The REALeyes project is our attempt to reconcile my consumptive habits with an awareness of the ecosystems upon which we depend and how they relate. It is developing into a 10 acre permaculture farm and education site with the goal of not only being self-reliant, but also to provide healing for the world at large through carbon sequestration and educational outreach.
To view the full project plan with images CLICK HERE.
*All maps are oriented with South at the bottom of the page.
The REALeyes Project
Vision: This undertaking was inspired by the realization that if the current status quo persists, life will not be viable in the future on this planet. Permaculture offers us the tools to imagine a world transformed into a permanent healthy ecosystem which provides all our needs. So now that we know where we’re at, and we know where we need to go, it’s a simple matter of getting from point A to point B; navigating any obstacles (inner and outer) that get in our way along this path. This project represents my experiments at finding my own way through opening my awareness to the patterns and lessons of the land.
As a permaculture research and education site, I envision it serving as a portal through which people can pass to leave the old dying world and discover the new one being birthed. The food forest will serve as a mother colony of useful plants; a sort of living ark, which can then be propagated outwards first to the rest of the land, then to my neighbors land and gradually out into the community. The arms of healing will reach out and eventually meet with those of other islands of diversity, and just like nuclei that merge, gradually close off and absorb the remaining disturbed spaces. It’s inevitable now, as there’s no other direction to reasonably move. What use is my retirement savings; what good is raising a child if we allow our life-support systems to fail simply through improper management? Since we have the tools in our hands to do it right, there is no other option but to dedicate all energy and resources to this transformation.
This is a space for the relearning of lost skills, and discovery of new ones, rebuilding our connection with the land and one another, the radical relocalization of our resource supply lines, and for reprogramming our patterns of thought and behavior.
Site Sector Analysis
Location: Elmwood Township – Leelanau County - Michigan - USA – Earth
Region: Cold-Temperate, Zone 5b, We have four seasons which means a fresh start every spring, and long growing days in the summer. However this makes for a relatively short growing season so provision for food preservation and storage is essential.
Precipitation: Average rainfall is 3 inches per month. Autumn has the highest precipitation. Late winter has the least precipitation, but due to the snow melt, is one of the wettest times. The largest single historic event was 7 inches. There is some potential for droughts, especially with the changing global climate and the local sandy soil conditions.
Latitude: 45 deg N
Threats: Intense Snow Storms due to Lake Effect Snow
Habitat Types: 1. Cedar-Birch Swamp 2. Shrub Thicket (Dogwood, Autumn Olive, Elderberry, Highbush Cranberry) 3. Beech-Maple-Basswood-Oak Dominant Climax Forest (max age 100yrs) 4. Cleared farmland, primarily Sheep Sorrel and Spotted Knapweed 5. Inland Lake-Bass, perch, bluegill, seaweed, cattail, reeds, clams, muscles
Land History: This site has been in my family for several generations and used to be an active family farm. They produced mainly corn and beans and also had gardens, cows, pigs, chickens and more. It hasn’t been farmed in 40 years, and was planted out to Blue Spruce for Christmas trees 30 years ago. Most of these have now grown over 40ft and are spaced very close together. There were some apple trees planted on the property long ago which are still growing and producing well, although they could do better with some underplanting, mulching and pruning, and perhaps a foliar spray to deter fungal disease, and pests.
Average First Frost Date: September 17th
Average Last Frost Date: June 9th
Wind: Prevailing wind out of the South/SW, confirmed by local wind flagging
Distance to Large Water Body: Lake Michigan - 21 miles which creates significant lake effect snow, and moderates local climate. The site also borders the inland Cedar Lake to the east.
Existing Species on Site:
Trees: Apple, Mulberry, Maple, Oak, Basswood, Ash, White Pine, Blue Spruce, Cedar, Service Berry, Weeping Willow, Birch, Poplar,
Shrubs: Autumn Olive, Grey dogwood, Red Osier Dogwood, Highbush Cranberry, Elderberry, Saskatoon, Stag-horn Sumac, Honeysuckle
Herbs: Sheep Sorrel, Burdock, Dandelion, Purslane, Mullein, Goldenrod, St. Johns Wort, Wood Sorrel, Lambsquarters, Grasses, Lilac, Brown eyed susan, Red Clover, White Dutch Clover, Horsetail, Cetum, Jack in the Pulpit, Wild Leeks (Ramps), Boneset, Joe Pye Weed, Daisy, Cattail, Water Reed, Mint, Wild Grape, Spotted Knapweed, Virginia Creeper, Trilliums, Queen Anne’s Lace, Raspberry,
Animals: Humans, Deer, Squirrel, Coyote, Fox, Skunk, Racoon, Chipmunk, Hawk, Robin, Blue Heron, Seagull, Geese, Ducks, Rabbits, Frogs, Clams, Muskie, Bluegill, Perch, Bass, Pike, Trout, Crow, Eagle, Swallow, Bats, Bees, Hornets, etc.
