Land Improvements

Permaculture - What Is It?

More and more people are awakening to the realization that the current system of living and providing food for our population is a tenuous and fragile system.  The demise of honey bee populations may be a visible sign of how our current monoculture mega farming techniques are not the best methods for a healthy eco system.  They are inherently dependent on large applications of petro-chemicals to produce yields of crops that are shipped vast distances on trucks to consumers that are thousands of miles away from their food source.  Bees are trucked thousands of miles and then placed in a virtual food desert where all they see for miles and miles is 1 type of plant on which to gather nectar and pollen.  Imagine how healthy you would be eating only oatmeal 3 times a day, for a month or more.  Regular yes, healthy no!

Permaculture is a growing trend not only herein the U.S., but worldwide.  Pioneers in this field like Geoff Lawton of Australia have been instrumental in teaching and developing and applying the developing principles of Permaculture throughout the world.  Through applications of reshaping and forming the land to enhance and utilize its contours, you can develop a method of conserving and utilizing water that eliminated the needs to use pumps for irrigation.  Permaculture strives to mimic the diversity found in a forest, where man is not required to annually apply fertilizer and spray trees with pesticides in order for a forest to grow.  Left to its own designs a forest will grow without man doing anything.

Permaculture farming strives to develop a sustainable and robust food forest system that once established will grow and improve without man continually applying petroleum based fertilizers or pesticides.  The living food forest will, over time, improve the water table, improve the soil fertility and allow a diverse array of food crops to grow together better and healthier than they do individually.  One of the tenants of Permaculture that really appeals to me is the fact that during feudal times, the only people that had lawns were the monarchs.  Peasants farmed what land they had to feed themselves.  Monarchs as an outward display of opulence could afford to use farmland for nothing more than growing grass.  On a small scale worldwide people are turning back and front yards from barren lawns to nutrient rich food forests where they can pick fresh fruits, nuts, berries and more and eat it right off the vine in their own yards, and never have to cut the grass again.

There are many good books on the subject of Permaculture.  I've read Practical Permaculture by Jessi Bloom & Dave Boehnlein as well as The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk.  Ben's book details his homestead from the land purchase to building the home on a plot of undesirable land in Vermont.   He through the application of Permaculture techniques is even able to grow rice on his property in Vermont for his families use.  There are numerous websites and YouTube videos on the topic; in short Permaculture creates a more sustainable food source and lifestyle on our planet.  What's not to like about that?

Comments

  1. Rick Theriault on

    Colleen thank-you for your words regarding my recent post on the subject of permaculture. If you take a look at my bio on the United Country Lifestyle Properties of Maine site, http://www.mcphailrealty.com/meetourteam.htm you will see that my interest pretty closely mirror yours. Maine has what you are looking for. Our agency usually has several properties that would appeal to a person looking for sustainable living. Leaving the world a little better off by what we do as stewards of the land is something we all should strive to do. Feel free to contact me any time at the email address listed.

    On The Trail to Increasing Your Land Value

    There is something special about a walk in the woods. Inspecting the tracks of forest animals, listening to the distant "wack-wack-wack" of the pileated woodpecker, watching a busy beaver putting the finishing touches on her dam, these and many other woodsy events are just a few reasons why we own land. To better care for and use our property we enjoy creating and improving multi-use trails. Building trails improves our outdoor experience, while at the same time increases the lands value.

    Before starting the physical work of trail building take some time to mentally plan the construction. What are the intended uses of the trail? Is it for accessing a location such as a hunting stand or scenic place, hiking and cross country skiing? Do you intend to have vehicles on it like ATV's, snowmobiles,  tractors, mountain bikes or others? How much traffic will your trail support? Asking yourself these and other questions will help you design a trail that meets your goals and will save you time and money.

    Google Earth and the Maine office of GIS provide free solutions which can be used to plan and map your trail system. If you are not familiar with these programs see our post on using Google Earth. for some basic information. The topographic overlay from the Maine office of GIS in conjunction with Google Earth is especially useful.

