Monday, September 15, 2014

Finally Getting Access to Land!

The spread of permaculture faces many challenges.  Zoning and permitting laws can get in the way of implementing a design in the most ecological way, especially when it comes to earthworks.  Water rights and the legality of harvesting rainwater is a problem in some states.  Money is an all-pervasive problem, keeping permaculturists from having the tools, seeds, resources, and land that they need to do great work.

Access to land is one of the biggest challenges, in my opinion, and it has been one that until the very near future, I've been dealing with the entire time I've been interested in permaculture.  As a renter for my entire adult life, I've been faced with a decision that many other permaculturists find themselves faced with as well.  "Do I invest some time and money into planting trees/designing a garden/doing earthworks/etc. on my landlords land?  Or do I use that time and save that money to bring myself closer to owning land of my own?"

Many permaculture designers and practitioners do implement some sort of permaculture design wherever they are.  Perhaps they have no interest in acquiring their own land, or perhaps they just cannot help but put permaculture into everywhere they live.  For me, however, the decision fell on the side of saving up for my own access to land.

And that, finally, is going to happen for my fiancée and I.  We're under contract to buy a house back up in the Olympia, WA area.  If all goes well with the house buying process (and so far we think it will), then we'll take possession of our new house in late October.  The house is a somewhat large 3 bedroom/1.75 bathroom structure with a garage.  It is situated on roughly 1.5 acres.  The front 1/2 acre includes the house, garage, large back deck, driveway, side yard, a small storage shed, and the large .25 acre front yard.  Behind the deck is the remaining 1 acre which has nothing on it but some trees and a medium sized shed (that I'll probably relocate), but it is mostly a grassy field.

My fiancée and I already have plenty of thoughts about things we want to do with the property, but we want to take it slow so we can make everything we do function as part of a harmonious whole design.  With that in mind, here are my initial thoughts on the process we'll follow, and some of the projects we'll implement.

As far as process goes, I want to sit back and observe the property for a while before launching any major projects.  Olympia get a tremendous amount of rain from October to April, and I definitely want to observe the natural flow of water over the landscape so I can best figure out how to utilize it.  We have a small but important depression in the landscape right in the middle of our property, and I need to figure out how best to utilize that space without flooding out the middle and lowest part of our land.  So, we plan on focusing on the interior of the house for the first half-year we're there, which will give me time to observe the outside.  I plan on sitting down and creating a formal design sometime in February or March of 2015.

The house itself was built in 1988, and although it is in need of some updating, it is in tremendous condition.  The current owners put a new 40 year roof on it within the last couple years, so we shouldn't have to worry about replacing that for several decades.  When the time comes, perhaps we'll think about replacing it with an even longer lasting metal roof of some variety.

The house is well insulated, especially in the attic, which will help with heating and cooling.  And speaking of heating, the house has a system we already are pretty excited about.  In the living room there is an existing woodstove, and the rest of the house has electric forced air wall heating.  Additionally, in the living room there is a thermostat way up high on the wall, that initially confused us.  It turns out that the thermostat detects when the air high up in the living room is getting pretty warm, and it kicks on a fan that sucks woodstove-heated air from the living room and pushes it through the rest of the house via the existing forced air ducts.  With some judicious use of our firewood, we'll be able to heat the house easily without using the electricity for our heatpump itself.

Speaking of electricity, the house (particularly kitchen) is entirely electric.  While I prefer cooking on a gas stove and in a gas oven, I'm not keen on relying on fossil fuels too much.  So, until I can devise some kind of home-scale methane biogas capture/production system for this house, we'll continue to use our electric appliances.  With this in mind, I plan on installing some solar panels on the roof to supplement our electricity needs, and devising other ways of creating electricity for when the Pacific Northwest winters get a little gloomy and our energy production drops off significantly.

The house also has a private well and septic system.  Although the well is 52' feet (which is quite enough in that area), I plan on putting in a 5000 gallon rainbarrel or two, which would help us better utilize the almost 110,000 gallons a year that will fall on our roof.  Olympia receives 50+ inches of rain a year on average, so water is not in short supply, but it never hurts to put it to better use.

In the backyard near the deck, I would like to build an earthen oven and outdoor cooking space.  I love cooking, roast my own coffee, and just plain think cooking outside is awesome.  When I roast coffee in my regular oven, it can heat up the house significantly, as well as make our house smell like a coffee shop, so I'd prefer to do it outside.  I've never roasted coffee in an earthen oven, but I'm sure I can figure out a good system.  In addition to the earthen oven, we plan on adding some kind of awning/roof over the deck in the backyard, so we can keep it cooler during the summertime and dry during the wintertime.  This will also add square-footage to the roof, which will allow us to harvest more high quality rainwater runoff.

Finally, inside the house, we'll be doing some remodelling to pass the time that I'm observing the land before designing it.  The couple selling the house to us is a somewhat older couple, and the design of the interior shows it.  We want to repaint many of the rooms (with the most eco paint we can find of course), redo the counter-tops in the kitchen and bathrooms, re-floor the entryway, kitchen, and living room, and install water-saving appliances in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Lastly, since the house has three bedrooms and we don't have any kids yet, we'll utilize one of the spare bedrooms as a guest room (perhaps you can come stay a spell with us!), and we'll use the other spare bedroom as an office.  With my newly acquired certification from my recent PDC, I'm working towards starting a permaculture design business, and I'll be able to work from home in my very own office space!  The location of the house is also convenient in that it is only 3.1 miles by bike from the hospital where my fiancée will work, so it's a mere 17 minute ride!  For the really dreary rainy/snowy days when she just can't bring herself to ride, it's only a 2.7 mile drive, for which we plan on replacing our current car with an electric car that can easily handle that commute.

With that, I'll bring this very long update to a close.  It's a very exciting time for me, as I've been waiting to have some land of my own since I first starting writing this blog!  I'll finally be able to turn into reality the dream I started having even before July 2nd, 2009 when I started the Permie Homestead blog.  While five and a half years is a long time to wait, I've learned so much in that time, and I'm excited to put my knowledge to use!

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