Friday, January 09, 2015

The Benefits of Buying "Unkempt" Land

When we bought the house and the 1.5 acres it sits on last year, we got a pretty good deal on it.  We are the "poor" house in the neighborhood, with some (albeit somewhat larger) homes going for nearly twice as much as we bought ours.  And fortunately for us, the price tag didn't reflect the building or land quality, but the condition of the land and our home's interior.  With that said, we also didn't buy a fixer-upper.  The interior of the house just needed a little TLC (new paint, new carpet, some updated fixtures), what our real estate agent called "sexy money."  And as for the land, that's what the rest of today's post is about.

Our home had been on the market for nearly a month in a market when comparable homes were selling in about a week.  I think this was partially the fact that we bought during a seller's market, partially that the interior of the home needed a good amount of updating, and largely because the is rather unkempt.  I want to talk about what I saw in the land, the benefits of the untidiness, and how I'm going to use permaculture to turn some minor problems that I think turned other buyers off to this property into solutions that will contribute to it's fertility and our long-term security.

A pile of wood chips and small sticks that will make excellent garden bed cores.

We have a large pile of wood chips and small branches in the front yard.  This pile of wood chips is unsightly, and a good amount of work to move, but it will make a decent wood core for the garden beds we're going to install in the spring.

A large stretch of blackberry that's choking off a sizable corner of my land.

We have an "abundance" of blackberry on our 1.5 acres.  While this is mostly a nuisance to me as it chokes up some primes corners of our land, it will provide a good amount of berries for us to eat until I have been able to get it mostly under control.

An unused burn pile that will contribute to the cores of my garden beds.

We have what I think was intended to be a burn pile that never got burned sitting behind one of our sheds.  I'm glad the previous owner didn't burn it, because it will contribute to the wood core of our garden beds, and the rest of it can be composted and added to the top of the garden.

Arbor vitae surround my older rundown shed.

Speaking of the shed in front of the burn pile, the previous owners decided to surround it with arbor vitae for some reason.  With a little help from a naturopath friend of mine, I'll distill it into a useful ticture that sells for a decent amount of money... perhaps my first income stream off of this land!

And of course, the shed itself is unsightly and a little run down.  I'm going to try to move it from the backyard to the west side of the house, so it can serve as a tool shed for garden and yardworking tools.

My nice new shed, which might become a chicken coop.

Our other shed is rather nice.  We're also going to try to move it to the west side of the house, but within sight of the road.  I think this shed is going to make a rather nice chicken coop, or as I've taken to calling it, the chicken palace.

A dense area of "mature landscaping" that is unsightly and will be removed for garden beds.

Next we have the absurd jungles in our front yard.  These are going to get cut down and levelled out to make room for our garden beds.  The soil there should be pretty good since it's not just grass growing, and the plants we cut down can become compost.

Wood that should've gone on the firewood stack, but will become garden bed cores instead.

We also have a bunch of random wood strewn about the property.  Some of this wood will become firewood, the rest will contribute to the wood cores of the garden beds.

A small depression that gathers driveway runoff.  I'm going to plant some water loving berries here to make this more beautiful and useful.

This spot on the property floods somewhat during a good rain.  I'm going to rake away the gravel and put it back onto the driveway, then I'm going to plant boggy plants such as blueberry and cranberry to utilize the surplus water.  A nice treat to eat from when guests park at our house and walk by towards our front door!

A raked up leaf pile that is largely composted.

A pile of raked up leaves has probably been sitting here for a couple of years, and is composted enough to be ready for the garden beds.  I don't know exactly why the previous owners left this alone, but I'm grateful for the beautiful soil they left me!

Gifts from nature: A pile of natural humus that I'll borrow from here or there for garden beds and tree plantings.

And finally, all along the west side of our property there is a good sized "strip" of Zone 5ish forest.  Most of the vegetation is on our neighbors side of the fence, but quite a bit of it tilts, leans, or spills onto our side.  Aside from providing a nice buffer from the sun in the summer time, this Zone 5ish strip drops a lot of leaf litter and potential mulch on our side of the fence.  The pile pictured above is very rich "forest floor" humus, and I'll borrow from these little piles to enrich the soil of our gardens and food forest.  What a gift!

So as you can see, although the phrase "the problem is the solution" is a bit overused in permaculture, it can be true with the right mindset and with the right problems.  If my land was near a Superfund site, or doused in Roundup (also see here and here), I would have much bigger problems that probably wouldn't have a great solution when it came to growing food for my family.  But with a little creative thinking and some previous owners that were getting a little too old to take care of this much land, I've lucked into some pretty awesome gifts that will contribute to the health and fertility of my land and my family.

Do you have any opportunities like this on your land?  Take some pictures and share your thoughts in the comments.  If you have questions about how you can turn problems into solutions for yourself, please get in touch with me.  I'm always excited to help.  Thanks for reading!

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