Permaculture Design Certificate Course
Final Project

by: Topher Belknap


I am doing my design on my own property, despite Geoff's advice to the contrary, because it is the one out of my candidates which embodies all the issues that are prevalent in my area. This property has been in my care since 2001. Permaculture actions that have already been commensed will be written in green ink, to differentiate it from ideas developed after starting my PDC.

Hjalmaren 110
The sign to welcome visitors to Hjälmaren
photo credit: Topher Belknap

Client Design Briefing


The land is 11+ acres of mostly forest, some parts deciduous, some coniferous with a number of cleared meadows. It is named Hjälmaren [1]. The client's desire is to make it more food productive while not spoiling the beauty of the native landscape, nor destroying the local ecosystem. It is recognized that this is a balancing act, and that compromises will need to be made.


The client would like to add the following trees to the existing trees: Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum, Paper Birch, Betula papyrifera, American Chestnut Castanea dentata, Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, Heartnut Juglans ailantifolia, Black Walnut Juglans nigra, Apple Malus domestica, Korean Pine Pinus koraiensis, Cherry Prunus cerasus "Montmorency", Apricot Prunus armeniaca, Pear Pyrus communis, and Bayberry Myrica pensylvanica.

Many of the current trees on the property are threatened by one or more problems, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, Spruce Bud Worm, Climate change, etc. The clients would like to protect these trees, whilst also preparing for their loss by planting species which increase diversity, and improve the ecosystem's resilience.

Other Plants

In particular, the following new plants are desired: Horseradish Armoracia rusticana, Arnica Arnica montana, Wild Ginger Asarum canadense, New Jersey TeaCeanothus americanus, Foxglove Digitalis purpurea, Forsythia Forsythia X intermedia, Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens, Shiitake Mushrooms Lentinula edodes, Honeyberry Lonicera caerulea.

Some plants are not welcome, and efforts to remove them are needed, chief amongst these are: Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica), Poison Ivy Toxicodendron radicans.

There is too much lawn, which requires upkeep and mowing, while producing nothing much of value. Much of what is now lawn was the product of previous attempts to remove some more invasive species. The game lawn and possibly the paths can remain in lawn, but the rest can be either be turned into some more productive, or returned via succession to native forest.


The property has 1300 feet (400 meters) of shoreline on a tidal river, about 12 miles (26 kilometers) South to the ocean (which is basically East). It is the wish to maintain this in the face of natural erosion, man induced erosion, and sea level rise.

Saltmarsh grass under attack
photo credit: Topher Belknap
Saltmarsh Cordgrass

The species of intertidal grass Spartina alterniflora is currently threatened by an invasion of green crabs Carcinus maenas which is causing large scale die-off of the grass. Historical photos and paintings show that the grass has been receeding in the region for a number of decades. The grass is the first line of defense for the shore, to prevent ocean-side erosion.


The mudflats are recovering from the pollution (mostly sewage) of the previous decades, and are currently open for harvesting of worms. This is done commercially, with wormers going out during large low tides. Mussels Mytilus edulis are also present, but not harvested. Red tide Karenia brevis is a known problem, off and on, in the area. It is desired that the flats be brought back completely to their pre-colonial state, which would entail the reintroduction of clams Mercenaria mercenaria, and oysters Crassostrea virginica, and possibly horseshoe crabs Limulus polyphemus, and the halting of the green crab issue. This is a delicate ecological and political issue, fortunately one of our state legislators is also a marine biologist, and might be convinced to help with this project.

Erosion on the shoreline banking
photo credit: Topher Belknap

The banking leading down to the shore is, in places, steep, sparsely vegetated, and subject to erosion from heavy rains. The clay soil sheds most of the water, and dries hard in between, making planting difficult.



There are curently two inhabitants on the property, this may change, and one consideration is to consider a couple more house sites, in order to accomodate relatives or other friendlies.

Wild animals

The property is currently home to many native species, including Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias, Porcupines Erethizon dorsatum, Pileated Woodpeckers Hylatomus pileatus, Wild Turkeys Meleagris gallopavo, Ermine Mustela erminea, White Tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianu, Ospreys Pandion haliaetus, Chorus Frogs Pseudacris crucifer crucifer, Red Foxes Vulpes vulpes.