    Once you decide for what purpose and where you want the trail now is the time to get out on your property and scout out the best route. Online mapping got you a good start but it won't show you all the variations in the land like micro elevation changes or the best place to cross a creek for examples. Priorities when choosing the best route should include minimizing soil disturbance, protecting riparian areas and require a minimal amount of future trail maintenance. When done well trails enhance the recreational and economic use of the land today and for years to come.

    You will need a few tools to create your trail. The following will get you started and may be all or more than you need.

    • Flagging Tape
    • Lopping Shears
    • Rake
    • Shovel
    • Lightweight Chainsaw
    • Brush Saw
    • Lawnmower

    If I am out alone clearing trails to be used primarily for hiking, a good pair of shears and safety glasses are what I will bring. When making larger or wider trails power equipment is a big time and back saver. If you plan to use power equipment be sure to get good safety gear to protect yourself from injury.

    Building trails is hard but rewarding work. So get out there and enjoy your land.

    Conservation Vs. Production in an Off-Grid Power System

    I've produced most of my homes electricity for several years now.  Seven years ago I installed a 10 Kw Bergey wind turbine and three years ago I added an additional 3000 watt solar array with battery storage and inverters.  At peak production with both devices I am producing 13,000 watts of power on a sunny and windy day.  On a monthly basis I have seen as much as 1200 kilowatt hours of production from my turbine and an additional 360 kilowatt hours of power from my solar array.  The average home uses 600 kilowatt hours of power on a monthly basis, so at times I am able to produce more power at my home than two average homes in the U.S. consume. This production ability came at a pretty steep upfront cost.  I have around $60,000 in my turbine and about $20,000 in my solar array with its associated inverters, batteries and top of pole mount.

     

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    3 Kilowatt Solar Array

     

    I have read in various places studies showing the costs for energy conservation compared to the costs of energy production.  The number that I have seen is on the order of for every $1.00 spent in conservation, it would take about $8.00 spent to produce that amount of energy.  So what does this have to do in real life when thinking about building an alternative energy system?  Well quite simply the less energy you really need to produce to live comfortably, the smaller the investment you need to make to produce that energy.

    A well thought out off-grid home is going to be well insulated as well as well positioned to take advantage of passive solar heating, natural lighting and have efficient electrical appliances and lighting.  The lifestyle of the inhabitants of that home will be different as well.  They will turn off lights when not in the room.  If they watch television, they will turn it off when it is not being watched.  Pretty common sense items you would think, but not in reality.  It is amazing the people that I have had as guests in my home that leave the lights on, leave the television playing and just waste electricity.  I guess they either believe since I produce my own, it is free to waste it.  It just takes a second to turn off appliances not being used, and all that conservation adds up pretty fast when you figure it is an eight to one return.

     

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    10 KW Wind Turbine

     

    The inhabitants of a well designed off-grid home will most likely heat with wood, cook with propane or natural gas, and use efficient LED lighting in the home.  The electrical appliances will be energy star rated and they will decide what is truly important to them.  The home will probably not have a dishwasher, although it could.  It depends on what they consider necessary for their lifestyle.  I have seen some pretty amazing properties that were built off-grid and produce all their own electricity.  I have also seen some pretty modest homes with modest energy production investments with above average energy consumption as well.  Utilizing a conservationists approach to living your life will yield large dividends in money saved and still living comfortably in an off-grid home.  Decide what is important to you, what you could use less of, what you can get by without entirely and have an appropriately sized system installed for your home.  A good friend of mine with hundreds of off-grid system installations under his belt has stated that he never tells anyone that it can't be done, what he says is "how large is your budget?"  Eight to one adds up pretty fast.

    SWOAM Turns 40

    On Wednesday Peter and I attended the annual meeting of the Small Woodlands Owners Association of Maine. This year marks the 40th year for the non-profit group. SWOAM was formed in 1975 by a group of non-industrial forestland owners interested in sharing knowledge about how to better manage their private woodlands to improve tree quality, wildlife habitat and other topics important to Maine land owners.

    This year's annual meeting featured an energetic Col. Rick LaFlamme of the Maine Warden Service explaining the New Landowner Relations Program being implemented by his department. The Warden Service, under Rick's leadership, promises to proactively assist Maine's landowners to deal with litter, property damage and the lack of respect shown by the few who don't appreciate the open access offered by many of our state's private land owners.

