The Walden Effect: Homesteading Year 5. Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

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Whole Systems Research Farm

Ben Falk's book details his experiments at Whole Systems Research Farm, a ten-acre tract of west-facing hillside on the border of zones 4 and 5 in Vermont.  The land was very run-down when Falk bought it, having been logged, sugar mapled, pastured, and then clearcut for skiiing, with the result that most of the soil had eroded away.  Although soil maps showed prime farmland over much of his land, the reality was actually silty, gravelly clays covered by 0 to 4 inches of topsoil, with bedrock within two feet of the surface in some places.

While others would have been daunted by the poor soil, Falk took it as a challenge.  He embarked on ten years of experimentation, with the help of interns, PDC groups and other visitors, and some hired summer help.  The result is six acres of silvopasture (perennial crops and grazing area combined), along with rice paddies, vegetable gardens, and some wild woodland.

Whole Systems Research Farm

One of the things I like most about Falk's writing is that he was inspired by permaculture theory, but is a realist.  He's found that, on the ground, many of those theories don't hold water once you go beyond the backyard scale, and he writes about how he tweaked various theoretical systems to make them work on his farm.  He also warns that, although you can see inklings of how your experiments will turn out by year five, you really need to wait at least one decade (or, better yet, two) before declaring any system a success or failure.

My next few posts will delve deeper into Falk's systems, but I want to end this installment with two words of wisdom I couldn't fit in anywhere else:

  • If you have a big homestead, put a specimen of each crop in zone 1 as a barometer so you know when to harvest and when problems appear on the more far-flung crops.
  • A great way to activate biochar is to toss it into your composting toilet.

Intrigued?  Stay tuned to the blog for tomorrow's post to read more.

Don't have time to improve ten acres?  Weekend Homesteader helps you focus on the most important (and easiest) projects to start where you're at.



This post is part of our The Resilient Farm and Homestead lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:




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Anna - watching the videoclip of Ben made me wonder if you were going to sell your scythe since you've said you prefer to use the weedwacker to cut down grassy cover crops? I'm in the market for one! :)
Comment by Karen B Wed Nov 6 04:56:52 2013
Karen --- Thanks for asking, but we never part with tools. I figure the sycthe will become more useful in a few years once our farm is more under control --- it does seem to be a tool best suited to well-established areas. Plus, I like having a backup that I can use since Mark is the only one likely to wield the weedeater.
Comment by anna Wed Nov 6 07:59:56 2013

A brilliant suggestion to include specimens of further zones in zone 1 !!!!!!

I learn so much from you! Thanks yet again, peace, Terry

Comment by Terry Wed Nov 6 12:47:44 2013

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime