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The Wolds Woodland Farming Project is a 3.75 acre (1.5 Ha) smallholding, set in the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s name is the name of my business. To the followers of this blog it is known as The Sustainable Smallholding, to the postal service as West End House. To my wife and I it is home. To me it is a partner in a dance where the lead is constantly changing. Sometimes it is the canvas upon which I design and experiment, at others it is the teacher, showing me what works, and what doesn’t. I will be buried here, and hopefully my wife will wait until after I’m dead.
The design was carried out after we had lived here for eight years. Therefore I didn’t need a detailed base map and site survey, as that information was already in my head. The mapping and survey information that are displayed here are for your benefit. Note that if you click on an image it does enlarge a little, making it a bit easier to see some of the detail.
One of the difficulties that I foresee is trying to describe what I did with my knowledge as it was then, rather than as it is now, some four years later. I hope that my attempt to do this works for you.
This design was carried out in a period extending from Summer 2008 to Spring 2010, with some implementation during Winter 2009/2010. Prior to that, the property had been used for breeding and racing greyhounds, and then as a conventional smallholding, with pedigree Ryeland sheep, and chickens. The impetus for the change was my discovery of peak oil theory, and a more thorough look at permaculture. This led to my attendance of a full permaculture design course, led by Patrick Whitefield, in June 2008. At the time that I attended the design course, the smallholding was almost entirely pasture, but it was already clear that I could produce all of my food without sheep, but that I couldn’t meet my needs for fuel without planting trees. So the sheep had to go. The extended period of the design was partly a result of the time it took to find homes for our sheep and two rams. This led me to miss the Winter 2008/09 winter tree planting window. This was not a bad thing, as it gave me time to do more research into multifunction plants, and I believe that the design is stronger for the delay.
Establish Aims and Objectives
The aim of the project is to meet all of our needs in a post peak oil world.
Provide food and fuel for two people, with the flexibility to increase food production for additional family members and friends.
Provide bee forage to sustain my bee colonies, which are part of my food production, and my business.
Improve soil quality.
Increase the number of ecological niches, in order to attract more wildlife.
Provide a venue for social gatherings and parties.
Be attractive to look at, live and work in.
Act as a good example of permaculture in action
For the Information Gathering phase I used a modified version of the Yeomans scale of permanence as the framework. A short description of the Yeomans scale can be found on the Permaculture Association website HERE.
Climate information is a combination of information from the Met office website, and eight years of my own observations. The Met office statistics are due to be updated again shortly to take into account more recent information, and it will be interesting to compare the new information with the previous period.
Rainfall is low, with an annual average of 600mm, which is about 24 inches, and relatively arid, especially for the UK. The figures suggest a fairly even distribution throughout the year. This masks the fact that we can regularly go 6 weeks or more without significant rainfall. This makes water a limiting factor to consider.
Wind is predominantly from the SW, and the stronger winds are almost always from this direction. The surrounding topography has a tendency to funnel wind from this sector towards the area around the house. Hedges and trees to the West provide a degree of shelter to the rest of the property, especially the Western field. Due to the proximity to the North Sea, we get extremely damaging cold winds from the East, and North.
Frost is a significant factor to consider. We get ground frost as late as the first week in June, and as early as late September. This gives a short growing season for frost tender annual vegetables, and gives trees and shrubs that are prone to cold damage less time to harden off before Winter. It also limits the varieties of crops grown. Frost pockets are at the bottom edge of both fields, and the whole of the lower section of the property. Shade cast by trees South of the property mean that in Mid-Winter the area level with the house can remain unthawed for large parts of the day. This will affect the placement of any food production systems.
Spells of cold weather and snow are common. We have not had a year where we haven’t had periods of snow settling, and temperatures always fall to below -10 C for part of the Winter, with temperatures as low as -18 C recorded recently. Summers are variable. Normally temperatures are high, and we get lots of sunshine, but it is erratic.
There was no no need for a sun sector analysis, as the site is large, with no significant barriers to sunlight.
The property sits on the South facing side of a hill, close to the top. The slope is convex at the top, and above us, and concave through the fields, leveling off below the field boundary. The highest point of the property is the North East corner, at 92 metres above mean sea level, dropping to 78 metres at the main gate. The fields slope to the South, and to the West, giving an overall aspect of South West. The diagram below shows this, with the arrows pointing down the slopes.
Recent (2012) pictures give a better view of the shape of the land. The picture below shows the relationship between the individual photographs, and the site as a whole.
