View Full Version : "Homestead" site choice
10-04-2006, 10:54 PM
I'm new to permaculture (though intuitively it makes more sense than just about anything I've ever read about)- making my way through the designer's manual and hoping to take the course this fall. I'm looking for some opinions and ideas about sites- I wish I could put considering a site off until after I've taken the course, but I have a compelling opportunity now. It's 40-some acres, part of a long out-of-operation farm in upstate NY. It is a south facing slope, parts somewhat steep, some more gentle, spring-fed pond (about half-way down the overall slope), some amount of terracing, about 3/4 open, 1/4 wooded. My initial impression is that this could be a fantastic site, but I'm not sure about cultivation on slopes. It seems like it would provide lots of cultivation opportunities and it's ideal for passive solar siting.
Interested in opinions!
11-04-2006, 12:34 PM
It is really hard to give quality advice from the other side of the planet – OR right next door fro that matter – but my gut tells me to tell you – go with your gut!!! Intuition is undervalued. There's head stuff like facts figures, finances, and then there's what “feels right”, and so often it is!
11-04-2006, 10:19 PM
Understandable about the 'other side of the planet' and not being able to see the site, etc. (This seemed to be the largest & most active permaculture site google got me to- I initiallly didn't notice that it was Australi-centric!) It seems to me that for conventional cultivation a moderate slope would be somewhat problematic, but my understanding is that for permaculture-directed cultivation it might not be so much of an issue, or even provide some possible advantages. I guess since I'm not that far into absorbing permaculture yet, I just want to be sure there isn't some overall 'slopes are generally not ideal' rule. Seems doubtful, but I admit to ignorance.
13-04-2006, 01:21 AM
The place sounds wonderful. Where in upstate is it? (I am from NYC originally)/
My advice would be go for it if you can! I once wanted to live up near Saranac Lake on a place called Osgood Pond (small lake, actually). I ended up elsewhere, but up there is really nice!
The south orientation and spring are huge benefits and would be a big part of a deciding factor for me.
More terracing would be good for your site, I imagine.
Is it piney there? Or does it have maple trees? (or both?)
13-04-2006, 07:31 AM
It's just north-west of the Catskill Mountains. I'm trying not to get to excited or attached to the idea, in case some developer or big-shot from NYC grabs it before I can decide/get finances in order, etc., but... It is very nice there- a little harsh in the winter, but otherwise nice. A pretty economically depressed area though, which hopefully will keep development at bay. I'm going to do some more 'snooping' around next weekend, see if I can't find a local who might know the history of the property, what kind of farm it originally was, have an idea of soil condition/fertility.
The acreage is about 1/4 wooded- some pine, some deciduous, but I'm not sure what exactly- and 3/4 open, sloped pasture. Haven't tramped around the whole perimeter, etc. Maple would be fantastic, saw some farms in the area that had maples tapped for syrup! There is a left-over blue stone foundation of what must have been the barn- more than enough material for the foundation/stemwall of a modest strawbale/cob cottage. Adjacent parcel of 60 acres has apple trees, but that's out of the budget.
I can just picture it as a great little sustainable homestead, and it's made reading Mollison's Designer's manual feel like more than just a theoretical exercise/education- I can picture the implementation of various design elements, etc.
13-04-2006, 09:45 AM
Yeah, that area has some pretty old towns, little burgs with no industry nearby, and in a post peak economic condition: good for homesteading as land prices will be low, but perhaps hard to live in for lack of options to make money/generate income. A permaculture B&B? Work online?
Where do you live in the big apple? I grew up on Roosevelt Island, lived in bay Ridge, Flatbush and Borough Hall in Brooklyn. Also lived in hells Kitchen for a bit, before it got gentrified. I rented a room for a few months up in Fort Tryon, near the cloisters in a building full of aged holocaust survivors. Nice neighborhood, with Fort Tryon right there....
I love NYC, but I wouldn't want to live there....
I look forward tohearing more about the area and what you end up doing.
17-04-2006, 01:56 AM
Tom, I have a place that is situated much like yours. The most important thing is, of course, how are you going to make a living? If you have to do a big commute in blinding snowstorms and ice, it's miserable and expensive to buy gas and upkeep of cars. If you grow vegetables, and everyone else does there as well, then there's no one to buy them.
If it's a low income area, also check for crime and drugs (look for types of arrests). Often drug dealers get into low income areas where they won't be noticed to make meth labs, etc.
Try sites like this for statistics:
As long as you can financially sustain yourself there, then next consider the land.
I think these are the top things to consider:
1. Running water, is it spring or well ($$$$)
2. Kind of soil and slides
3. building location, easily accessible, low maintenance driveway. No steep slopes up behind a building site, no standing water.
4. Septic tank has to be in soil that perks, meaning soil that water disappears into, not collects in like clay, so that affects a building site.
5. How far do you have to go for building supplies and hardware, and how long will it take? A 3-hour trip into town can take away a half a day's worth of trying to get something done.
6. Do you have water rights? What's uphill from you dumping sewage or mine tailings into the ground water. Have it tested.
7. Solar is good, but it requires maintenance and purchasing batteries about every 3-5 years and they are expensive. You'll be on your own maintaining it.
I have a spring fed pond, and I love it, but it's a lot of work maintaining it, cutting back plants that get overgrown around it, like reeds and willows. For me, October is pond maintenance month when the level is the lowest.
Running water is crucial. Is there a spring that comes out somewhere else that you can tap into? Pond water is not clean enough to drink, probably Canadian geese and other birds come there for several months out of the year and poop, so it becomes its own ecosystem that is good, but not drinkable.
You might need a water tank to have the spring run into, which requires pumps and water lines, and you'll need level ground for a tank. Electricity is expensive and will probably go out when there are storms, so be prepared to be on your own for cooking, lighting, water pumping for two to three weeks sometimes. A gas stove is best.
Are there potential slides on the property? Just because it's holding still now, doesn't mean you can build whereever there is a great view. This is a good time of year to look at the soil and the ground water, and see if it's running over the ground in some places, that means that's very wet, and would be a struggle to maintain a foundation in wet soil. Soils engineers wouldn't even put one in wet soil.
Look for places where the water does not stand and isn't running on the ground, with no steep slope up behind it. That kind of location is probably on the "nose of the slope" as they say, and is best for building.
Driveway are expensive, especially when they are going uphill, because the rain water will start running down it with great speed and cause erosion, so that is expensive and tons of work. When the soil is too wet for big trucks to bring new gravel, you'll have to wait a few months, so in the mean time it's you who is shoveling tons of gravel.
Consider that you'll probably have to walk in groceries and anything you buy, and walk out garbage, at least to the road, a whatever recycling stuff you have. At some point driveways can become impassable, and you won't want to be making 3 and 4 trips in the rain and snow, cold and dark.
What kind of soil is it? Clay? Loam? Sand? That determines the kind of effort you'll have to put into it to grow things to be sustainable.
Ask if there are any old buried tanks, whether they are septic, gasoline or agricultural tanks. Ask if there are abandoned wells on the site. You will be responsible for capping them properly.
Are you okay with snakes, mice (that chew on everything from car wires to wooden floors and walls), rats, bats, ticks, spiders, bees, skunks, coyotes, mountain lions (that can be aggressive), and any other wild animals you'll need to share that place with.
Go to sites like terraserve.com and look at the satellite picture of your property from a few years ago, see if there are any slides on it, or look to see if they graded any slopes in order to make it sell better. You can see a lot from these old aerial photos.
Also, look at the neighbors' areas to see if there's anything that could be noisy, like motocross paths or hunting clubs, dairys with cows and poop that the smell blows in the wind for miles, and in the summer can be unbearable.
And most important of all, if you change your mind can you sell it? Hang around the local stores, Post Office and bars, and meet the people. These will be your main friends and neighbors who know a lot about the area, and can tell you about the history of the place you are looking at. Your old friends will be curious about where you are, and may come once to see it, but after that they will find excuses not to come, so be prepared to have a change in your social life.