Sun Angles: Winter solstice: 22deg off horizon. Rises 67deg east of due south and sets 67deg west of south, Summer Solstice: 70deg off horizon. Rises 116deg east of due south, and set 116deg west of south.
Slope: Very minimal. About 2ft over 100ft towards the lake (east)
Approach: The principles that inform my water management strategy are…
Swales: Since the slope is gradual, the swales can be shallow and wide. They will be spaced far enough apart to allow vehicle access between them. The existing two-track is the lowest point and tends to collect water, so I will build swales on either side to capture and soak the water where it’s needed before it goes onto the road.
Pond: The pond location was chosen because it can be fed from the roof runoff, and is still a higher elevation than most of the swales and gardens, to allow for gravity irrigation. The pond is approximately 2000 ft sq. and 9 ft deep giving roughly 67,000 gallons of above ground water storage. The roof will capture about 44,000 gallons per year, which is more than enough to keep the pond charged. The pond will be sealed using the Glee technique using leaves from the city, weeds from the lake, and pigs in it to compact and manure the pond. Also, the depth should prevent it from freezing through, which means fish can live in it year round such as perch, bluegill, bass, carp and catfish as well as some crawfish, clams, and frogs.
Cisterns: Two 1500 gallon cisterns will be used to store roof run off from the house and greenhouse, also in an elevated position as well as built on raised platforms to allow for gravity irrigation. They are protected from the suns damaging effect by the greenhouse and pine trees, and will eventually be covered with a trellis and climbing plants. (Thanks Penny!)
Drinking Water: Will be piped underground from the neighboring house electric well to the main house and greenhouse.
Access: Driveway enters from the west, connects with existing two-track then connects up around neighboring house. Vehicle access also maintained for the materials storage area. Foot paths radiate out from the house like spokes of a wheel, and connect together forming a flower petal pattern for efficient movement across the site.
Current State: There’s no way to get around it, the soil on site is in extremely poor shape. It’s almost totally sand, with very little organic matter. A soil test has determined that it’s acid with a PH of 4.8 with low P, K, Mg, and Ca. Digging a test hole has unearthed a hardpan layer of compaction about 2.5ft down. The sand makes for soil that is very dry as the water and thus nutrients quickly leach down into the ground.
Animal Tractoring: The soil will begin to be rebuilt through the use of movable pens for animals such as hens and pigs. The pigs root and turn over the soil through their natural behavior of looking for food. This behavior can be utilized to prep areas for cover crops by eliminating competing plants, and adding some fertilizer. I’ve already begun using this technique and have had great success out-competing the aggressive spotted knapweed.
Cover Cropping: I’ll begin with a very diverse mix of cover crops to see what grows best here, including; sunflower, oats, peas, radish, squash, alfalfa, rye, vetch, beans, buckwheat, wildflowers, and clovers. In the garden areas I’ll use buckwheat during the growing season and cut when it flowers so it doesn’t go to seed. For a winter cover crop I’ll use oats and field peas which will die before going to seed from the freeze. After broadcasting the seeds by hand, I rake them in with a high wheel cultivator, and then cover the area with straw. Sometimes I’ll dig mini-swales to aid in moisture retention.
Pioneer Trees: In my food forest, I’ll do a dense planting of Italian Alder which is a fast growing nitrogen fixer to build nitrogen in the soil in order to feed my fruit and nut trees as they get established. This tree is ideal because it doesn’t spread through rhizomes like Black Locust, yet is fast growing, coppices, and makes a good fuel wood. Once my main crop trees mature, I’ll either keep the alder coppiced low to the ground, or cut it and suffocate the stump with some metal until the roots rot.
Importing OM: While it’s labor and resource intensive to import organic matter (such as woodchips, spoiled hay, manure, leaves and compost) for the whole site, it does make sense to bring it in to kick start the zone 1 plantings such as the kitchen, herb, and main crop gardens. It also makes sense to import some clay which will help the soil retain more moisture as a sandy-loam instead of pure sand.
Hugelkulture: Burying wood in my garden beds and swale berms increases organic matter in the soil, thereby increasing its ability to retain water and nutrients.
