Land improvement strategies for lifestyle, farm and beyond

There are many simple, practical solutions and techniques for improving and restoring degraded landscapes.

Building water catchment swales with a tractor

Building water catchment swales with a tractor

For those with a tractor, plough and simple drag blade, making large scale swales does not necessarily require employing contractors with heavy earth moving equipment. For the cost of the fuel and your time you can quickly add these simple water harvesting and infiltration systems to your land.
  swale  tractor  water 
Water smart design and land use

Water smart design and land use

Plan for dry and survive drought with carefully designed and implemented rainwater catchment systems built directly into the landscape. Three core elements to mitigating the effects and impact of drought:
  1. Identify and intercept water flows to keep moisture on the landscape
  2. Improve soils ability to absorb and retain water
  3. Reduce the impact of hot, dry winds
Find out how simple land use patterns and strategic planting can achieve all these benefits and more.
  water  rain  land  farm  service 
The myth about tree & pasture incompatibility - photographic evidence

The myth about tree & pasture incompatibility - photographic evidence

I am passionate about trees and their numerous benefits so I frequently encounter this commonly held misconception when I try and encourage grass growers to consider incorporating trees on their farms. The argument goes something like this: "I can't plant trees in or around my pasture because they compete with grass for light, water and minerals, grass production would suffer".

This photo, taken a few hundred meters from my home on a conventional sheep and beef farm during the worst drought in decades is evidence that certain tree species can actually improve the performance of grass. If only people were as observant as they are quick to dismiss the value of trees in the landscape.
May 06, 2015
  trees  grass  drought 
Restoring China's Loess Plateau

Restoring China's Loess Plateau

Home to more than 50 million people, the Loess Plateau in China’s Northwest takes its name from the dry powdery wind-blown soil. Centuries of overuse and overgrazing led to one of the highest erosion rates in the world and widespread poverty.

Two projects set out to restore China’s heavily degraded Loess Plateau through one of the world’s largest erosion control programs with the goal of returning this poor part of China to an area of sustainable agricultural production.
  land  water  terracing 
Trees for animal fodder

Trees for animal fodder

By now it should be obvious that we need more trees in our landscapes, however inconvenient that may seem. The benefits are numerous. Using trees for supplementary animal feed is a smart strategy in drought prone areas. This includes:
  • Fresh leaves / foliage
  • Fruits and berries
  • Nuts and seeds
Once established, trees are long lived with a deep root system capable of funding moisture in dry times. Large volumes of edible material can be produced, along with all the other benefits provided by appropriate species of trees.
September 04, 2018
  trees  animals 
Sector analysis for optimal land use

Sector analysis for optimal land use

One of the fundamental aspects to designing a sensible landscape for habitation and production is the consideration of the various external energies, forces and factors that can impact the site. These commonly include sunlight, wind, visibility, water flow, wildfire and wildlife.

Mapping the 'sectors' where these threats or energies originate you can help determine the placement of elements (plantings, buildings, earthworks) that benefit from or lessen the impact of these forces.

Most of these sectors are easy to identify with on the ground observation or inspection of detailed maps while seasonal sun angles are available for a known latitude.

Local conditions such as hills, valleys and large trees modify wind directions and intensity, cast shade and impact fire rick and behavior. These site specific characteristics may be evident to a well trained eye or can be learnt over an extended period of time spent on site or in discussion with previous occupants or neighbors.

Exclusion / Restrict flow
Generally it is desirable to exclude strong winds by planting fast growing shelter trees suitable for the site and of appropriate heights. This may be combines with fire 'proofing' by selecting naturally lass flammable species.
Roads and other thoroughfares are a source of noise, possible pollution and fire risk and the curious eyes of passers. For privacy and security reasons it may be advisable this with planting or construction.

Inclusion / Aid flow
Sunlight (solar energy) is essential for growth and can assist in many other processes or activities such as drying fruit or washing, heating water etc.
Allowing water to enter the site is usually valuable but too much can cause issues so having suitable drainage is essential.
Cold air naturally flows down slope but can 'pool' or get trapped behind dense plantings. If frosts are a problem, considering cold air flow may help improve growing conditions.
Zones as a design concept

Zones as a design concept

Thoughtful placement of elements within the overall system and their relationship to one another is key to achieving an effective layout and efficient working space.

The zone model of permaculture in its simplest form is generally represented as a number of concentric areas radiating outward from the primary dwelling space or focal point of activity. The basic ideas is that the more frequently we interact with an element the closer and easier to access it should be. Like many aspects of the permaculture way, this is really just commonsense, something eroded by cheap, abundant energy and technology.

As always, this concept is a guide only and there may be exceptions. For example it may make sense to locate a seasonal garden at at a distant location if that site reduces the need for daily irrigation.

Sometimes placement is non-negotiable, such as a rural mailbox requiring daily visits. This can result in zones being drawn out along routes of frequent travel or focusing around areas of high productivity (water bodies, rich soils etc.)

Being a subset of a living, dynamic system, zone boundaries are not set in stone and may pulse with the seasons or shift as the biological state or built environment changes and develops through time.