic snow fence is...it did its job. Now I need to be patient enough to wait to get on the land. I do want to use the cultivator on the tractor to lay out a couple of swales, then use some wood / branches / logs as a base for small berms. That will act somewhat as a Hugelkultur mound while the swale and berm act to capture water. The Red River is about 30 or 35 km east of our place, so there is a gradual slope downward to the east. After cultivating a strip and laying down the wood, I'll use the front end loader on the tractor to dig out the soil loosened by the cultivator to dig out a low swale and create the berm.

Last Friday, I'd picked up 80 lbs of cover crop seed from a local seed company - I got their pollinator mix, which has some short-lived perennials and their annual pollinator mix. For the annual mix, they don't recommend seeding before May 25, so I want to have the swale and berm work done before then, then broadcast the seed and tamp it down (I have a tow-behind roller coming in the next couple weeks). The idea is to cover the soil to out-compete the weeds as well as helping to heal the soil while attracting beneficial insects and other life. I will likely need to purchase more seed again for the next couple of years as we won't be able to build out permaculture plants immediately. If I need to dig a bit up to plant some shrubs and trees, it's no big loss. I also intend to cut a bit in the summer to use some of the biomass for compost.
 

Mandy Onderwater

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I genuinely love seeing the updates on this! The snow is almost gone, compared to what you've shown before - it shouldn't be long now.
I just simply can't wait to see what you turn your little paradise into :D

And the geese can't wait either, they'll probably love a peck at it too :p
 

DThille

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Yes the snow has been melting…we had some rain this week which really bangs it down. Right now it is 7C, and the more earth is exposed the more heat is absorbed. The next phase will be too wet to do much, followed by go time.

As for the geese, I’m not sure…they like grass, so are a pain for golf courses. I don’t know if they’ll try to stick around. Yesterday’s photo is right beside our dugout. A pair tried nesting there a few years ago…one day we saw a fox and the next time we were there the nest was abandoned, so presumably the fox (or another predator) had gotten to the eggs. We have often had some ducks on the dugout.

I look forward to what the place will evolve to but that will be years….
 

Mandy Onderwater

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Yes the snow has been melting…we had some rain this week which really bangs it down. Right now it is 7C, and the more earth is exposed the more heat is absorbed. The next phase will be too wet to do much, followed by go time.

As for the geese, I’m not sure…they like grass, so are a pain for golf courses. I don’t know if they’ll try to stick around. Yesterday’s photo is right beside our dugout. A pair tried nesting there a few years ago…one day we saw a fox and the next time we were there the nest was abandoned, so presumably the fox (or another predator) had gotten to the eggs. We have often had some ducks on the dugout.

I look forward to what the place will evolve to but that will be years….
Enjoy the process. I'm right now still rather small with gardening, just in pots. Just since 2 weeks ago I've expanded to grow more plants (still in pots) and dare to experiment with plants I've never grown before. To me the whole learning curve has been so much fun! :D

Just imagine what it could be - chances are it will be even better in the future after you've gained experience on your land.

Whilst you battle snow, I'm battling guinnea grass. Sadly I'm losing the battle thusfar as it's a nightmare and I'm not quite sure what to do... but I can only imagine what I'll turn it all into once I've beaten it :D
 

DThille

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Enjoy the process. I'm right now still rather small with gardening, just in pots. Just since 2 weeks ago I've expanded to grow more plants (still in pots) and dare to experiment with plants I've never grown before. To me the whole learning curve has been so much fun! :D

Just imagine what it could be - chances are it will be even better in the future after you've gained experience on your land.

Whilst you battle snow, I'm battling guinnea grass. Sadly I'm losing the battle thusfar as it's a nightmare and I'm not quite sure what to do... but I can only imagine what I'll turn it all into once I've beaten it :D
I’m not familiar with the plant, but all plants need water and sunlight to grow…if you can deprive it of one of those, ultimately it should weaken and die. That said, if it spreads by rhizomes, that can really be a challenge, like what is known as crab grass or quack grass here. If it is in that realm, I feel your pain as it takes over.
 

Mandy Onderwater

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I’m not familiar with the plant, but all plants need water and sunlight to grow…if you can deprive it of one of those, ultimately it should weaken and die. That said, if it spreads by rhizomes, that can really be a challenge, like what is known as crab grass or quack grass here. If it is in that realm, I feel your pain as it takes over.
This grass is a real weed. It barely needs anything to live and a shower of rain might make it grow a meter tall in a day. I always say that you can see the grass grow. It's ridiculous stuff. We've mowed it, burned it, poisoned it, burned it again and more - it keeps coming back.
 
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