Zones of Use:
Zone 1: [.2 acre] Diverse kitchen gardens (Picked every day, planted 4-6times/month, heavily mulched and fertilized), Herb garden/Spiral and Picking Greens, Root Cellar/Ice House, Patio, Dwarf fruit trees (multigraft, espalier), Mother plants, High value/difficult to grow plants, Trellis, Deciduous Vines and Trees, Nursery, Shade house, Greenhouse, Seed storage, parking, Feed store, Tool shed, Washing line, Cisterns, Garden Ponds, EDGE Z1: Compost, Poultry (chickens)
Zone 2: [.75 acre] Includes Parents House, Diverse Food Forest, Main Crop Garden (corn, potatoes, grain, pumpkins, melons, okra, squash, turnips, carbs, storage crops) Woodlot/Coppice firewood, Cut Forage. (Chop n Drop mulch and Groundcover)
Zone 3: [1.5 acres] (rough mulch, big wood sticks etc.) Grazing Pasture, Broad Food Forest blending out, Broad Main Crop (Mass), Farm Forestry Blending in
Zone 4: Farm Forestry (timber, poles, bee forage, animal forage, nuts, mushrooms)
Zone 5: Wilderness/Unmanaged, Forage, Hunt, Firewood, Timber
Main Design Considerations:
Area – 269.7sq. ft
Shape - Pentagon
Side length (5 sides) - 12.5ft
Circumradius - 10.62ft
Inradius - 8.62ft
Height – 15ft
Frame - Timber, round 12ft black locust poles
Walls - Strawbale and covered on the inside with a mud plaster and the outside with limestone based plaster.
Roof - 3:12 slope, made of black locust slab shingles, and insulated underneath with light straw-clay
Foundation – Rubble Trench, Cinder block, wind sheer anchors, vapor barrier
Floor – Earthen floor (for thermal mass)
Energy and Waste Systems:
Electricity: Off-grid Solar PV system with Battery Backup. 2x 250watt panels, 2.5kW Inverter, 8x 6volt deep cycle batteries, charge controller, PV wires, Mounting. Yearly Production: 560kWh Total: $4244.67
Refrigerator: Converting a chest freezer into a fridge will create a super-insulated, extremely efficient fridge that only consumes .15-.18kW per day! [source: http://www.aselfsufficientlife.com/chest-freezer-to-fridge-conversion-the-most-energy-efficient-fridge-ever.html]
Blackwater Constructed Wetland: This will be constructed slightly down slope from the house so that the blackwater can flow by gravity into it. It will be filled with wetland plants such as cattails, sagittaria, rushes, reeds, scurpis, and bulrush. When the system gets full of biomass, it will be harvested out and composted and returned to the garden to complete the nutrient cycle.
Greywater: Water from the sinks, shower, and washing machine will gravity flow out into a mulch basin. The pipe will be HDPE and buried so that it can still function in the winter. The bathroom sink will be used to fill the toilet flush.
Hot Water: Hot water will be provided by a hybrid DIY solar/wood system. The hot water will be stored elevated in a typical 40 gallon electric water heater, set to a low setting. Then the cold input will be pre-heated through a coil of 1inch HDPE tubing in a sunny position, and can optionally be piped through a copper tube wrapped around the stove pipe of the wood stove.
House: The house itself is the center of energy, and serves as the place we sleep, cook and generally celebrate and contemplate life. It’s like the nucleus of the cell, and we, the land-stewards, move around the site keeping all the systems running smoothly like little protein molecules, serving our purpose for the greater organism.
Herb Planters: There will be cooking herbs and greens within and alongside the house for quick and easy harvesting. Shade tolerant plants such as claytonia will go on the north side of the house, and the more Mediterranean herbs to the south.
Covered Patio: The west patio will be covered by a solid roof to provide an outdoor gathering space during rainy days. The covering will also keep snow clear from the paths to the firewood and root cellar during the winter. The patio may also be used as a covered parking space in the winter.
Dining Patio: This patio (made of broken chunks of sidewalk from the city) will serve as an outdoor dining and food processing area during the summer. It will have a nice view of the forest, and gardens and be covered with a natural round timber trellis, with Hardy Kiwi and Grapes growing up it. There’s also an embedded firepit for those late night storytimes.
Root Cellar/Ice House: In the future we would like to build an ice house and root cellar to store our food through winter, and have a freezer space during the summer. This will include two super-insulated rooms connected by a door. The back room would contain ice blocks stored in sawdust that were frozen in buckets during the winter. The front room would be kept around 40 degrees Fahrenheit for cool crop storage, by leaving the door to the ice room open the correct amount. It’s located near the house because it will be accessed almost daily.
Keyhole Garden: This is a raised bed hugelkulture garden that serves as an aesthetic focal point of the site, so it will be decked out with some colorful flowers and medicinal plants. It has gotten very dry, so I mixed some hydroton into the soil from my aquaponics system to help it hold moisture, as well as keeping it heavily mulched. There is a basket in the center for compost which returns nutrients to the soil.
Barn: There is an old camper trailer on site, which I can gut out and use as a barn for storing tools, feed, and seed out of the weather. It’s not the most slightly thing, so I’ll paint it up with a mural but also keep it tucked back behind the greenhouse and pines, but still close enough to be easily accessible.
Greenhouse: The greenhouse will be wood frame, strawbale construction with double pane glass on the south wall and roof. Inside will be a small pond dug into the ground to keep it from freezing. This will be used to irrigate and fertilize a vertical growing aquaponic system that will grow food crops through the winter, and feed new seed starts and transplants in the spring. Some space will also be dedicated to growing pruned-espaliered tropical climate “luxury” plants such as coffee, black pepper, avocado, banana, mango, pineapple, and fig. The greenhouse will have a sleeping loft, wood stove, and sink and can serve as alternate sleeping and office quarters.
Other Close Elements: Also situated near the house will be the solar hot water collector, the blackwater wetland, the firewood pile, and the cisterns for collecting the roof runoff from both the greenhouse and the house.
Black Locust Shade Patch: While working on the greenhouse I quickly noticed how intense the sun is in this area, so I planted a number of black locust seeds as an adjustable shade barrier and windbreak. Since Black Locust can coppice, I can keep selectively cutting them until I get exactly the right light amount that I want. Black Locust leafs out very late in the spring so I’ll have all my transplants out of the greenhouse by the time the shade is coming in to keep it cool.
Kitchen Gardens: The rest of the spaces that aren’t dedicated to elements, patio, or paths will then become kitchen gardens for growing a high diversity of food producing plants and herbs. This is where we’ll get most of our greens and it will be kept heavily mulched, fertilized, and watered. These gardens get the most attention. I will apply companion planting, and crop rotation principles as well as planting a number of support species to help deter pests (onions, chives), attract pollinators (asters, marigold), and accumulate nutrients in the soil (comfrey, yarrow, white dutch clover).
Diverse Food Forest: This area serves as an area to experiment with different polycultures of multifunctional plants, as well as being a genetic bank of many of the perennial edible and useful plants that can be grown in this region. Close in to the house we focus on small dwarfing or semi-dwarfing fruit trees, berry bushes, and a high diversity of herbaceous and groundcover species. The ground is kept covered through low spreading/creeping plants, and chop-and-drop mulch. I’m aiming to have some plants always in bloom, and some always in fruit through the growing season by selecting early, mid and late ripening varieties of each plant. I will also have a moving compost pile within the food forest to build nutrient rich soil wherever it collects.
Main Crop Garden: The main crop garden is downslope of the food forest so that any nutrient rich runoff from the food forest is absorbed by the garden beds. It’s constructed as two long hugelkulture mounds on contour. This will be used to produce the bulk of our staple crops such as corn, sweet potatoes, amaranth, sunflower, pumpkins, melons, squash, beans, turnips, carrots, and other storage crops.
Existing Vegetation: Blue Spruce and Pines are mostly left as is, but some are limbed up to fit in elements such as the cisterns, the barn, nursery, and the root cellar. The limbs and trees that are pruned out will be used to build hugelkulture garden beds on contour in the kitchen, and main crop gardens. I’ll also use the pokey spruce branches to build a protective barrier around my new plantings.
Nursery: The nursery is protected by a tall fence and includes plants waiting to be planted, as well as new seeded perennials just growing from seed.
Materials Storage: This area will be used to store building and planting materials that don’t have an immediate use. It should be accessible by vehicle and somewhat hidden from view by the existing trees as well as planted hazelnuts and serviceberries. This will also be a spot for a Parkour playground for kids and adults.
Zone 2-4 Layout Detail:
Orchard Pattern: The apple and Saskatoon are existing trees on site, so my food forest design incorporates them into it.
Canopy Pattern: When designing the canopy, I tried to keep it 40-60% open to allow light in for the undergrowth plants. The exception is on the east side which is the animal forage area. In this section, I plan to plant close, then selectively coppice and prune out the unwanted plants as they mature and I see which ones perform better than others, selecting for disease resistance, size of crop, and earliest year of crop production. I tended to keep the larger trees to the side and north so as not to cast too much productive area into shade.
Productive Hedges: Along the existing two-track I’ve planned for hedges of blueberry and hazelnut. These will produce a large crop for storage, animal fodder, or income. Blueberry are especially well suited to this sandy, acid site. Being right next to the road, they will be easier to harvest and move.
