Listmember's Ecologies

Steve Bonney sustainableearth.steve at
Fri Dec 7 22:24:40 EST 2001

    We are establishing Field and Forest EcoFarm, a research and
demonstration farm on 63 acres in Greene County (no zoning), 17 miles from
Bloomington (Indiana University), Indiana. We wanted to be near Bloomington
because it is the most progressive (social activism, organic food, food
coop, great farmers' market, etc.) community in our state. Although, on one
of my first trips to the area after purchasing the land, I met the owner of
the Laughing Planet Cafe who told me he was moving to Portland, Oregon
because he wanted to live in a progressive community. Oh, well, it will be a
good market for us and a good source of interest and participation in our
    The land consists of  20 acres of clearing on the highest elevation
around (800 feet) surrounded by mixed, mostly hardwood forest (white and red
oak, sugar maple, hickory and yellow poplar).  The cleared area where we are
building is about 250 feet higher in elevation than the state highway which
borders one side of the property. There is a 3/4 acre spring fed farm pond.
The last cultivated crop was corn grown in 1974. We purchased the land 13
months ago and  received organic certification this year based on an
affidavit from the previous owner.
    We are determined to built with natural, locally available materials.
These are just not readily available here, and that has been a huge
obstacle. By the summer of 2002, we will have a bandsaw mill set up and will
build with lumber from the farm. Meanwhile, it has been difficult
establishing the first building (one of many "chicken and egg" situations on
unimproved land).  We could have had a post and frame building (pole barn)
constructed for about $5.50/sq ft., but it would have consisted of CCA
treated timbers, manufactured trusses (SPF), OSB and metal sides, none of
which are acceptable to us. So, we have finally located two Amish farmers
who have standing black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) trees and also have
bandsaw mills. They both are cutting 4" x 6" timbers for me.
    It is very troubling that there is such a dearth of black locust in this
region, even though its use was promoted in the 50's and 60's. The tree
yields wood will last for many years in the ground as timbers and fence
posts, is a legume, provides fantastic firewood which can be sustainably
produced through coppicing, provides filtered light, the small leaves do not
smother plants, etc.
    Last week I purchased 2000 board feet of air dried yellow or tulip
poplar ( Liriodendron tulipifera) lumber at an auction for 35 cents a board
foot. Bonus! That first building is going up soon.
    Although there is a water line adjacent to the farm, we elected to have
a well drilled to avoid industrial water. Yikes, they had to drill through
320 feet of limestone bedrock to hit a water seam of quartz and fractured
flint at 370 feet depth. I am  frustrated with the lack of suitable
materials for establishing a water system. The drillers were not
knowledgeable about  alternative materials. So they installed a well casing
of PVC, and I don't want PVC in our well, so will have it removed. I have
not located any electrical wire for  the submersible pump that is not coated
in PVC.
    The electrical utility wanted me to sign a form that gave them rights,
IN PERPETUITY, to construct, trim, cut spray, etc., etc.  Way too onerous.
So we decided to build a stand-alone energy system, starting with a solar
water pump. We will build a ferrocement storage tank to get the capacity we
need for the water supply without using a monstrous pump. Electricity will
come from solar and wind sources. The wastewater system will be an above
ground living machine a la John Todd.
    We will build our farming system around the ecology of the site. A 75
year old neighbor, whose father used to own the land, told me she used to
gather native hazel nuts (Corylus americana) on the farm when she was young.
We are planting our first 200 hazels in the spring. Fortunately we are
located about 30 miles from one of two state DNR tree nurseries and we can
purchase a large assortment of trees for $20-22 per100 trees. And they are
grown from native seed.
    In general, the largest problems stem from the fact that scarcely anyone
knows anything about ecosystems and fewer who view farms as managed
ecosystems. Our land grant university, in whose shadow I have lived for 24
years, is only very anecdotally helpful -- beneficial insects, forage
plants, plant diseases.  For forestry information the special publications
of the U. S. Forest Service from the 1930's - 60's are very good. e.g.
Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States list tree and shrub
associations of each tree species; Native Woody Plants of the United States
(Their Erosion Control and Wildlife Values) emphasizes Plant Growing Regions
and lists range and site characteristics for each species. It also lists 78
species of willow (Salix) native to the U.S.  Imagine that.
    Our approach has been to maintain the ecology of the land which very
fortunately has not had major disturbance in 25 years. Examples of
ecological succession abound in field, forest and pond sites. Production
from desirable existing plants will be maintained and expanded, including
staghorn sumac, ginseng, persimmons, morel mushrooms, golden rod, and
    We have substantial amounts of rainwater flowing down the wooded slopes.
We have determined a keyline, will build a swale and plant baldcypress
(Taxodium distichum) for its rot resistant lumber, and  basket willow (Salix
purpurea). A related goal is to increase the infiltration rate and water
holding capacity of the field soils.
    I apologize for the length of this description, but a holistic plan has
many elements.

Steve Bonney
Sustainable Earth
  a not-for-profit membership organization dedicated to the
  development of sustainable family farming systems
  and local food systems
100 Georgton Ct.
W. Lafayette, IN 47906
(765) 463-9366
----- Original Message -----
From: "S.K. Harrison" <skh23ca at>
To: "permaculture" <permaculture at>
Sent: Friday, December 07, 2001 3:28 PM
Subject: Listmember's Ecologies

> When I joined this list several weeks ago, I
> described the land I'll be working at my new
> rental house. I'd love to hear what everyone else
> is working with, whether material, social or
> otherwise. For example, acreage/square-footage,
> principal difficulties encountered, number of
> days/months/years working that piece of land,
> species populations, strengths of local human
> communities, ad infinitum.
> Sean
> ______________________________________________________
> Send your holiday cheer with
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