This is a great book with lots of good info: Finding and Buying your Place in the Country.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/ ... 10-6986336 (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0793141095/b4ubuildcom/104-5188310-6986336)
It's a serious purchase, and it's not an easy life, but I have to say I love it, and once you know that about yourself, you will have such a satisfying time!
Let us know what happens. :)
17-04-2006, 08:35 AM
Thanks for the great reply and good general checklist- there were a couple things that I hadn't considered yet and it was good to get them in mind. Crime statistics are one thing in particular- have to do some digging on that.
The site is about half of what was once a small (100 acre) dairy farm, inactive for at least 10 years now from what I can gather (and more likely inactive for 25 years). The tiny farmhouse was apparently built in the 1860s- pretty rough shape, but more from lack of maintainance than anything else. Dry rot in floor joists and poorly executed installation of electical, furnace, etc. were the worst problems I could find. The site of the house seems to be the ideal one on the property (southern exposure, northern protection, access, already has the utilities), as it's stood there for so long suffering only at the hands of man rather than the environment. We'd plan to live in it for a couple years while we really get to know the site and build a barn or other structure, then move into the barn and dismantle the house and rebuild on the same site. Of course a year or two might teach us that another spot on the land would be more ideal.
The parts of the hill that would be above us were also part of the farm, part orchard, part pasture, part woods. Doubtful there is anything evil leaching into the land from up there. If we could afford it we'd buy the other parcel of 60 acres and own the whole side of the hill and start fantasizing about founding our own ecovillage!
Water, water... plenty of water. Already a well for the house and there are also two springs. Some diversion and management is needed as there is leveled out spot that's soggy where the water from one of the springs collects. There is a creek at the bottom of the hill- the spring just needs a way to direct across the flat and on down the hill. Might be a spot to design a succession of small ponds.... Probably not enough volume for any real hydropower.
There are a lot of great things about this place and we think we can afford it with very minor debt (maybe none if we go around to relatives shaking a can....!). Next is to jump into the snake-pit of lawyers and real estate agents.
More to come....
17-04-2006, 10:00 AM
He Honeycombe, please keep us posted as to what you found in your research.
Sweatpea's check list is impressive..... and certainly covered things I wouldnt have thought to caution you about .... like crime... would never have entered my consciousness.... (we do have crime - of course - and much more than we would like - but it wouldnt occur to me that the meth labs are in the countryside.)
I'd like to know what you eventually decide and what you uncover as you do your detective work.
Dont envy you the “snakepit” of lawyers and real estate agents..... some things are global... we could probably swap one-for-one on those sort of experiences!!!.
We had a couple of posters on the board at end of 2005 who were doing the buying property thing and setting up permie places .... they dont seem to post anymore, which is a shame as I was very interested in their experiences and going on the journey with them via the forum.... spose they are too busy doing it now to be writing about it!
18-04-2006, 01:20 AM
Tom, that sounds like good info you are finding out. Check to make sure the existing foundation is level, any shifting of it will indicate what the soil is doing. Don't eye-ball it. Use a level inside in many places. You'll come to learn that our eyes get all confused as to what level is when you're living on a hillside *L*
Have the well tested for purity and also how many gallons per minute can be pumped out of it. Don't believe what they tell you, pay the extra money to find out. In my state it's a minimum of 3 gallons per minute which is not much. Household use can pump it down quickly. 10-15 would be good, but you might also need a tank. Find out if there are fire requirements for water storage. Where I am it's 7500 gallons, meaning two very big tanks. But you're on your own for a fire as far as water goes.
Check the stream water for purity, have it sent in as well. It will tell you if someone is dumping sewage upstream. Meth labs dump their residue, and it's very acidic. The only reason I keep mentioning this, there was one found just 3 miles from me at a stables, and people downstream were getting terrible rashes from the water all of a sudden.
Is the well lined with something? Or is it just a hole that might collapse onto a pump that sits at the bottom? That's a huge expense if that happens. How deep is the well, is it all year round? Did they dig through some kind of rock that makes it more stable? The local well drillers will know generally about these kinds of things, whoever is selling the place needs to have known these things.
Google also has an aerial photo service, maps.google.com
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