The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.
~ Arnold H. Glasow
Planning Your Homestead
Money is tighter than ever, and with a tighter homestead budget comes a re-evaluation of priorities. Having priorities means having a plan. Let me share with you some of the strategies you can can use when planning your homestead.
When we moved to this land 18 months ago, after so many years of dreaming and yearning, I couldn’t help but imagine the possibilities. Large gardens, an orchard filled with fruit and nut trees, a large berry patch, perennial herbs, a pond, and chickens, rabbits, and dairy goats.
I still carry the vision. But patience is required. We simply don’t have the resources – money and time, to do more than make small, steady changes. Which of course, is a blessing. Because the longer we live here, the more we get to know the land.
I walk the perimeters, watching the water levels rise and fall in the creeks, walk the fields, noting the saturation in the low spots, how quickly the soil dries, where the water pools, how much shade is cast by the trees, which direction the winds come from. The earth is turning, and each season is slightly different from the last.
What vision do I have for this home and land? How can we produce more of our food and medicine? What grows well here? What challenges will we have to overcome?
As we consider these questions, we are using the ideas of edible landscaping and permaculture principles for planning the homestead.
Edible Landscaping and Permaculture Principles
The principles of edible landscaping can apply to the urban homesteader as well as those with an abundance of land. We can grow food that does not require a large garden space with evenly spaced rows. The edibles are tucked into flower beds, along the driveway, beside the mailbox, or up against the house.
For example, our front and back flower beds contain both flowers and useful edible plants. The catnip is fragrant, lush, and attracts butterflies all growing season. The peppermint tucked beside the front steps is convenient for snatching a few leaves for a refreshing coolness as we pass by, and for easy gathering for creating hot and iced mint teas.
Using edible landscaping, we can plan our spaces with an eye on beauty as well as function. Everything serves a dual purpose and contributes to both beauty and health.
What is permaculture? In the words of Deep Green Permaculture:
The Permaculture Design Principles are a set of universal design principles that can be applied to any location, climate and culture, and they allow us to design the most efficient and sustainable human habitation and food production systems.
Permaculture is both a complex and simple design process. It reminds us to work with nature as much as possible, by mimicking natural ecosystems in our food production design process. My goal is to create an edible landscape working with the ecology and environment of my land, not to micromanage and remain in constant battle against the forces of nature.
This takes observation, and once again, patience. As well as trial and error. And more observation.
Here are some of the design principles and the ways I am applying them to my homestead:
Each element performs many functions– rabbits provide a meat source for our family as well as fertilizer for the gardens
Efficient energy planning– for house and settlement (zones and sectors) – plan to have areas that require a lot of attention closest to the house (and water supplies) – such as perennial gardens.
Energy Cycling– energy recycling on site (both fuel and human energy) – using cover crops that promote healthy soils, prevent erosion, and offer supplemental feed for our rabbits
Diversity– Polyculture and diversity of beneficial species for a productive, interactive system – allowing for wild areas to thrive, creating a garden pond to encourage beneficial predators (frogs and insects)
Edge Effect– Use of edge and natural patterns for best effect – establishing mullein plants along the border of the forest and grassy areas (the preferred environment for mullein)
Last year we focused on turning an area of lawn into our annual vegetable garden. If you have lawn and want to turn it into garden space, my post Transforming Lawn Into Garden offers the pros and cons of different methods for starting your garden.
The annual garden is where we planted summer and fall vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, peas, melon, winter squash, pumpkins, potatoes, corn, peppers, and carrots. By focusing on creating nourishing soil, our first garden was a huge success.
Last summer, our first on the land, I allowed the northern part of my annual vegetable garden to go wild. It all started with the yarrow and wild flowers – their beauty and medicinal gifts seemed too good to yank out, simply to maintain tidy rows and paths. And so, despite my need for order, I had a patch of wild within the perimeter fence of the garden. No weeding, no mowing, and certainly no weed-whacking permitted.
It was beautiful and prolific and full of beneficial insects. I harvested yarrow for drying to be used in wound poultices and teas. I harvested red clover for medicinal teas and infusing with honey. And I had beautiful flowers greeting me each day as I visited the garden. Somehow, a large bullfrog found his way through the fencing and established himself in this wild area.
As I spend more time getting better acquainted with the diversity of the plants, insects, crayfish, frogs, predatory mammals, and birds that regularly visit this land, I am considering other ways I can work with nature and the ecology of our home.
This year we are focusing on creating new growing areas for our perennial foods and medicinal plants. The first step for our blueberry, blackberry and raspberry plants is preparing the soil. It was a challenge finding a spot that had the good drainage and full sun the blueberries prefer. And raspberries and blackberries are difficult to remove once started, so taking our time in deciding before adding these perennial plants to our homestead is essential.
Taking advantage of the current features of our homestead, including shaded areas beneath established trees, and areas that stay moist and boggy, we are creating perennial medicinal herb areas, including a nettle patch and an area for moisture-loving Elderberries.
What Can You Do?
- Research edible perennial plants to use as part of your current landscaping plans.
- Allow some areas to grow wild. In our yard, we have areas where we allow the weeds to grow, and all season I am able to harvest medicinal plants like yarrow, plantain, chickweed, mullein, dandelion, and nettle
- Take advantage of shade-tolerant plants.
Some examples of include: lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, broccoli, raddichio, kale, carrots, garlic, beets, cherry tomatoes (take longer to ripen), wintergreen
There are a great many resources available for learning more about edible landscaping and permaculture. Here are some that I am familiar with:
- Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Toby Hemenway
- Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, Bill Mollison, Reny Mia Slay
- Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening