Canadian Renegade

Renegade: an individual who rejects lawful or conventional behavior

Category: Land

Planting Test Trees on the Homestead

In this video, I plant a variety of trees on our new homestead. Unfortunately, I don’t really have much time to spare this year for messing around with trees, instead I am more focused the yard site, my brothers wedding and our impending twins. Still, I wanted to get a wide variety of trees into the ground to see which do well.

We Visit the Homestead to Pick a Yard Site

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Matthew records the stream flow after the spring thaw. 2017

This past weekend we decided to take another look at the property during the spring thaw. We wanted to get a better idea of where water was flowing and pooling on the property so we could not only determine future potential pond locations but also design our driveway and yard site to be free of water issues. Hastily made driveways and yards often end up having water issues that are not seen until well after the work is done which can make rectifying the problem can be expensive and time consuming. We want to avoid this error.

We have a plan to keep our driveway as close to on contour as possible to avoid creating mud holes or areas that are susceptible to erosion during extreme weather events. Not having a steep grade also means less chances of getting stuck while getting into or out of the property during the winter months; steep driveways can be almost impossible to traverse when icy. As we walked along what will most likely be the driveway path, we identified one area where water appears to accumulate. Having the driveway cross this area will probably prevent  proper drainage, so we will have to take this into consideration when planning our final design.

The yard site itself will be up on one of the hills on the property next to established trees. Normally, building up on a hill can be problematic because you are exposing your house to the wind. While you may end up with a great view, the wind can be really annoying when you want to be active outside and makes miserable winter days feel so much colder. Additionally, leaving a house open to the wind can create unnecessary heat loss. Luckily, this location already has quite a few trees for shelter. If we clear out a small pocket within the existing trees we should be sheltered from almost all directions especially the prevailing north and northwest winds. With the tree coverage and driveway length this area offers sufficient privacy from the road.

After noting our building site observations, we checked out some of the valley lines we had identified from the topographic maps we created of the property. These valleys, while not showing visible signs of erosion, funnel a large amount of water and would be prime areas to build dams and create ponds in the future.

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How To Create a Printable Topographic Map in ArcGIS Pro

In this video I demonstrate how to create a combination, aerial and topographic, map in ArcGIS Pro quickly and easily. I then go through the steps needed to create a printable layout for the map in any size you like.

My First Topo Map Tutorial

Homestead Land – Winter Walkthrough

My brother and his fiancé hadn’t seen our property yet so we had them out on the weekend to take a look around. There were a few things I wanted to check while I was out there so we decided to make a little video as well. The property was very beautiful, covered in snow and we saw plenty of evidence of what may have been elk while we were walking through some bush on the far side of the creek. We also saw a muskrat under the ice of the creek which was pretty cool.

 

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I’m very happy we found such a picturesque piece of land.

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The tiny frozen creek. We saw a muskrat under the ice when we were crossing over with the ladder.

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This picture could be used as the backdrop for a horror movie poster. This shack was left on the property. The prior owner must have come to grab his stuff but didn’t have a key so he removed the door.

In the video I look at an area on the other side of the creek I haven’t seen yet and check out the condition of the fence. We also measure a damaged culvert for replacement next year.

Buying Homestead Land: Assessment Part 3

I discuss the potential of a boggy area at the back of the property, how I might improve the water quality in the stream and where some good locations to add ponds might be. I also touch on the importance of meeting the neighbors and getting a feeling for what nearby towns are like.

For those of you wondering about the peat moss mentioned in the video.  I walked through the property again after making this video and I came across what I thought was peat moss.

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Looks like peat moss….

A few days later I was looking at some online maps and discovered large areas of land near this property that appeared to be stripped bare. As it turns out there is a company that harvests and sells peat nearby so this area has large peat deposits. The peat turned out to be a little side bonus as the soil on this property is a heavy clay soil, especially in the areas that have been heavily cultivated. Having this peat moss could come in handy for when we are able to set up garden beds and need to amend the soil.

More in this Series:

Buying Homestead Land: Assessment Part 2

In this second property assessment video I go further into the property to see what other features it offers. The far pasture is split by a long narrow stand of trees that I suspect (at the time I made the video) has a small ravine in it. The pasture to the north of these trees will be cooler due to the shade they produce while the pasture to the south will not only have more sun exposure but also benefit from the windbreak the trees will provide.

I also talk about the firewood potential of a stand of birch. Birch is usually the best firewood available in Alberta. I have heard that tamarack is very good firewood, although I have never personally tried it. How do they stack up in terms of MBTU’s ( Million British Thermal Units) per cord?