The slope increases the intensity of sunlight falling on the fields, and reduces the frost. This would make it useful for fruit production. With photosynthesis increasing with temperature, the aspect increases the intensity of sunlight in the afternoon, when temperatures are higher. This should help to counteract some of the climactic problems listed earlier.
There is no standing water on the property, and there are no springs. There is a broken well close to the house, but it fills by seepage through the brick lining, and there is a flow of water out of the bottom, which you can hear running, once the water level starts to subside. There is a small trickle of water running through a ditch to the west of the property.
My neighbours have a spring filled pond, which you can see in the air photo, to the East of the property. Study of an ordnance survey map shows a line of springs at this elevation all around the area, and another neighbour has seven wells, including two in the house. One provides hard water, the other soft, and his mother used to store dairy products down the shaft, suspended by string. There are two public wells with pumps in the village, but both are currently sealed, due to minor problems with the water purity. All of the above suggests that it should be possible to find water on the property, and my attempts at dowsing have identified a number of possible locations, but exploratory digging has not found anything within simple digging range.
We collect water from two of the four roof spaces capable of harnessing it.
The property is set next to what was the Old A158 Lincoln to Skegness road, with the new road about 20 metres further to the South. There is both vehicle and pedestrian access to the Old road, shown on the air photo below as 6, and 8 respectively. There is a field gate along the western side of the property which gives vehicular access to the small lane, which runs along the western boundary. This is marked 7 on the same picture. The road serves three neighbouring properties, and is also a public footpath which links into the Viking way footpath.
The property has arable fields the West and South, pasture to the North, and grass (paddock and lawn) to the East.
On the property the Dominant plant is grass. Abundant species are Common Sorrel, Creeping Buttercup, with Nettles colonising patches of richer soil, often created when I leave piles of mown grass in situ. Frequently found are Dandelion, Ribwort Plantain, Couch Grass, and Chickweed. There is also an expanding area of Ground Elder in the South West corner of the property, as well as some Himalayan Balsam and Hairy Willowherb in the gap between the eastern boundary, and the inner fencing. Occasional specimens of Campion, and Ragged Robin are found, along with an expanding amount of Self Heal. The amount of Clover has reduced with my reduction in frequency of mowing, and is now rare, along with Celandine.
Trees are restricted almost exclusively to the hedgerows, unless planted by me. Dominant species are Hawthorn and Blackthorn. There is a significant stretch of Field Maple along the Southern section of the Western hedge. Elder is frequently found in the hedges, and self seeded alongside them. Occasional species include Ash, and Holly. I have added some Beech to the Southern hedge. There are two large Crab Apples near the field gate. Common species locally include Wild Cherry, and Sycamore,
At the time of this design there was a small plantation of Ash and Willow that I had planted in 2000/2001 near the south eastern corner of the eastern field (marked as 13), and some Willow and Oak planted below the two exercise pens at the same time. These are visible in the air photographs.
There is a small conventional fruit orchard in the western field. It is visible in the air photo, but at the time of this design had already been expanded. It consisted of mainly apples on MM106 rootstocks, plus plums, and pears. Not visible are 125 trees planted in 5 rows, running parallel to the western boundary, between it and the orchard. These were planted 25 trees to a row, about 4 metres between trees, and 4 metres between adjacent rows. The species planted were Ash, Wild Cherry, Violet Willow, and Hazel. There is soft fruit and asparagus in area 12.
Missing are shrubs of any kind, and hazel, unless planted by me. Only scramblers like blackberry and wild rose are present.
I have touched on the frost pockets in the climate section. There is significant shelter from the wind provided by the hedges. The shape of the land also adds extra protection from the damaging northerly and eastern winds. The small space between the house and brick stable is in shade most of the time. The south facing sides of buildings provide additional heat for tender plants should they be needed.
The five buildings marked on the picture and aerial photograph below are as follows: (Please note that the accompanying pictures have been taken recently (2012) so may be slightly different to the descriptions in the text):
1. House. Built in the 1960’s of cavity wall construction, but with solid walls at the bottom of the west and east sides. These areas suffer from damp, making cavity wall insulation impossible.
2. Brick stable. Of solid wall construction without foundations. In fair repair, but needing some roof timbers replacing. A chimney at the southern end, and internal fireplace, suggest that this building may have been lived in at some point. At the time of the design this building was still housing some retired greyhounds.
3. Outbuilding. Low solid brick walls with a curved asbestos roof. The roof must have extended further to the south to the edge of the brickwork. Evidence of buried asbestos suggests that a broken roof section was removed and buried, leaving the old walls in situ. Used as a workshop and storage.