Animal Fodder Area: The animal fodder system is based off Mark Shepard’s work in Restoration Agriculture. My goal is to provide 100% of my animals diet on site. The swales (blue) form corridors for a mob grazing/tractoring system. Along either side of the swale will be a permanent fence (red) to prevent the animals from damaging the plantings. These fences will gradually be replaced with an impenetrable living-hedge of osage orange and rose. Then movable electric fencing (yellow) will span across the pasture to create an enclosed pen that can be progressed forward. The swales are planted out with a polyculture of plants that produce good fodder for animals. Some will reach over the fence and drop their fruit into the pens (honey locust, mulberry, persimmon, Siberian pea shrub) others will be a cut-fodder that can be coppiced and tossed in to the pen (Linden, Black Locust, Comfrey, blackberry, raspberry). In addition to this, I will cover-crop behind the animals until a good mix of fodder crops are growing on the pasture as well (alfalfa, rye, squash, pumpkins, sugar beets, clover, amaranth, sunflower, sunchokes, radishes, peas, beans, chickweed, dandelion, plantain and more). The pasture will benefit from the fertilizing and soil building edge effect of the polycultured swale. I may also decide to do some large volume annual veggies behind the animals in some patches, such as squash, cucumbers, peppers etc.
Desired Species List:
Italian Alder (Nitrogen Fixing, timber)
Black Locust (N-fixing, Lumber, Firewood)
Osage Orange (Timber, Firewood, Fence)
Thornless Honey Locust (Honey flavored pods, wood)
Hybrid Poplar (fast growing, firewood)
Chinese Chestnut (Nut production)
Korean (Siberian) Nut Pine
Hickory (nut, timber)
Willow (Rooting Hormone, Fodder)
Mulberry (animal fodder)
Currant (shade tolerant berry)
Goumi (berry, N-fixer)
Service Berry (Saskatoon)
Siberian Pea Shrub (N-fixing, Animal fodder)
Spicebush (Spice, tea)
New Jersey Tea (Soap from leaves, N-fixer, tea)
Northern Bayberry (wax for candles)
Rugosa Rosa (edible rose hips, vigorous)
Cornelian Cherry (edible fruit, vigorous)
Autumn Olive (berry, vigorous, N-fixer)
Raspberry, Blackberry, Blueberry etc.
Comfrey (Nutrient Builder, Medicinal +more)
Stinging Nettle (Nutrient Builder, Medicinal +more)
Bird’s Foot Trefoil (N-fixer, Insectary)
Wild Leeks (Nutrient Builder, Edible Roots and Leaves, Native)
Jerusalem Artichoke (edible roots/tubers, windbreak, vigorous!)
Wintergreen (Evergreen groundcover, berries, nutrient builder, native)
Anise Hyssop (multifunction)
Milk Vetch (nutrient builder (selenium!))
Sea Kale (edible green)
Bee (Lemon) Balm (multifunction)
Garden (wild, alpine) Strawberry
Mints (difficult to control)
Wild Ginger (multifunction, groundcover)
Amaranth (winter storage chicken feed)
Good King Henry (perennial spinach)
Lupin (erosion control, nutrient builder)
White Dutch Clover (groundcover, N-fixer)
Daikon Radish (cover crop, break thru hardpan)
Chives (pest repellant)
Daffodils (pest repellant)
Groundnut (edible tuber, Nutrient Builder, Native, Groundcover)
Hog Peanut (edible tuber, N-fixer, Native, Groundcover)
Hops (leaves, tea, beer)
I’d just like to share a special thank you to my many teachers and mentors, as well as all those friends who’ve helped out on the farm here. Although not an exhaustive list… Mom and Dad, Penny Krebiehl, The Baker family, Brenda and Bruce Baran, Stuart Kunkle, Thomas Hirsch, Scott Ciaglaski, Michelle Ferrarese, Dave Jacke, Geoff Lawton, Bill Mollison, Toby Hemenway, Mark Shepard, Bryan Mets, Trevor Newman, Mark Angelini, Teri VanHall, Fred Meyer, Brad Kik, Peter Bane, Keith Johnson, Samantha and Christopher Graves, Cliff Davis, Kirk Waterstripe, Bruce Holland-Moritz, Matthew Bertrand, Jesse Tack, Nathan Ayers, Flint Horton, Kerry Alspaugh, Jill Donberg, Nick Bathum, Mike Curiel, Blasé Masserant, Lance Masserant, Alyk Fuller, Matt Heimburger, Ben Cichowski, Joey Breithaupt, Deanne Bednar, Ryan and Jake Fiebing, Ann Richarson, Sammy Padget, Spencer Boyles, Mara Penfil
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