  • Birch 20.0
  • Tamarack 19.5
  • Black Spruce 15.3

Source: Sweeps Library

 

 

More in this series:

Buying Homestead Land: Assessment Part 1

A while back I posted about a trip I made to a property to check a gas line. Well, the good news is we bought this property!

This video is Part 1 of a series where I walk through and discuss the potential of  this property before we had even put in an offer. I touch on topics such as south facing slope, water, and the importance of windbreaks.

More in this series:

How to Evaluate a Homestead Property – 12 Important Considerations

Finding land that is ideal for a homestead or a permaculture farm can be a challenging endeavour. While there are some similarities with agricultural land the criteria isn’t going to be exactly the same. Here are some of the main points to take into consideration when hunting for that  perfect homestead property. By no means is this an exclusive list, as everyone will have different needs and wants, but it is a good starting point. I’ve included some general information and questions to ask yourself for each one as well as our personal preferences.

Location
Water
Topography
Windbreaks
Size
Vegetation
Pre-Developed vs. Raw Land
Soil
Building Sites and Road Access
Surrounding Businesses, Farms, and Infrastructure
Local Climate
Previous Land Use

Location

How far from a major center or small town is best for you? Is there a certain direction or area away from a main city that is more desirable? Do you want to be extremely close to a big city or is a secluded country lifestyle more to your liking? The further away from a major city a piece of land is located the less it usually costs per acre but amenities and services are also further away. We wanted to be about 30-45 minutes west or southwest of Edmonton ( a major center); far enough away from the city to escape the hustle and bustle but not so far that commuting was out of the question. We could afford a larger parcel of land further away from Edmonton but wanted to be close enough that marketing our products in the city or inviting people out for an afternoon U-pick would still be a reasonable drive. We also looked at growing zone and rainfall maps and noticed that west and southwest of Edmonton was in a warmer area and had more precipitation than north or east of the city.  An added bonus to moving west of Edmonton was that it would put our home closer to the mountains and the recreational opportunities we enjoy. Back to list

Water

Water is one of the most important aspects to consider when looking for land. Will you need water for personal use only or will you need to irrigate or water livestock? Are there clean reliable sources of water available and if so how much will it cost to develop them? We knew we would need water for both personal use and for livestock. We wanted both good well water and some sort of surface water, ideally a stream but a slough or pond would also be acceptable if the water was decent. Back to list

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Here, a small spring fed creek runs through the property and is surrounded by lush vegetation. Using google maps we were able to see that beavers have dammed this area in the past, increasing the spread of the water.

Topography


The physical features of the land itself are very important. Is it flat or sloped? Both can have advantages and disadvantages. In a lot of ways, flat makes for easier planning and layout, while slope can be used to capture and move water around a property. Access roads and other infrastructure can be more challenging and costly to develop when working with slope. Does the property have a low lying area that contains a risk for flooding? South-facing slope in the northern hemisphere receives more sunshine and heats up a bit more while north-facing slope has the opposite characteristic of being shaded and, therefore, cooler. We wanted a property with south-facing slope so we could take advantage of a warmer and sunnier property, especially in the winter. Slope would also allow us to use gravity to passively move water around the property.
Back to list

Wind Breaks

This is something that is critical in our area, but often overlooked.  Sometimes the difference between a cool day and a miserably cold day is as simple as being out of the wind. I am amazed at how often I see people build new houses up on a hill out in an open field simply for the view. These people fail to recognize how miserable being outside in the winter and spring is when the wind is blowing cold. Establishing a decent windbreak takes many years because plants grow better out of the wind, meaning the very trees that you need for the wind break will grow slower because they themselves have no windbreak. Finding property with existing wind breaks is optimal. Since we were especially concerned with the prevailing cold north and northwest winter winds, we specifically focused on looking for established trees to shelter this side of the property and potential building sites. Back to list

Size

The size of the property you are looking for will depend a lot on what you want to use it for. Some people may be fine with smaller plots even a ¼ acre can produce quite an abundance of food. For most homesteaders in our climate 5 acres would suffice. We were looking for 20 acres or more because we know that we want to produce an agricultural income from the property eventually and want to have enough land to leave our options open. Back to list

Vegetation

What sort of vegetation grows on the property? Are there lots of trees or almost none? At first, a bare field might seem like a good idea because it is a clean slate but remember that growing trees and windbreaks can take years. Starting from scratch is a ton of work. The flip side of this would be a fully treed property. Sure you can clear trees but this is also a lot of work. Unless the trees can be sold as timber, removal is most likely going to be costly. We were looking for a mix of trees and pasture. Existing trees can create windbreaks and favorable growing conditions for desirable plants. The existing trees can provide firewood, timber for building structures, and are great wildlife habitat. Having some pasture would also allow us to start with grazing animals right away if we wanted.
Back to list

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This property has a 50/50 mix of trees and pasture. There are also a few south-facing slopes with potential to create micro climates. This small patch of trees was too wet to cultivate and may be a good location for a pond.