4. Kennels of breeze block and tin construction. Some greyhounds still housed within. Some sections used for storage of gardening tools, pots, and to harden off plants in Spring.
5. Wooden stable on concrete base, with concrete extending forward (South) for 12 feet, and fenced. Formerly used as whelping kennels, this is used to store bee hives and equipment, and as a potting shed, and compost tea brewing space.
Between the wooden stable and kennels is a polycarbonate greenhouse, 8 ft by 6 ft, on a concrete base. This is for propagation and is inadequate in size for this purpose.
Fields and Fencing
The land is divided into three sections. Two fields marked 9 and 10 on the map, and then the lower section of the property, based around the house. The outer boundary is hedge, all owned by us. It has some old scraps of fencing. The main fencing runs inside the hedgerows, leaving an unused strip that is about 3-4 metres in width around the fields, reducing to a couple of feet around the lower section. The fencing is higher than standard stock fencing, in keeping with its use for racing dogs. Areas 11 and 12 on the aerial photograph were exercise pens for the dogs, and are both surrounded by 2 meter weldmesh security fencing. Metal posts for area 11, and wooden 4″ square posts for 12. Area 13 is an area of ash and willow planted by me, surrounded by standard stock fencing with wooden posts. Areas 14 and 15 on the map are vegetable growing spaces. They are surrounded by rabbit mesh, and an assortment of posts.
We sit on a band of blue anaerobic clay. Sections of the soil above this vary from less than 12 inches at the top of the hill, to about 18 inches in the area around the house at the bottom of the hill. The soil shows the rust red streaking that indicates periodic immersion in water. This is confirmed by my own observations. There is a band of broken flint about 18 – 24 inches below the surface, through which there is often a trickle of water seeping.
A core sample revealed clay down to 21 feet, at which point the machine was unable to go further down. In Midsummer, I measured water 10 feet below the surface, but it’s unclear whether that was earlier seepage held by the clay ‘tube’ that was left when the sample was removed, or the level of the water table.
In case you find it hard to believe that the clay is so deep, the picture below was taken on the other side of our hill.
For a sense of perspective I’ve included something to judge the scale with.
The clay is responsible for the periodic immersion of the topsoil, which is slightly acidic.
We keep chickens and bees on the property, and at the time of the design kept sheep.
There are colonies of rabbits on the periphery of the property, and at the time of the design they had also started to colonise the area of the orchard. We are also occasionally visited by muntjac deer. The property has an abundance of earthworms, probably due to the lack of any chemical use for at least the preceding eight years. This has led to an increase in the number of moles. Grass snakes are present, as are frogs, toads and newts. There are myriads of spiders, and beetles. Little owls take advantage of the worms, and barn owls, and kestrels fly over the fields, feeding on an abundance of voles.
Not so welcome is the presence of honey fungus, at a number of sites, primarily on the western edge of the property, and in the hedge below the vegetable area marked as 15 on the air photograph.
On site resources
Large expanses of grass, which coupled with my proficiency with a scythe, gives an almost unlimited amount of organic matter.
Fenced paddocks, left over from my time as a professional greyhound trainer, give some protected areas. Mesh around the eastern field keeps the rabbits out.
There are two existing areas currently growing vegetables, and another with soft fruit and asparagus. All are fenced, but the two vegetable areas have ‘temporary’ gates/barriers, that have been temporary for nine years now.
The clay subsoil is a potential resource, able to be removed to create ponds, and useful for pottery, brick making, and the improvement of sandy soils.
I have a full range of smallholding hand tools and equipment.
I too am a resource. Good with animals, plants, bees, and scythe, and a prodigious reader. Even more useful is my ‘can do’ attitude. I never feel that I cannot achieve something, and I am happy to try anything.
I started my analysis by looking at the property set in the wider environment. This is an example of the principles Design from pattern to detail, and design in wholes (Whitefield). We are the edge between grass and arable. Missing from the area is any sizeable woodland, and a lack of standing water. The use of either/both of these in the design would increase the number of ecological niches, by increasing diversity. It would also add a number of ‘edges‘ to the wider environment, namely grass/trees, arable/trees, that were not present before. Standing water would increase this again.
The information listed above, and my own experience identified a number of limiting factors that would need to be taken into account when making my design choices.
The low rainfall, and erratic pattern of it, makes the catching and storing of water important, and emphasises the vulnerability of shallow rooted annual vegetables if no mains water were available for irrigation. The use of deep rooted plants, perennials, trees and shrubs would be more resilient.
The clay soil, and the periodic flooding of the top soil layers, will limit the species of plant suitable for use in the design. I had already made a start at looking at this, by planting False Acacia, and Sweet Chestnut close to the house, in order to evaluate their suitability. This is an example of the Permaculture Principle of Observe and Interact.
The short frost free season will limit the variety of annual vegetables grown, unless a method of season extension is implemented, or used. The presence of frost pockets in the area close to the house, in the areas where vegetables were already being grown is a limiting factor, but one that has already been taken into account as a result of a number of years growing vegetables there.
The presence of Honey Fungus, will have an impact on the planting of trees and woody shrubs, needing a concentration of honey fungus tolerant plants. The addition of mycorrhizal fungi at planting time is likely to help.
Time is not a limiting factor, as this is my full time occupation, but money is short, with no lumps of cash available to use until at least late 2012.
Analysis of Elements
Working through the objectives, a number of things are apparent.
Firstly, whilst the growing of annual vegetables would be able to meet my first objective, the limiting factors make it unsuitable as the only method. This is reinforced by the overall aim. I am working on the assumption that oil will peak, and that human ingenuity will not find solutions in time to avoid the effects. This is what I believe will happen. Therefore it is essential that no important function is met by only one element. This is not just ‘an exercise’ to fulfill a criteria, but part of a strategy to care for my family. Therefore a number of food production systems will be needed. Those that also perform one or more of the other functions would be best suited. Possibilities include; forest gardening, orchard, soft fruit, aquaculture, and bamboo.
Fuel is my second most important function. The partial solid walls of the house, with the accompanying damp, make it impossible to use cavity wall insulation, and a rebuild is financially out of reach, as is a ground source heat pump. Loft insulation is already more than 12 inches, and the house is double glazed. The only economy that can be made in terms of our consumption, is to toughen my wife up a bit, and for me to drink less tea. Only the first of these is acceptable. The house is currently heated with oil, and this is a weakness. There are few options available. The use of agricultural residues for burning is reliant on fossil fuel technology, and the residues are better used maintaining soil fertility. That only leaves growing trees or bamboo.
Bee forage is best concentrated either side of the main agricultural forage sources, oilseed rape (April/May), and field beans May/June). Most of the local nectar sources are early, with only Himalayan Balsam, Rosebay Willowherb, and Blackberry available in late Summer, and not in sufficient quantities to support a large number of colonies. With most trees flowering early, and few that flower late, elements that have a flowering ground cover component will be needed. Grassland, wild flower meadows, some trees, and some annual vegetable crops would help to fulfill this function.
Increasing the elements that provide shelter, especially from the wind, will create a beneficial microclimate that will allow the bees to forage in conditions that would normally be unsuitable. Elements that concentrate on trees will do this.
With water being identified as key, elements that help to catch and store water will be needed. These could include swales and ponds, but trees will assist by providing shade, and the slowing of windspeed, thereby reducing evaporation. The penetration of the soil by their roots, and the increase of organic matter from root death and leaf fall will add to that, as will the phenomenon of hydraulic lift. Elements that concentrate on perennial systems will reduce the need for watering, as will increasing the level of organic matter in the soil. The latter is especially important for annual vegetable production.
These are taken from the aims and objectives, and from the analysis of Elements.
The design needs to fulfil the following functions:
- Provide food for two people.
- Provide heating and cooking fuel for one household.
- Provide bee forage, particularly early and late in the season.
- Create a more sheltered microclimate across the whole property.
- Catch and store water, and increase its retention in the soil.
- Improve soil fertility.
- Increase wildlife.
- Be attractive to look at, live, and work in.
- Provide space for social gatherings.
- Act as a good example of permaculture in action
Food production is fulfilled by:
- Two annual vegetable growing areas
- A soft fruit area
- An orchard
- Eggs from chickens
- Honey from Bees
- Meat from sheep
Of these elements, my decision to become vegetarian, and the likelihood to need to increase the number of trees grown, make the sheep keeping redundant. They will need to go. Additional possibilities include increasing the size of the orchard and soft fruit areas. However these do not add many additional functions, other than a small increase in bee forage. As the fruit trees flower at the same time as the oilseed rape, this is not a huge addition. A forest garden will add to food, and increase bee forage. If designed well, it should also provide some wood for fuel, and assist with soil improvement, and water retention. Moving some of the annual vegetables to perennials should help to lessen the problems of potential water shortage. We currently eat quite a bit of grain, so an element of grain growing would be useful.
