In My Big Fat Obvious Permaculture Revelation – Part 1 I talked about how our lack of a specific vision was wreaking havoc with our decision making and emotional well-being. In Part 2 we’ll examine what we’ve got to work with at The Ant Farm and layout our plan for the next few years.
So what is our canvas like? After much deliberation with the other permaculture-minded folks at the earthworks course, I think I can safely say that The Ant Farm rocks. While twenty of my contemporaries described their particular challenges, it became apparent to me that we have it pretty good in Ashville, Alabama.
Many of the guys at the event were working with four to twelve inches of annual rainfall. We get around sixty with literally hundreds of acres of water catchment on the south side of the property.
As we chiseled into rock twelve inches down in Jack Spirko’s field, I couldn’t help but think that our soil is seven feet deep before we hit the bedrock.
Most of the guys were dealing with exhausted flat farmland or steep cliffs that present major problems for cultivation, and here we sit on gentle rolling slopes of old-growth pine and hardwood forest rated as prime farmland by the US Geological Survey.
To top it all off, I’m surrounded by the best neighbors I could hope for. Good men who look out for my family because it’s just the right thing to do.
If our goal is to create a masterpiece, our canvas is a pretty good start.
The Elements in Our Masterpiece
Our next step is to decide what requirements and goals we’ll have in the long-term for our work of art. If we’re sincerely building a legacy that can transcend generations, it will have to meet our needs now and in the future. Our priorities are:
- Simplicity. As I have said before, we don’t want to re-create the life we currently have in the suburbs- full of chaos and complexity. Our goal is to build something new… a simpler existence where our children can learn what’s truly important in life.
Beauty. We want to be inspired by the elegance of God’s creation. When we visited Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm back in July, it was not quite what we expected. Things were messy and disheveled because it’s a working farm. Salatin has been known to quip that a farm that is not messy is not making money. For us, that’s a problem. Leigh’s only consistent request for our new life was that the farm would be filled with beauty. So one of our primary design criteria is that the Ant Farm will be a beautiful place. If it’s important to her, it’s important to me.
- Efficiency. With our business and my new commute, my time is limited, so everything we choose to do at the Ant Farm must be efficient and require minimum inputs of time if it’s going to work. This will likely represent our biggest challenge.
The practical elements of our design will include:
Food Production – The goal is to develop perennial crops that require minimum care. We’ll also reduce our consumption of store-bought meat with chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits. I’ll eventually stock the freezer with native deer and wild turkeys. Provisions will be included for support animals like goats, cats, a dog and maybe even one of my neighbor’s mini-donkeys.
Areas for the kids to play – On a recent camping trip with my daughter’s American Heritage Girls troop, I witnessed something that was both hilarious and disheartening. We were hiking down the steps to the base of Noccalula Falls, and as the tree line broke the sun cut through the clouds revealing a breathtaking view of the 90ft. waterfall.
At that moment one of the young hikers exclaimed, “Wow! It’s beautiful! It looks just like it’s on TV!” We want our children to appreciate the wonder and power of God’s creation. Our desire is that our kids will grow up playing outside like we did, not sitting in front of a screen.
Places to walk and enjoy nature – If we’re going to spend time outdoors, we’ll need places to do it comfortably.
An Example to the Community – If we are successful, The Ant Farm will serve as a welcoming example of non-political, non-whacko-environmentalist, non-hippy permaculture for St. Clair County, Alabama.
A Rough Sketch
With all of these things in mind, we’re ready to begin work on our Masterpiece. While we’ve planned out three phases so far, the plan is certain to evolve once it’s in motion.
Phase I: The first phase will involve getting the home on site and covering our basic living needs. With all of the initial expenses of developing the land, most of the Phase I activities will require minimal financial investment. The first phase really began back in April of 2013, and will probably take most of 2014. We’ll be cultivating raised beds for annual and perennial vegetable production in the front yard south of the house (that’s right… no lawn!). I’m also planning to install a gray water wetland with a small frog pond to divert water back to our landscape. Finally, we will install approximately 400ft. of fence east of the house to contain a livestock guardian dog, goats, chickens and whatever other animals we get a notion to acquire in the first year. Rabbits are probably on the menu in 2014, as well.
Phase II: The second phase will begin our food forest with the installation of three large swales in the North field. A 1/10th acre pond will be installed for ducks and geese if finances allow it. Also, a fence will be installed around the food forest area to protect the young growth from wildlife, and to serve as an outer perimeter for high-density grazing of the inter-swale areas.
Phase III: The third phase will see the installation of fencing around the large area on the west of the central five acres. A living fence of black-locusts (ala Ben Falk) will be planted to separate the wilderness zone (Zone 5) from our main living areas (Zones 1-4) and will eventually be coppiced repeatedly for fuel wood.
The big lesson I’ve learned over the last year is that I am not in control of this endeavor. While I’m hoping that we’ll have full production of the perennial systems by 2018, it could easily happen sooner or later based on a wide range of factors. Either way, we’re going to enjoy the ride while we continue to paint our Masterpiece.
Have you thought much about the legacy that you are creating for your family? I’d love to hear the details!