After reading The Permaculture Home Garden (Linda Woodrow) I not only realized the garden I had created in our little homestead is not as practical or efficient as it could be, but I’m not going to rip up all the hard work we have already put in and start all over again. Specially because this isn’t our permanent home and garden. This got me thinking when we do look for a permanent property what should we be looking for. After doing a bit more research I realized I had actually found the perfect property not only for Homesteading but for a permaculture garden.
I’m a bit of an odd person and even though we were not actively looking to buy property I like to browse what is for sale in our area. I fell in love with this property as soon as I saw the pictures. Not only is it private, beautiful with dynamic grounds but it has a mezzanine library. A home for my books, a home for our family and enough room for a few animals too. But dream properties come with unrealistic price tags and this one definitely had one of those. It has now sold but the pictures are still visible on Open2View.
Why I am so interested in permaculture is because it is so resourceful, homesteading can be a lot of hard work but in having a permaculture garden the point is to work less but more efficiently and this is something I really like. Why put in more effort then you have to, to get the same results. Sure a permaculture garden takes a fair bit of time, planning and of course energy and money to set up but once you have you can quite literally sit back and enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor. Everything about it is strategic, nothing is just put somewhere because, everything has a reason for being where it is and that reason usually saves you time and energy.
What makes the perfect permaculture property?
Proximity, water, terrain, access and aspect.
Realistically you want a property where you can put in your garden as close as possible to the house, this way you can easily pop out to the garden to grab some lettuce or whatever you need for your meal without having to trek to the other end of the property. It is always handy to have it reasonably close to your shed too, it’s easier to store your tools close by as well. Anything you can to cut down the time and energy spent walking to and fro.
You want a property with a fresh water source, I’ve found that when growing seedlings they don’t particularly like town supply water. Not sure whether it is the chlorine or other things in the water but they tend to do better when water with fresh water such as rain water. I also spend a lot of time carting water out to our garden because the only outside tap we have is outside our laundry and the hose isn’t long enough to reach. A stream, lagoon or dam are handy but if you can’t quite stretch your budget to that sort of property or if you are staying urban setting up a rainwater system is pretty easy all you need is a down pipe (maybe one on your shed) and a drum of some sort that can hold a decent amount of water. You can pick them up pretty cheaply second hand, I’ve spotted a few of the blue-plastic type on free-cycle pages and for sale on trademe. Essentially you then just run the pipe into the drum and wait for it to rain. Be careful though when selecting a property near a river or lagoon that the house on the property isn’t in a flood prone area or in a damp or boggy area where over time the foundations might sink.
The perfect property has a gentle slope with good drainage and facing north-east.
But if the property you are in love with or already have doesn’t have those things then the gentle slope and drainage are easily fixed. For too much slope, try a terrace garden. When I was 15 I went on a 6 week exchange to France and was lucky enough that the family I stayed with took me to Corsica. One thing that will stick with me for life is the terraced gardens, on slopes that we would only look at as ground for goats or sheep they had lovely terraced gardens for their crops. Terraces are a lot of hard work but once you have established them they are a lot better then having all your hard work constantly make its way to the bottom of the hill. You don’t really want your garden to be boggy but there are a lot of ways to remedy poor drainage. Technically Palmerston North and the majority of the Manawatu is built on re-claimed swamp land. Specially the farming areas around Shannon and Foxton, which used to all be covered in swamp until it was all milled. This is why the Opiki road used to be so bumpy because over time the trees that had fallen into the swamp sunk and with decomposition they ever so slowly everything above them including the road sinks. However, because of it previously being a swamp and flood plains it is extremely fertile. The top layers of soil is mostly made up of dead plant material and essentially natural compost. If you look at the market gardening areas around your area, you will find many of them are old flood plains. When flooding happens it takes away all the old soil that may not have had much nutrients to it, mixes it with silt, plant material and other forms of compost and re-deposits it with added soil from other areas that may have nutrients that your soil lacked. Of course you’d rather not have part of your vegetable garden flooded every year but if you do have an area that floods and can contain the flooding keep this in mind because you may be able to use that area as a resource for soil “refreshing”, what I mean by that is before the flood season take out the soil that had been through the previous flood and replace it with soil from an area of you garden that isn’t doing so well.
Aspect is another word for facing or direction. It isn’t something you can correct so is really something you need to take into consideration when you select a property. Direction is important because you want a property that gets a decent amount of sun, plants don’t grow so well with no sunlight. You will want a property that has a variety of full-sun, partial-sun and shady spots, but if you aim for a section that gets full sun for most of the day it is easy to create the others then the impossibility of trying to move the sun to where you want it. I would suggest looking at properties in winter rather then summer because that is when the property would get the least amount of sun it is going to. Also look at it on different days under different weather conditions. If you go on a beautiful sunny winters day you won’t see where the drainage is poor or where water runs when it rains. Something which is best known before you have purchased the property and are stuck trying to remedy issues you never foresaw. At least if you know about it before you purchase it you will know what to expect.