The following endangered species are present in the area: Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus (There is a mating pair, nesting about 500 meters across the cove), Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis, Atlantic Salmon Salmo salar. And the threatened species: Brook Floater Alasmidonta varicosa.

It is desired to maintain this diversity, while appropriately sharing the production. For instance, where the animals are eating elements intended for humans, it would be preferrable to simply find a perferred substitute for them, and provide that. Efforts to protect and aid the endangered species should receive high priority.

There are some animals which are at chaotic levels, which require predators to bring them back into line. Three such are: Deer Ticks Ixodes scapularis, Dog Ticks Dermacentor variabilis, and Grey Garden Slugs Deroceras reticulatum.

Domestic Animals

There are currently two cats in residence. The clients have expressed a desire to possibly add honeybees, chickens, ducks, goats, and pigs (slowly as their skills and infrastructure improve).


There is currently an artesian well on the property, and the consistent rains mean that the need for water is not great. The clients would like a cistern to make water access more resilient (pumping is lost during the frequent power outages). One or more ponds would be an asset to the property to act as aquaculture, water storage for drought and to channel runoff to reduce erosion in sensitive areas.


Private Road

The private section of the road, is the responsibility of the clients to keep up, and maintain for other people living on the road. It currently drains poorly (mostly only in a couple of places), and consequently gets muddy and filled with pot holes. It should be noted that making the road too smooth encourages speeds which are not in keeping with the children and animals which are often on it.

Parking Area

The parking area is merely a patch of lawn. This area gets very muddy and rutty in mud season (it should be noted that this is not merely a drainage issue as it is adequately sloped, but snow piles prevent water exiting) and hard packed and bare in summer. The wish is for it to be as natural as possible without the mud problem. While gravel or stones are acceptable, asphalt or loose recycled asphalt are not.

Main Path

The main path going from the parking area to the vehicle access path, experiences much the same problem as the parking area while also being quite steep.

Climate Description

Climate Zone

The property is located in the USDA Zone 5b. The latitude is 44°North 69.6°West, and the property goes from 0 to 80 feet (25 meters) in altitude above sea level. The nearest ocean is about 12 miles (26 kilometers) to the South, and is on an Eastern coast. The climate is cold temperate, Dfb (Humid Continental Climate with even rain seasons) in the Köppen–Geiger clmate classification.

Heating degree days & High and Low Averages

Average High76°76°68°57°47°36°29°33°40°51°62°71°
Average Low58°57°50°39°31°20°11°14°23°33°43°52°

These figures are in Farenheit, with a base of 65°F for heating degree days [2].

Annual Rainfall and Snowfall

Average Precipitation:3.663.313.984.694.964.534.063.625.044.493.904.0250.26
Average Snowfall:000041419151550057

All figures in inches[3].

The 100 year, 24 hour Maximum rain event is 6 inches (152mm) [4].

Property Description


Hjälmaren as it was December 2003 (with place names)
photo credit: Google Earth


The entirety of the watershed of the property is shown on the map above. There is a bit of runoff from the public road, and the neighbor's slope above it (on the East side of the property), but for the rest, the property starts roughly at the ridgeline.



The soil was evaluated as Tunbridge-Lyman fine sandy loam.

The map unit consists of gently sloping and undulating soils. Areas of these soils are on glaciated, low coastal ridges. Typically the surface layer is brown fine sandy loam about 8 inches thick. The subsoil is about 18 inches thick. It is a yellowish red that grades with depth to dark yellowish brown gravelly fine sandy loam. The substratum is olive gravelly fine sandy loam to a depth of about 31 inches. Bedrock [granite] is at a depth of about 31 inches. [5]
Soil Tests

The soil sample was taken from the area of the Big Garden, from an area undisturbed during the client's tenure on the land. It is an area of mostly grass.


Soil components as determined by a settle test are: Sand 24%, Silt 33%, Clay 43%. The soil will benefit from addition silt and sand in roughly equal measures, as well as a large increase in organic materials.


Tested pH levels are 5.3 (±0.4) as measured by Luster Leaf Professional Soil Test Kit. This is Very Acidic compared to an ideal pH level of 6.5. Acid loving plants, and addition of lime at a rate of 116 pounds/1000 feet2 (600 grams/meter2) for non-acid loving plants, are recommended.

Nitrogen (N)

Tested NO3 levels are 5 (±5) mg/l as measured by Luster Leaf Professional Soil Test Kit. This is considered a Low level. Nitrogen fixing plants are needed, and/or introduction of nitrogen rich fertilizers at a rate of 2 pounds/1000 feet2 (9 grams/meter2), plus increased organic material compost,.

Phosphorus (P)

Tested P levels are 15 (±5) mg/l as measured by Luster Leaf Professional Soil Test Kit. This is considered Medium to Low. Phosphorus dynamic accumulators and/or Phosphorus fertilizers at a rate of 2 pounds/1000 feet2 (10 grams/meter2), plus increased organic material compost, are recommended.

Potassium (K)

Tested K levels are 100 (±100) mg/l as measured by Luster Leaf Professional Soil Test Kit. This is considered Medium to Low level.Phosphorus dynamic accumulators and/or Phosphorus fertilizers at a rate of 3 pounds/1000 feet2 (14 grams/meter2), plus increased organic material compost, are recommended.


Pre-colonial (before 1650)

Archaelogical evidence has determined that this land was occupied by various peoples who, over various time periods, knapped stone tools; decorated pottery; harvested, and ate shellfish like clams Mercenaria mercenaria, oysters Crassostrea virginica, and mussels Mytilus edulis; setup a fish weir; and caught and ate sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus (and presumably salmon Salmo salar). The region was subjected to periodic (yearly?) burns to reduce ground litter to ease hunting, this property may or may not have experienced this. [6]

Colonial (1650-1800)

The property (and the whole state) was stripped of all trees and farmed during this era. Maine was the state with the largest production of wheat at this time. It was a prevalent practice to graze animals on the shore grass Spartina alterniflora. The largest remaining trees on the property probably date from the near the end of this timeframe, as they are present mostly in the stone walls and are scarred by the barbed wire (see below). The farming practices degraded the soils across the region.

Federal Period (1800-1870)

During this time period there was a sheep boom in New England. Napolean's invasion of the Iberian peninsula broke their monopoly on merrino wool sheep. These quickly spread, particularly in this region. Barbed wire remanents indicate that the northern boundary of the property had a fence designed to keep in sheep. This boom quickly degraded the soil further, and farming in much of the region was abandoned for more fertile lands in the great plains of the West. [3]

Tourist Cabins (1870-1970)

The property housed several cabins which were rented to summer tourists. There was substantial landscaping done, including sand imported to the shore to make a beach, apple trees planted in an orchard, lilacs, and some invasive plants like Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica. Much of the land reverted to forest at this time, with too closely spaces pines, oaks and beeches.

Fallow (1970-2000)

During this time, the cabins were abandoned, and fell into disrepair. The knotweed ran rampant encompassing an acre or two, and the property started in the sucession back to forest. Prevalent in those areas were Blackberries Rubus fruticosus, Raspberries Rubus idaeus, Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina, Quaking Aspen Populus tremuloides, and various Birches.

Current Occupancy (2001-2015)

The current residents bought the property in 2001, tore down the collapsing cabins, and built a new house. They have been trying to mitigate the damage that was done, and increase the food production. They extract about 2 cords of wood per year (mostly dead or damaged trees) to heat the house.

Current condtions


The trees on the property include predominantly: Eastern White Pine Pinus strobus, American Beech Fagus grandifolia, Northern Red Oak Quercus Rubra, Eastern Hemlock Tsuga canadensis, Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina, Quaking Aspen Populus tremuloides.

Water, Access, Structures



Hjälmaren, with proposed water features (Sep 2014)
photo credit: Google Earth

The easiest place to put a cistern is near the parking area at the top of the property. This puts it in close proximity to the well, and allows gravity pressure at the house (~26 feet of head, gives 11 psi at the house taps). Since the climate produces hard freezes in winter, the cistern will need to be buried below frost level. It can be filled by a small solar pump out of the existing well, or rain runoff from a car shelter.

Keypoint Dam

The contour map is inaccurate in the area marked for the keypoint dam. There is a depression here, and it is suggested that this be deepened further to provide either a shallow pond, or a paddy for rice. Which will depend on the level of the bedrock in this area. There is a ledge just up slope indicating that it may not be very deep here. The dam will need to be accurately suveyed before work commences, especially considering the discrepancy between map and territory. The spillway for this dam will be on the Southwest side, and will put water back in the original valley.

