Planning the Mini-Farm, Step One

I originally thought that my “Planning the Mini-Farm” post would be just one post. That was just plain silly of me. There is way too much fun in the planning phase (and really, is the planning phase ever actually done?!) to keep it to just one post.

So, the following few posts will be a series on Planning the Mini-Farm. It’s a combination of the advice I’ve been given or read over the years, along with what we actually did on our homestead in the first year.

Here is the first installment…

Step One: Observe Your Land

I’ve read in different permaculture books that you should really wait to make changes to your landscape until you have had time to observe it for a full year. After waiting so many years to “settle down” I was too impatient to follow that advice, but I do appreciate why it’s valuable especially somewhere as far north as we are.

In the winter, the sun rises and sets in a very southern aspect of the sky – it never even makes it directly overhead. In the summer, the sun rises and sets in a more northern and central-sky aspect of the sky. The net result is that our yard is shaded by completely different neighboring trees in the summer versus the winter. Something to keep in mind if you are planning your own garden in a new place, especially if you have transplanted from the south to the north like we did.

If you do take your first year to watch the land, take pictures in each season at different times of day – early morning, noon, and evening, so you can see how the light patterns change over time.

Here are photos of some of my notes during the first year...

Make notes of the seasonal changes to the local foliage – when do certain plants in your yard bloom and when do they go dormant for the winter. If you see plants in your neighbors’ yard that you want to grow, make this note for those varieties, too, and ask your neighbors about them. I’ve never met a gardener who didn’t love talking about their garden, so don’t be shy!

Document any overly wet or dry spots your yard has during the rainy season (if you have one). If you get snow, make notes of where the snow melts first or sticks around the longest.

If you have kids or pets, keep track of where they like to run and play. I knew I wanted to keep an open space of grass for Taylor to play in, so I took that into account with our garden location. If you have a dog who loves to run a certain path by the fence, be very wary of putting a garden bed there.

All of these things will help you become intimately aware your homestead and how to best care for it. Even if you don’t wait to start tilling your soil (or sheet mulching or raised bed making), this type of documentation will help you continually improve your little plot of land on this big ol’ planet.