Fuel is likely to be based on wood. My curiosity is whetted by thought of 3 acres of bamboo for harvesting as food and fuel, but the cost of individual specimens make it too expensive at my scale. The possibility of planting some amongst the other elements, and allowing them to expand is interesting. Hedgerows and shelter belts are a possibility, but without sheep, there is little need to create little paddocks with lots of additional hedges. Coppice woodland would provide fuel, and careful species selection should add food production and bee forage to its functions. Positioning could add some shelter effects, and the trees themselves would help with water retention and soil improvement. Open woodland would probably not meet as many of my objectives as coppice.
Bee forage would be provided by annual vegetable areas, herbs, soft fruit, orchard fruit, and any tree based elements. Wildflower areas, would provide some forage too. The lack of productive tree species that flower in late Summer mean that some ornamental trees may be needed. These would have an aesthetic function.
Shelter would best be provided by hedgerows and shelter belts, especially running from North to South, across the path of the prevailing winds. Some protection from the North and East would also be beneficial, with no shade effects from a Northern area of shelter. A forest garden and a coppice would add to the shading effects.
Water catchment can be by swale in the fields, and would also seep water into the soil to plume downhill. Swale filled ponds would store the caught water for use during extended dry spells, and would add another function as a niche for wildlife. The ponds and swales may also be able to be utilised for some form of aquaculture if they remain filled with water between periods of rain. Digging a well(s) would be useful provided that I was sure that the hard work would be rewarded with success. A well doesn’t add any additional functions though.
Soil improvement would by achieved by the use of deep rooted plants to penetrate the subsoil, combined with Nitrogen fixing plants. This should make a significant improvement in fertility. An increase in biomass by stacking vegetation above ground, should lead to an increase in organic matter through increased root density and penetration, as well as through additional leaf fall. A forest garden would do this well, as would woodland, and hedgerows/shelter belts. Elements that increase wildlife will assist in this through the eating and recycling of organic matter whilst on the plant, not just at leaf drop.
Elements that will increase wildlife include hedgerows, coppice woodland, forest garden, water of any kind. Increasing the plant species in any remaining grass will help, as will leaving areas un-managed.
The need to provide all year round bee forage will require an all year round selection of flowers. Whilst the other elements should contribute to that, an area of purely attractive flowering plants, especially close to the house and entrance, would have a significant visual, audio, and olfactory impact.
The need to retain areas for parties, and camping, will probably mean leaving some grassed areas. Adding flowering plants will help to provide bee forage, and the cut grass will add to the amount of organic matter available for improving soil fertility. These elements will need to be close to the house, and easily accessible.
Example of Permaculture
Whilst elements such as swales and a forest garden would have value as examples of permaculture in action, the best example would be a design that met all of its requirements. As such the elements themselves are less important than how they are selected, assembled, and placed.
The elements that give the most additional functions are coppice woodland, a forest garden, hedges/shelterbelts. These will be included. Annual vegetable production should be maintained until it is possible to assess the amount of food produced by the other elements. It may be possible to reduce the area needed in the future. This change over time is an example of succession. Additional functions can be added to vegetable production by the inclusion of flowering crops, intercrops, and green manures. It may be possible to utilise some of the available space for an element of grain production. With water being such a key factor, the inclusion of swales, and ponds will be essential, not just for their many functions, but to aid in the establishment of trees. If the pond(s) retain water all year round, then it would be possible to widen and deepen the swales, and use them for aquaculture. The delaying of this is an example of the use of the design methods options and decisions, and design by increments, as well as use of the principles observe and interact, and apply self regulation and accept feedback. The need for social space will mean that areas of grass need to be retained, and additional functions added by choice of components, and placement. The provision of early bee forage is relatively simple, but the need for late flowering plants is more tricky. Conventional herbaceous flower borders would do that, but more wildlife value would be added by using shrubs and trees. Without an element with a ‘label’ to use, I’m going to make one up and call it a nectary.
The elements chosen and their functions are shown in the table below.
Using a table like this made it really easy to check that every function was fulfilled by more than one element, and that every element was able to provide more than one function. It also makes it easy to see if there are any unmet functions, or any elements that are not delivering additional functions.
Having decided on the elements to use in the design, I needed to look at what went into them. With almost any wood able to be used for burning, I looked for species that would meet as many of my other functions as possible. Being an organised type of guy, I used a table. Whilst looking through my old paperwork I found one of the original tables that I drew up. It’s not a very clear in the picture, but I wanted to show one of the original bits of paper. Again, you can click on the image, and enlarge it.
Each species that I considered was scored for each function that it met. I scored extra for being very good at that function, and deducted for not being well suited. I also scored for my own preference, as the design had to suit me as well as be functional. One example of the factors that I had to take into account was honey fungus, which was mentioned earlier as a limited factor. My own observations showed that Field Maple and Sycamore grew well in the immediate vicinity of the property. However, both are potentially prone to honey fungus. Both species are Acers, so I looked for a honey fungus tolerant Acer, and picked Acer negundo (Box Elder). I grew these from seed, and they have been included in the coppice plantings. This is an example of the principle Observe and Interact.
I wrote a blog post about my tree selection back in January 2010, which explains some of my thinking at the time. Reading something that was written more than two years ago will help to capture my thoughts at the time better than me writing it again. The post is called Tree Planting using Permaculture Principles. Whilst this is primarily concerned with planting in the coppice, I made a design decision to include the same varieties of trees in the forest garden, and the shelterbelts, in order to add additional functions to each. I will be giving more information about this in the individual designs for each of these elements.
The social and camping spaces, would need to be primarily grass, and both would be used almost exclusively in the Summer, so by adding plants that had completed their growth by then (succession), or that thrived in cut grass, I could provide the additional functions. For the social space I chose to add crocus bulbs. Attractive, good early bee forage, and growth over by June. I also oversowed both areas with Wild White Clover, which would add fertility by fixing nitrogen, and be available for summer bee forage. Using the cut grass as mulch or composting material, both areas would add to soil fertility, especially in the annual vegetable areas.
The nectary was a bit more difficult to choose components for, and to place those components within. I decided to leave the species choice and layout initially, in order to do more research. I also made a decision to visit garden centres and nurseries in late summer, and buy/propagate the plants that had bees on them during the period. The plants would be fitted in wherever I felt was appropriate. This contains elements of the design methods design by random assembly, design by increments, and design by intuition and experience.
Using zoning, the coppice and forest garden needed to be placed furthest away from the house. It would have been good to combine the functions of both, with the coppice furthest away, blending into forest garden closer to the house, and then annual vegetables etc. However only one of the fields had rabbit fencing, and was rabbit free. With a greater emphasis on a productive ground layer, it made sense to use this for a forest garden, which left the other field for the coppice. One result of this placement was that the prevailing wind blows through the coppice towards the forest garden. This helps with the pollination and fruit set of wind pollinated plants, adding another function to the coppice area, and is an example of establishing beneficial relationships through relative location. Both of these elements would add shelter, but I wanted to increase this using shelter belts. Both areas were about an acre or so in size. In terms of appropriate scale, this is ample for a forest garden, but a little small for coppice woodland. So I chose to place shelter belts within the forest garden. This would add more functions to it, and increase it’s production of fuel. This is explained in the individual designs for these elements. The social space needed to be close to the house for access to toilets, kitchen, water etc. so that’s what I did. The use of a fixed element like this is a common permaculture design method. I placed a belt of timber trees to the North of the forest garden and coppice. This added another function, timber production, and additional shelter from the North winds. On the northern edge they will cast no shade on the other trees. As shelter from wind is proportional to the height of the windbreak, this has increased as a result of using the taller, timber trees. This is another example of obtaining multiple functions from each element.
For positioning the swales, I again designed from a fixed element, this time the existing orchard. Rather than run swales through relatively expensive trees, I chose to survey swales above and below the orchard, and one level with the center of it, not digging in the area of the fruit trees .
With two small wildlife ponds already located close to the house, I chose to put a pond at the bottom of the forest garden, and located it at a keypoint on the slope, along the lower swale. This would allow the swale to collect the water that had reached the bottom of the forest garden, and use it to keep the pond topped up. As there was a strip of land betwen the fences and outer hedges I chose to leave this as a wildlife area (zone5).
The camping space was positioned below the orchard, and next to the field gate. Here it would benefit from easy access/unloading, and shelter from the Coppice. It was also far enough from the house so that any late night partying wouldn’t disturb us too much.
The nectary was placed right in front of the main gate, so that anybody coming in would be assaulted by the flowers. Placing it so close to the house meant that it could be enjoyed all of the time. It also meant that I see the plants most frequently. This allowed me to use it as a test area (observe and interact), watching which plants were preferred by bees, and then using that observation to propagate more of the best plants. This gave the area an extra research function.
I did a schematic overview of the design in 2010 which is shown below.
