The journey of building soil, multiple hugelkultur beds and our overall farm has been a ground-up learning experience. We’ve had our land for three years, and in that time have made mistakes and triumphs in creating our ideal regenerative farm model. Tucked away in the beautiful rogue valley, we have worked in harmony with the natural processes of our 40 acres, studying the natural course of the water, the natural growth and the health of the topsoil. Our property was previously free range cattle land, and so many of our pastures and fields need ongoing rehabilitation to bring it to its full potential. Working towards this, and doing our best to coincide our needs with the needs of the land, we’ve begun to create a beautiful regenerative oasis.
While every property is different and has different needs, we’ve learned that one of the more crucial elements of building a permaculture farm is time. It is not uncommon in permaculture farming to take a year of observing the natural patterns and cycles of your property, to see how the land thrives and struggles through all four seasons. This gives you time to observe and learn about your property and how it needs and wants to be worked. If you have the privilege of time to observe and watch how your ecosystem works, capitalize on that. Many farmers don’t have that time, but just remaining observant and flexible to the needs of the land is really the most important thing.
Our first year on our property, we had to figure out where our “cash crop” was going to be and direct the majority of our energy and work into this area. We built our hugelkultur berms, knowing that we would be growing cannabis or hemp in that area. Planting alongside things like comfrey, garlic, fava beans, legumes, onions, daikon radishes and potatoes, contributes massively to the nutrient and microbial life of the soil. Not only are these crops beneficial for the farmer, but they sequester carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere, both cleansing the air and feeding the soil. When these crops are chopped and dropped onto the beds, they are covered with a barn cake (a mixture of manure and hay) and mulch. This allows the soil life to work these materials, making the nutrients of the plants and manure bioavailable to the growing plant life. This rich, fertile garden space then became the nucleus of fertility for our land and allowed for us to grow and expand the fertility throughout the farm.
When we first bought the property, we identified our water situation and ran lines to the top of the property and the ridges so that our water system would be gravity fed. Once the lines had been set and the watershed had been observed, we were able to locate the areas with heavy water retention throughout the summer, since the rogue valley tends to have hotter, drier growing seasons. In these observations, we also figured out where the winter watershed would leach the soil of water-soluble nutrients, this information helped decide where to plant our beds, with proper irrigation and healthy soil. Observing, identifying and working with this system, we were able to begin our garden and building our nutrient load.
Our animals have been a vital element to maintaining a non-commercial input system. Our livestock replaces store bought nutrients, as they bring all of our necessary nutrients to the table. After identifying our garden space and placing our water lines, we were able to acquire livestock and start building manure, by bringing in good hay where our animals could feed heavily, and then rotationally grazing them, where they would effectively eat and trample to spread manure and plant nutrients as the base of fertility in the garden and pastures. This manure was used to create the nucleus of health in our garden. Now in year 3, with a thriving hemp garden, we are focusing more on using the animals to revitalize our pastures, so that they will graze properly and actively build top soil, which will provide a water soluble nutrient matter for the plants and living soil. Garnering the microbes in the soil by feeding them, we are making minerals and nutrients bioavailable, which wouldn’t be without this process.
When we first started to build our farm and our system, the days were spent moving materials all over the place. We were moving materials in, moving manure all around and adjusting our infrastructure accordingly. As we’ve become familiar with the natural cycles and needs of the property, we’ve been able to stabilize and get into the rhythm of the land. The stability of our systems has allowed us to have a fertile and thriving homebase set of gardens, so we can now take these systems and begin to implement them around the farm. This spring we have introduced 5 new growing spaces, which have been planted out with perennial and annual plants, and will grow in harmony with our mycelium network and above mentioned legumes and alliums.
Our first few years were spent observing and letting go of the attachment to our plans. We learned to listen to the land and to go with what it needed and learned how to best utilize what it had to offer. We set our systems up to work with our watershed, our livestock and our garden space. Our biggest lesson has been to be malleable enough to augment the situation and to be creative in working with what our farm needs. In the early days, putting in only the necessary amount of infrastructure so that you will not take too many blows if things change because more than likely, you will need to be able to pivot and alter those infrastructures. Take the time to gain perspective on how to best harness your land and work with it to its fullest potential. Learning the natural processes may take patience, but it’s necessary for a long term prosperous farm.