It may seem like a stupid thing to put in here but believe it or not access is one of the biggest problems people have after they have purchased property. If you are homesteading you are wanting to be able to easily have materials delivered and many places deliver by truck. If you live in town it isn’t that uncommon to have a narrow driveway down the side of the house right next to the fence and the neighbors. The problem with this is plenty of fences and houses get damaged by trailers and trucks trying to squeeze down them to the back yard to deliver compost, soil, fire wood or even timber. Some times it may seem easier to get it delivered to the front yard and wheelbarrow it all to where you want it but in reality you are adding in a lot more work which could of been avoided if you had looked at the access before you moved in. Let alone having to replace the fence or in worst case scenario part of your neighbors house because of a reversing mishap.
I haven’t mentioned this in any of the sections above but it is also something to take into consideration and that is wind protection. Palmerston North gets a lot of wind, Wellington may be known as windy but in reality Palmerston North gets more. It’s why we have wind turbines on our hills and why our local rugby teams is called the Turbos with a wind turbine as their mascot. Spring is the worst for it and it isn’t uncommon for people to lose trampolines, trees, fences and the occasional roof because of the wind. If you have the opportunity to pick a property with a shelter belt of trees take it, not only will it provide protection from the wind but that area which would usually be left as unused land could be completely transformed into a forest garden. I put up a diagram of a forest garden plan on my Inspiration post.
You can probably see now why I now believe that the property I fell in love with before I started homesteading or had even heard of homesteading is the perfect property to develop into a permaculture homestead. It has the Water, Terrain, Aspect and Access. It even has enough room that you could have a few animals too and the trees provide wind protection as well as free firewood or if you are brave enough building materials. They also would provide a good area for a forest garden. The NZ natives/micro climate area would create a great space to grow things that prefer warmer whether and are a little more sensitive to changes in weather. You could introduce game birds to the lagoon as well as fish, or even start your own aquaculture garden with the possibility for a crop of rice in one corner of the lagoon. The stream provides the marvelous resources of fresh running water as well as bringing in nutrients from the surrounding properties. What is even better about this property is it isn’t very far away from town either so if you still had to work (to pay off the house) or if you liked that weekly coffee catch up with your friends it is close enough to have the best of both worlds.
There are quite a few things when buying a property people over look, really people should approach looking for a rental home in the same way. My tips would be take with you a property hunting tool kit, I know that sounds strange but this is what you need. A torch, A spirit level, a step ladder, a tape measure and a camera. The torch is for looking at the crawl space under the house and in the roof, you will want to check that under the house isn’t damp whether there is underfloor insulation or if there is any damage to the foundations. In the roof you will be looking for similar things as well as any signs of there ever being a fire or electrical fault or any leaks. The step ladder is for getting up to the crawl space, if you are looking at a property with a high ceiling take a full sized ladder. The spirit level or even a marble/small ball will show you whether the house is on a lean. There is nothing worse then discovering that you lovely new home is leaning badly and everything becomes an up hill battle. The spirit level is also great to use on door frames because if they are crooked it can be an indication of either poor workmanship when the house was built or they have warped. A tape measure is handy to use to measure out whether or not your existing furniture will fit this also comes in handy when you are looking at access (a lot of delivery trucks will require a driveway to be 2m wide or more depending on what is being delivered), areas for you gardens, sheds or even animal housing. The camera is of course to take photos, with that take photos of everything, when looking at a property there is a lot you will probably overlook. If you take photos of everything and review them once you are away from the property and had some time to relax you may notice things you hadn’t noticed before. Or things that the agent may have purposefully avoided that you managed to capture indirectly. Either way it is a great way to review the properties you have looked at once the excitement of looking at somewhere new has worn away a little.
That’s all folks, today we had a productive day around our little homestead. Trimmed the lawns, tried out the new weed whacker, trimmed the front camellias, spread out the pile of lawn clippings that has been sitting in a corner of our front garden for awhile, planted daffodil bulbs for spring, relocated a few praying mantis to the vegetable garden and did a little easy weeding. The vegetable garden is doing amazingly, the butter beans are now growing up the string that I put up and have little buds on them, the green beans are a little stunted in comparison but have a few buds as well. The carrots are getting bigger and bigger, the accidental potatoes are flowering and we discovered an accidental Brassica of some sort is growing a head (we aren’t sure what it is exactly because the leaves have been completely striped by caterpillars. Despite those critters though the Italian broccoli are thriving and really loving the cooler weather I wouldn’t be surprised if we start getting heads on them soon. The peas are growing along nicely they prefer cooler weather as well so with the weather we are having lately they have days where they must be extremely happy and days where they aren’t, they aren’t showing it though. I think I will put in some more carrot seeds soon so our next crop can get started, I planted some more a little while back but have a sneaking suspicion birds got to them. The mini cauliflower are getting bigger and I put in the normal variety in between the Italian broccoli today to provide them some protection as they grow. The idea is that once the broccoli have been harvested the cauliflower will be big enough to fill out the garden and the cycle begins again, I may plant something else next time though otherwise we are going to end up with a massive amount of broccoli and cauliflower and nothing else. Did you know though that broccoli and cauliflower can produce multiple heads in one season? It isn’t something i knew about and I’m guessing a lot of others don’t either. It is quite normal to get a large head and a smaller one which usually is harvested at the same time as the large one, if you leave it behind on the plant instead that smaller head will grow into a larger one and it’s likely a smaller one will grow again. This not only elongates the season for that plant but allows you to plant less and get the same amount of produce.