The schematic above is part of the Pictures, Designs, and Plans page of this blog. It gives a brief summary of the design. More importantly it describes my use of patterning in the placement of the design, and touches on its use in the design of the coppice, and of the forest garden. So please read it by clicking HERE. The woodland glade pattern referred to in the post was suggested by the appearance of the property when looking down from the top of the hill. My decision was to use this pattern right through the design at all levels, in each of the elements, and within the elements as well. I will go into more detail in the individual designs, but it is relevant for the overall design too. The picture below shows the use of patterning at the overall design, and element levels.
The pattern is created by existing trees, hedges and buildings, and added to by the placement of shelter belts, and support trees within the designs of each element.
Edge has been created within the design by my use of the forest glade pattern mentioned above. It has been enhanced by the planning of open areas and of areas densely planted with trees. The swales create three different drainage types (normal, wetter, and drier), and three edges (normal/moist, moist/dry, and dry/normal). The grassed open areas allow another edge, that between mown, and long grass. This is described in the maintenance section, but the extra niches created by these edges, will increase the wildlife value of the whole design. It also gives me conditions capable of supporting a wider range of productive plants.
Order of Implementation
The implementation was/is being carried out with peak oil as the primary driver. This meant that I implemented the design in reverse order from that which is normally recommended. I was already producing significant amounts of food, and had read reports that suggested that we would start to experience peak oil related shortages of fuel as early as 2015. Therefore I felt that getting trees into the ground should be my priority, and I decided to concentrate on the tree planting, shelter belts, swales and pond. Another benefit of doing this was that it left the area closest to the house, which would have the most elements and complicated relationships, to be designed and implemented after I had a chance to evaluate the larger elements. This would allow me to modify my ideas to make the overall design better. This is an example of the principle apply self regulation and accept feedback. A good example of what I mean is water collection. It is a function that needs to be improved in the area of the vegetable areas, and I have some outline ideas of what I would like to do. Until I decide on whether to use a polytunnel for season extension, or to convert the kennels into a large greenhouse, or both, I cannot plan it properly. Once located, the designs for a poultry house, comfrey production, wormery, and new composting system can all be made and located relative to the other elements. To be most efficient I have to create beneficial relationships between elements, and place them accordingly (relative location). That cannot be done until most of the detail is worked out.
With the tree planting being identified as critical, I needed to get rid of the sheep first. The extra water provided by swales would help young trees to establish, so should come before tree planting. This gave me a simple establishment plan. It took longer to get rid of the sheep than I expected. This is described in a blog post that I wrote in March 2009, the day before the last of the Ryelands left. Reading the post HERE, is proof that my recollections of the process is accurate. This gave me a timetable to go with the establishment plan.
Summer 2009 Dig swales and pond(s).
Winter 2009/1010 Plant coppice trees.
Spring 2010 Propagate unusual/expensive trees for coppice, forest garden, and nectary.
Summer 2010 Plant into nectary.
Winter 2010/2011 Infill tree planting in coppice, plant shelter belts and support trees in forest garden.
Summer 2011 Continue planting in nectary
Winter 2011/2012 Plant production trees in forest garden
Spring/Summer 2012 Propagate plants for other layers in forest garden.
This plan has been followed, with more than 3,000 trees planted.
The swales would be dug with the aid of a mechanical digger, hired and operated by me. I devised my own system of tree planting, which will be described in detail in the Coppice design. The clover addition to the camping area and social space were done by overseeding into short grass, and then keeping it short. The nectary to be built up incrementally, as suitable species are found.
The swales were to be topped up with as much organic matter as possible, in order to increase their effectiveness.The bulk of this organic matter is to be produced by scything. By keeping the swale ditch to the left, it is possible to drop the mown grass directly into the ditch without any additional effort. Prunings from the surrounding trees are also put in.
The trees were to be maintained by mulching with scythe-mown grass, and by the ‘chop and drop’ method described by Jeff Lawton in his ‘Establishing a Food Forest’ DVD. This will be described in more detail in other designs. What is relevant to the design as a whole is the timing of maintenance tasks. My busiest period is May to July. By scheduling chop and drop for the Spring, and scything for late Summer, this period can be avoided.
The best overall evaluation of the design has come from others. The project was accepted as a LAND project in Spring 2011, demonstrating that it has been assessed as a good example of permaculture in action by an independent panel. Prior to this, we were visited by Patrick Whitefield, who told me that he couldn’t think of anything that would significantly improve the project. That comment was possibly influenced by hearing my own evaluation, carried out in 2010, which follows.
One of the strengths of the design is that not only can it be described in terms of the elements within it, but also in terms of the functions that it fulfills. The Functions and Elements table above can be read either way, and works in both. What I mean by that is that the design can be explained either by the elements within it, or by the functions that are being met, and is coherent either way.