    Maine author and outdoor expert George Smith spoke about his new book "A Life Lived Outdoors" and his good humor and obvious passion for Maine entertained those attending.

    Hemant Pendse, University of Maine professor and Director of the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute gave a fascinating talk on new uses for wood including cross laminated wood, uses for nano cellulose, making liquid fuels such as jet fuel from wood and the potential for markets for wood derived sugars. The work of Dr. Pendse and others from the University of Maine, in collaboration with other colleges around the country and private businesses promises to keep Maine and the US the leaders in innovation for new forest products.

    The after lunch session included Maine humorist Gary Crocker who kept the group laughing preventing that after meal downer. Following Gary, a panel of four discussed the future of Maine lumber and wood using mills in the state. The panel included members from the sawmill industry, paper industry, timberland appraisal and private consultants. Jason Brochu, of Pleasant River Lumber Company discussed the need for Maine forestland owners to produce quality saw logs and Donna Cassese, Managing Director of Wood Resource Strategy at Sappi Fine Paper told us how her mills have stayed profitable with niche products such as dissolving pulp.

    The day was wrapped up with an interesting presentation by forest pathologist Bill Ostrofsky of the Maine Forest Service. Bill talked about well-known pests such as the spruce budworm and emerald ash borer. Bill also told us about a new strain of white pine blister rust fungus and hemlock shoot blight and how to identify these diseases.

    Peter and I have been members of SWOAM for a short time. I can say as a Maine woodland owner you certainly get a good value from membership. The monthly newsletter, annual meeting/learning event, more than 50 workshops per year, legislative updates concerning land ownership and many other benefits more than offset the cost of membership.

    To learn more about SWOAM, check out the website at http://www.swoam.org

    Innovative Maine Company Provides Dependable Drinking Water

    Are you looking to buy land in Maine to build an off grid, strategic location property?  Maine has some great properties for sale that will fit your needs.  There are a lot of criteria to consider but a few basics hit the top of the list.  Today, let's just look at the basic need of drinking water.

    After listening to the news about the California water shortage, I realize how blessed we are in Maine.  Being born and raised here, I do not remember a time we ever had to ration water.  The quality of drinking water in Maine is excellent.  Once in a while you may run into some higher mineral contents but nothing a filtration system can't fix.

    My home has a 160 foot deep drilled well with 20 feet of casing and produces 10 gallons per minute of some of the best drinking water you will find on earth.  Right out of the tap with no filtration!  The cost to drill is $12/foot for drilling and $12/foot of casing.  20' of casing is the minimum amount required by code.  Then factor in some excavation work and the well pump and that will add about another $1,300 to $2,000 depending on your location.

    My home is connected to the grid but what happens when you lose power?  That's were Bison Pumps enters the scene.  Their slogan "The Premier Hand Pump" and after having one installed at my home, I have no doubt that my drinking water needs will be met during my lifetime with or without power.   The design, engineering and quality of the working components are second to none.  I was not looking to buy the cheapest hand pump on the market but I wanted to be confident that no matter the season (Maine can get some extreme cold winter weather), I would be able to get drinking water when the need arises.

    Bison Pumps, www.bisonpumps.com was founded by David Harbison, Jr of Harbison Plumbing in Houlton Maine.  We've all heard the saying "necessity is the mother of invention", well (no pun intended), Bison Pumps is a true example of this old saying.  Maine's ice storm of 1998 left 1000's of people without power in the middle of winter, some for a few days and some for weeks.  After seeing so many people struggle to meet the need of basic drinking water, Bison Pumps was developed.

    I had the pleasure of meeting David and his son Jonathan (3rd generation plumber) this summer as they installed my pump.  They are first class people and hard working Mainers.  It was very interesting talking with David and his vision of how Bison Pumps could help around the globe with the world water crisis.

    Whether you are looking to build off grid or just looking to have a drinking water solution in case of power outages, Bison Pumps should be top of your list.

