Monday, May 14, 2012

Taking Time to Evaluate

This post is for Kim down Milwaukee way.

What an interesting question you posed in your comment to my last blog entry!  You've made me stop and really evaluate what I'm doing here at Swamp Creek Farm.

Let's start with my take on Sepp Holzer.

My understanding of what this grand farmer says is:

1) Evaluate your land.  What is your elevation, terrain, soil?  What are the native plants that comprise the basic flora for your climate zone? What are your existing water sources and lowland areas that might be utilized to enhance a permaculture design? What kinds of critters do you have to deal with (including the two-legged regulatory authority sort)?

2) Define and decide the goals for your property. What do you want to achieve with your land?  Do you want to farm commercially as a private farmer, or open your farm to tourists?  Do you want your permaculture design to enhance and include wildlife and water courses like streams and wetlands?

3) Do it.

So where am I in this farming philosophy?  Let me begin by describing our farm.  We have about 78 acres (after family feuds and eminent domain).  Most of the land is wooded.  There are three fairly large wetlands, one containing a small lake that never goes dry, and one that I think could be classified as a fen - rather rare in Wisconsin. Our house well is only 60' deep and I believe our proximity to the marshes has something to do with that as most of our neighbors have wells that are at least 200' deep. Swamp Creek runs through a portion of the property.  Historically, during the logging days logs would be floated down Swamp Creek to where it runs into the Flambeau River, so the Creek can be fairly deep with a relatively strong current in spots.  I had an uncle who drowned in it so we treat Swamp Creek with respect. Our soil varies from silty clay to gravely to sandy loam. The woods are mostly maple, yellow birch, and basswood.  Cherries seem to be on the increase and since the tornado blew through two years ago, there are lots of shrubby trees like choke cherries, elderberries, juneberries, and dogwoods shooting up.

The goal here is very simple:  Make enough income from farm ventures to pay for the farm ventures and the real estate taxes.  Any money earned beyond that is gravy.

Being the cheapskate, er, frugal Bohemian I am, I have decided to work with the existing terrain contours and water features as much as possible in order to accomplish my permaculture goals instead of paying for an excavator to come out and move the earth around.  Wisconsin also has very strict regulations governing wetlands, which suit me just fine because I like my wetlands just as they are and I don't want just anybody messing with them.  I don't like trespassers.  That being said, my husband and I are going to pay for an evaluation from our regional aquaculture representative to see just what it would cost and entail to make the largest marsh able to support fish year round like brown trout and pan fishes like crappie and blue gills. Also, my farming philosophy is decidedly organic; I strongly consider myself a steward of the land.

I am self-taught and like digging in the dirt and experimenting.  I like to observe the results of what I do.  My "scramble planting" certainly exists in my Forest Garden area where I am also slowly building up a large raised bed (like those Sepp builds).  This is only the second year for that garden area.  I would like to have a better digital camera that would take crisper pictures of how everything grows there. So far I have not been very happy with the detail of the pictures I've taken so far with my current camera and haven't posted many pictures of this garden.  When the plantings are a little older I think you will be able to distinguish among plants better.

The field that lies between the big marsh and Swamp Creek is about three acres in size.  This is where I work at building the soil -- it is very poor and mostly sandy. The bad news is that I really need bigger equipment to be able to do all I would like to do here. Each year I am only able to to really pay attention to one or two of the sections I have divided the field into. This is an area I would eventually like to open to the public, but right now I am concentrating on soil building, pasture improvement using livestock (I'm still at the chickens only stage), and increasing the hops yard.  Each year I add trees to the buffer zone I have designated along the creek and marsh, too (about 40' including grassy area).  Trees take time to grow, and most of them don't live either because of the winter weather or the wildlife eat them. So, I am always planting trees. My family commitments also don't allow me to be able to be in the field as much as I would like. But each year I do see improvements in the farm, and my observations of the small steps I am able to take in permaculture farming teach me alot. I have already seen an increase in biodiversity that tells me I am doing the right things.  We have an increase in amphibian and reptile life, and there are two types of hawks besides bald eagles flying around.  We spotted our first Oriole just the other day. To me, practising permaculture is like putting together a 5,000 piece puzzle; though you might not see it at first, eventually every piece fits together to make a nice big picture.

To sum up, I like and use Sepp's ideas of raised beds, utilizing livestock as "farm workers", and unorthodox crop planting methods.  Eventually the marshes will play a bigger part in our permaculture farm plan, and one of these days I'll get around to building some of his really neat root cellar/animal shelters and getting a couple of pigs. 

Life moves slowly here at Swamp Creek Farm, but surely. I hope, Kim, that this answers your question. Thank you for making me sit down and think about what my long range goals are here.  It doesn't matter how small you are, just keep gardening! 

The field a few years ago

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:43 PM

    I sure did not expect such a thoughtful reply. I am more a Victory Gardener than a farmer, although my goal is to have enough to provide for myself, and not market. I do pay extra for organic and think you are on the right path there. People are getting it, the danger of what goes on and in what they eat. My tip my hat to Sepp is that I am digging really deep and going to bury wood for water retention and soil improvement in one area. I don't have big equipment either, but as I understand it, this improvement helps for years, a little heat, a little microbial, and a lot of moisture retention. Thank you for your thoughtful answer. Kim - Milwaukee