Pre-Developed vs. Raw Land


There are some big advantages to buying land with preexisting structures like houses or shops. Usually for rural properties, with most of that work already done, buying pre-developed property is going to be cheaper than building the exact same structures from scratch. The big draw back with pre-developed property is that most land owners don’t build with a homesteading or permaculture mindset which makes finding the perfect set up for your needs unlikely. If a building or other infrastructure isn’t well suited for your needs it is often expensive and time consuming to fix the issue. Some challenges, such as building location, may be practically an impossibility to fix. We preferred to build from scratch, since doing so would give us more flexibility, but we didn’t completely rule out a pre-developed property either. Back to list

Soil

A perfect loam  or sandy loam soil would, obviously, be optimal for most peoples needs but a property with perfect soil that also meets your other criteria is hard to find. Luckily, soil is one aspect that you can quickly improve. A few years of rotational grazing or intensive green manure cropping can make a huge difference in the quality of soil.  We were fairly flexible with soil types on the property. As long a variety of healthy native plants were growing on the property already we wouldn’t be too concerned whether the soil was clay, sandy/gravelly or loam. Back to list

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All throughout the property we discovered thriving native plants. While the soil in the hay field had little organic matter from repetitive cultivation, the tree lines and treed areas had plenty of humus and were rich with plant life.

Building Sites and Road Access


Where are the good building sites on the property? Are they near the road? Is the land conducive to easy installation of access roads like driveways or is building these going to be difficult? Is there power or other services along the road? Bringing in services, like power, from a long distance is expensive. We wanted a property with services like gas and power along the road. Not requiring an excessively long or difficult-to-build driveway to the potential building sites was also important. We may still decide to build off grid but at least if the services are nearby we have the option to hook up. Back to list

Surrounding Businesses, Farms, and Infrastructure

There are many other factors that can affect the desirability of a piece of land. Road noise, train tracks, loud or smelly businesses or agriculture operations are just a few examples. Is there pollution from industry or agriculture you need to be concerned with? We preferred to be near a highway for ease of access  but a major one that had constant high traffic volume was not appealing.  We also preferred to be in more of a ranching area rather then in an agricultural area where a lot of highly sprayed crops surrounded the property. Back to list

Local Climate

Even within a relatively short distance, variations in climate are possible, especially in mountainous areas. One thing we found when doing research was that west and southwest of Edmonton the winters were slightly milder and had higher precipitation than north or east of the city. This difference can actually be seen in the size and variety of trees if one is observant enough to look for it.
Back to list

Previous Land Use

Has the property been used for extensive chemical based agriculture? Are there other potential concerns from previous uses of the property. Chemicals do tend to break down over time but we preferred to look for properties that were already in pasture or weren’t being used for agriculture rather than land that was being used for conventional crop production like wheat or canola.
Back to list

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Another view of the tree and pasture mixture, with the spring fed creek to the left. This field has been used for haying and the healthy vegetation around the edges of the field suggests that the chance harmful chemicals were used on this crop were low.

Want more clarification on any of these points, or think we missed something? Feel free to comment below with your thoughts!

In three newer blog posts I walk through a property we ended up buying and discuss some of these considerations as they apply to that specific piece of land: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

 

Gas Lines and Fungi

I was originally planning on making a video discussing the framing of the tiny house today. Unfortunately I had to go for a long drive after work to check out where a gas line had been marked on a property we have an offer in on. We wanted to know if it would be close enough to our desired building site and also if it would interfere with potential future earth works on this land. There is quite a back story on this property as the seller has been stalling for about 6 weeks hoping to get another buyer with an offer good enough to play us off each other. Suffice to say our patience has been wearing thin but we are hopeful this deal will work out as it ha been the most desirable property we have looked at in several years of hunting.

I did stumble upon a a magnificent fungus.

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Film an impromptu video. . . . . .

and caught a caterpillar freeloading a ride with me on the way home. He was released into the wild 🙂

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There are several newer blog posts where I do a full walk through of this property:

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