Low Dam

There is an opportunity for another dam in the valley on the North side of the property. This will act as a reservoir for the long shoreline swale. This might be deep enough and large enough to contain an ecosystem up to the size of game fish. The frost depth in the region is 4 feet (120 cm), so to maintain fish over the winter, some portion should be at least 5 feet deep. If that is not possible, upon examination on site, the ecosystem installed should not inculde fish.


It is recommended that one swale be connected to the keypoint dam, to spread water around the crest of the hilltop. In addition this will remove excess water from the heavily trafficed portions of this area. Care will need to be taken when constructing this swale, and it will need to be relatively shallow given that it is for the most part fully forested. To avoid trees, it may be best to construct the swales as hügel mounds rather than dug swales.

Another swale should be installed along the lower side of the road. The road is releasing all the water that collects on it, at a single point, which is causing some erosion. A swale along the downhill side will spread that water and allow it to soak in, over a larger area. Changes in the road will also increase the spreading of this water.

A third swale can be constructed along the entire shoreline, and connected to the low dam. While functioning as a traditional swale, by slowing, spreading, and soaking water, it will also serve to reduce erosion issues along the shore. This erosion is caused by water running along the surface of the ground, particularly where the slope and other conditions have prevented adequate plant cover. By both reducing storm runoff, and increasing water soaked into the soil, this swale will help plants get a foothold (roothold?) on the banking. Again, this is a fully wooded region, and so the swale will need to be done by hand (or very small machine), with care, and probably mostly as hügel mounds.

Drainage Ditch

On the up-slope side of the road, there is currently a drainage ditch, which is not functioning well, mostly because traffic, particularly in the winter, creates ruts for wheels, and snowplows, moving loose dirt to the edges, prevent water from flowing into the ditch. This problem has continued uncorrected for a number of years. This should be reversed, preventing standing water on the road, which is the major cause of deteroration of the road surface. This will need to be maintained yearly, though to a lesser degree. Once the ditch is performing its job, there will need to be a small crossing pipe at the lowest point to facilitate water transport to the other side.



Access at Hjälmaren
photo credit: Google Earth
Town Road (Dark Blue)

The town road borders the property for a short span on the Eastern side of the Northern border. It is an unimproved dirt road, which is often plagued with potholes and drainage issues.

Private Road (light blue)

The private road which serves the property and those beyond, is an unimproved dirt road. It is made from the same clay and stone, glacial tile as the rest of the local soil, so it experiences potholes, and ruts, particularly during the mud season between winter and spring. This is a particular problem because daily variations in temperature cause the road to freeze and thaw, and water is squozen out of it; however, the presence of large snow banks means that the water has nowhere to drain.

It is recommended to regrade the road to have it slope either evenly to both sides or, where that is impractical, toward the downhill side. For the area of primary drainage (i.e. the lowest point on the road), a rock filled trench to aid in drainage even in winter is required.

Vehicle Access to house (wide green)

The wide path from the road to the house is used only rarely for delivery of large items. It only needs to be maintained at the level of a grass path, as long as water does not accumulate on it, or flow the length of it causing erosion. This issue has mostly been dealt with prior to this assessment, by sloping the road to shed water to the downhill side, and maintaining that condition, and fixing the remaining problem areas can follow that course.

Main paths
Current main path (narrow green)

This path suffers from mud and ice slipperiness in the winter, and is not of approriate materials for a well-used path (namely clay). It is proposed that this path be religated to summer only duty, and in the off season, rehabilited with grass.

New winter path (red-orange)

During the winter it is proposed to use another path to pass from the house to the parking area. This, as can be seen from the map, is shorter (easing shoveling duties), and is also less steep, being mostly the same slope throughout, as it runs nearly down the existing ridgeline. In summer, this does not give as good an approach to the house, so it is likely the clients will want to use the old path during those times.

Trails (yellow green)

There are a number of walking paths around the property. These are maintained solely by infrequent usage, and often peter out and become vague.

New Trails (orange)

These should be set out in a more permanent manner. They should be arranged either on contour, or down ridgelines. The trail to picnic point should be made to pass a cart to ease transport of small boats.