The spacing between swales was quite wide, especially the gap above the top swale, so I decided to add two more. These were dug in Late Summer 2010, by hand. The swales are working well, with the areas immediately below them noticeably wetter than further down slope. The same is true in the bottom of the swale ditch, where the organic matter retains moisture for a significant amount of time after rain, never drying out completely. The pond would dry completely without the addition of some water during really dry periods. The lack of rain has been spectacular, but until I can be sure that this is a temporary phenomenom, the expenditure of energy needed to widen the and deepen the swales for aquaculture cannot be justified.
There needs to be better collection and storage of water in and around the vegetable growing areas. This should be linked with elements of grey water collection, sewage processing, mulch production, and duck forage. This will be done 2012/2013.
The soft fruit and asparagus area is badly located, and was too much additional work to maintain. I decided to allow it to go wild, and then just harvest any produce if I had time.
In the social space, the crocus is diminishing in numbers. This may be due to grass cutting too early, but also possibly to compaction. There may be a need to either plant more, or to try another method of increasing functions.
The nectary is still quite open, but the extra plants that I am growing are still too small for planting out.
The chickens are not properly integrated into the overall design, and so some of their harvestable outputs are not being harnessed, and linked to other elements, and the outputs of the elements are not fully benefitting the chickens.
There is still no grain production.
There is no zone 1 garden. This is partly a result of shading, but also as the space adjacent to the house is used for dog ablutions. Changes will need to wait until the last of the dogs goes.
I carried out a second evaluation in late 2011, when I first started to consider enrolling for the diploma, and is current.
Most of the points from the original evaluation still stand. There is a need to research water storage systems, such as ferrocement.
In the interim I have begun to experimenting with a combined vegetable/grain growing system. Links to relevant posts in the blog are easy to find by clicking on the POLYCULTURE category at the right hand side of the blog. This LINK will take you to the oldest posts, starting at the bottom. The later posts can be accessed by clicking the ‘next entries’ link at the bottom of that page.
The chicken integration needs a number of related designs to be carried out. A chicken breeding program to create the ideal chicken, the design of a chicken house and management system that harnesses more outputs, the design of a poultry scavenging area, and the design of a poultry food production system. All of these designs are in progress, and the poultry scavenging design is included in the diploma portfolio. Linked to this, the Soft Fruit area is to be brought back into use as a chicken breeding pen.
A polytunnel is to be bought and sited next to the secondary vegetable area in 2013. It will be located relative to the poultry housing design, and linked to the production of worms, azolla, and comfrey for poultry feed.
There is a need for a much larger nursery/propagation area, as I wish to add the production of multi purpose plants to my income stream, as one of the functions of the design. Some form of barrier to weed progression would be useful in the area around the primary vegetable growing area.
The Picture below shows the overall design for the project, as of April 2012.
As a demonstration site, the project would benefit from better toilet facilities, and some covered space for teaching/inclement weather. Some shower facilities would benefit our camping friends. As the numbers of campers has reduced, the pens below the coppice can be used for another purpose, and have been used for a chicken scavenging area/bamboo nursery. This is a separate design within the portfolio.
If I was starting from the beginning, I would do a number of things differently. I would start with rabbit proof fencing for the whole project. I would rotovate and establish a benign ground cover that also improved the soil, and then dig swales and ponds. Only then would I start to plant trees. Not doing so has at least taught me something. I wanted to avoid using fossil fuel, but the extra time and effort has been significant.
Evaluation of the design process.
I found the Yeomans scale excellent to use for the overall design. It gave a good structure to the Gather Information phase, and forced me to think pattern and wider landscape/setting first, rather than focus on the detail within the property. I would use it again for any large design, but would add sections for on site resources, and animals where appropriate.
The use of my own design process (Egadime) and my own design method (Function-Element-Component-Process) worked well for me, and this design. This is another evaluation of each. The blog format is very linear, which makes it harder to move from one section to another easily. However the archived blog posts help to give a real sense of integrity to the design. Supporting it over an extended period of time. It also allows other people to comment. This is another example of apply self regulation and accept feedback, and of my engagement with the wider community, not just the permaculture peeps, but anybody interested in smallholding, sustainability, etc.
Designing a project for myself, allows me to design over a longer time frame, and without the need for an instant result. It allows the use of simple and slow solutions (e.g. forest garden grass strategy), and allows me to observe and interact with my disturbances, learn from them, and then use that knowledge to refine the design, and my methods. This is a huge benefit, and one that I am taking full advantage of.