    Permitting in Maine's Unorganized Territories

     

    Building a cabin in the Unorganized Territories of Maine

    Building a cabin in the Unorganized Territories of Maine

     

    Buying a home or a piece of land can be a very enlightening experience. One of the more overlooked pieces of buying real estate is the fact that in most instances you will at some point need permits to complete renovations or build new structures.  Permitting is different depending on the location of the parcel and can be overwhelming to a new purchaser if they have no experience with the permitting process.  Permitting is mandated by Federal, State and/or local authorities.  Though the permitting process in most regions of the State of Maine is straight forward, permitting in the Unorganized Territories can be arduous if you are not familiar with the regulatory requirements.

    Unorganized Territories in the State of Maine are overseen by the Land Use Planning Commission or LUPC. When you are ready to build, subdivide, mine, etc., you can go online to the LUPC website or call the representative in the jurisdiction where your parcel of land is located.  Generally, in either case you will receive a lengthy application with vague directions to complete along with a regulation manual, which are the regulations that must be followed when completing your chosen permitted activity.  Most individuals will struggle through the application process usually resulting in the submission of an incomplete application and much time wasted.  However, there are a few easy steps that can make this process less stressful.

    First, find your parcel of land on the LUPC Parcel viewer located on the LUPC website. This viewer will give you the information you will need to follow the regulation manual, such as which LUPC Zone your property is located.  In most instances there will be more than one zone.

    Land Use Planning Commission Parcel Viewer

    Second, make sure you understand what can be done in each zone to ensure your project fits within the regulations. This can be accomplished by reviewing the sections of the regulations that apply to the zone where your property is located.

    Third, acquire a copy of your deed. You will need to research the last 20 years of deed history and get copies of the deeds to submit with your LUPC application.  This can be accomplished by visiting your county registry.  Most of these files can be purchased online.

    Last, you are now ready to complete your permit application. Fill out all questions.  Refer back to the regulations to ensure your project fits the zoning requirements.  The last page of the application contains a check-off sheet.  Review this sheet and check all that apply.  This will ensure you have a completed application on the first submittal.

    Download LUPC Building Permit

    Though it sounds easy, if you have questions don't hesitate to contact a LUPC Representative or an Environmental Consultant that can answer your questions. It is a lot less expensive to ask when in doubt than to try to complete something you don't understand or to receive the permit and have your interpretation being different than LUPC.

    6 Ways to Get Your Land Sold Faster

    • Title Search & Title Insurance

    This is the first thing you should do before putting your property on the market. If you did not do this when you purchased or inherited the property there is no better time than right now. Issues such as access and un-discharged mortgages to name two could cost you a sale, money or both. If any issues are discovered correct them now. A cursory title exam should cost from $400 - $750.

    • Survey

    Do this when you purchase. If the seller has not already done so, try to negotiate this as part of the sale. Once done, be diligent about keeping the boundary lines cleared and painted. Occasional maintenance will save thousands of dollars later. Survey cost will run from $1,000 and up depending on the size of the lot and other factors.

    • Soil Test

    Most every buyer asks if this has been done before coming to visit a property. Take this issue off the negotiating table by being proactive. A preliminary soil test in a choice location will satisfy most buyers. Cost will range from $250 for a preliminary to $400 - $750 for  full septic system design.

    • Offer Owner Financing

    If you have no immediate need for cash, holding paper is an option which could help sell your land faster and for more money. Conventional banks often require down payments beyond the means of many buyers. Your reward will be a rate of interest much greater than the current rates on CD's, savings accounts and bonds. Hire a professional to help set this up and comply with government regulations regarding private financing.

    • Walking Trails/Clearings/Food Plots

    A day or two of work on your land creating access trails, clearings to open views and establishing food plots for game is sweat equity worth the time investment. Potential buyers don't want bushes hitting them in the face any more than you do. Cost - Your time and equipment; $600 and up if you hire it done.

    • Driveways & Access Roads

    Being able to drive onto a property is a BIG plus for most potential buyers. If your property has a driveway or existing road system maintain it over time. Consult a land professional before starting this project. DOT driveway permits and other issues may apply. The cost will vary widely depending on slopes, required culverts, the availability of local gravel and other factors.

    Comments

    1. Mark on

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