Hjälmaren, House
photo credit: Topher Belknap

The house is an energy efficient smallish cape style house. The building method is a timber frame with a Larsen truss outside of that. This gives 12" (30cm) of insulation space, providing R-40 (RSI-7) value from shredded cellulose insulation. The building is well air sealed, with high solar heat gain windows. The heat loss is therefore only, 31 Million BTUs (33 kiloWatt-hours / meter2) per year, or about 2 cords (3.6 meters3) of wood [8].

Recommendations for the house include adding a heat retaining ventilation system, and completing any remaining air sealing; Isolating the bulkhead door, with a door in the plane of the basement walls, using the bulkhead for cool storage.


Hjälmaren, with greenhouse (model)
photo credit: Topher Belknap

A greenhouse on the South side of the house has been the plan since the house was built. Last year a foundational patio was constructed on the location, with piers to support the posts for the greenhouse structure. The greenhouse would be designed as a heavy thermal mass structure for season extension, and other plant growing. It would only provide supplemental heat to the house when it was dangerously hot, otherwise, it would store the heat for cooler times. In the summer months, The walls can be made removable, so that the space can continue to act as a patio, for socializing and appreciating the view.

Wood Shed

Cord firewood would dry better with a shed to store next year's worth of wood; this year's is stored in the basement. A good place for that would be on the North side of the house, where it has access to both the storage in the basement, and the incoming wood. It will need to be kept away from the body of the house to prevent insects, and to keep the path clear.


The property is in need of a tool shed to hold gardening tools, other large tools, ladders, boats, and bicycles.

Chicken Coop

The current chicken coop should be moved to the location shown in the Zone 1 map, and raised to allow easier access in times of snow.

Root Cellar

Due to the usage of the basement as a seasonal heat storage system, it is not available as a root cellar. It is proposed that an external root cellar be installed in the location marked. This provides (reasonably) easy access throughout the winter months, and does not require a lot of additional snow shoveling. It is near both potential paths. Earthbags are the easiest/cheapest form of construction for such an underground space.

Permaculture Sector Analysis

Sun sectors

Polar Coordinate Chart
Solar paths
Sun Paths, Hjälmaren
photo credit: Google Earth &

Wind & Noise sectors

Sectors, Hjälmaren (September 2010)
photo credit: Google Earth
Prevailing Winds

The prevailing wind in this area of the country is from the west. After storms, the wind will swing from North-West to West, and often in summer, to a South-West sea breeze.

Winter Clear Winds

Cold winter winds on clear days come primarily from the North-West. The house and other structures need to be placed within the shelter of the hill, and existing coniferous trees.

Winter Storm Winds

The worst of winter storms come from the North-East 'nor-easters', the house is partially sheltered from theses winds by slope and trees. Further plantings of coniferous trees toward these winds is recommended. The proposed winter path should meander between these to prevent a straight shot to the house from the winds.

Summer Sea Breezes

In the summer, the cooling breezes come from the ocean, namely from the South and South-West. The casement windows in the house are arranged such that they open toward this breeze on the South and West side of the house, and away on the other sides. This makes it easy to set up a cross breeze to cool the house during the day, when those breezes blow (which is most hot days). During the evening, an alternate plan of opening windows high on the leeward side, and twice that area, low on the windward side, taking advantage of the stack effect to pull hot air from the house.

Fire sectors

The property is surrounded on three sides by water, including the fire winds which would come from the West. This area is not at great risk from fires due to frequent and regular rains. No provisions need be made for fire sectors.

Noise Sectors


There is a highway, over two bridges, stretching from South to South-West. The noise travels easily over the water between there and the property.

Seagulls in Spring

The cove to the south and west hosts the annual spring gathering for mating seagulls (mostly Herring Gulls Larus smithsonianus) though other species are also present. The birds can number up to 1,000, and produce quite a racket. Sometimes they make it hard to converse, but are otherwise enjoyable.


The local Tree Frogs Pseudacris crucifer crucifer, send up quite a chorus in the early spring. The neighbor's pond (see top right of property map) hosts a large number, and the results can be amazing. The house is blocked for the most part from this, by the slope of the land.

Race track

There is a race track about 5 miles away to the North-Northwest, this produces a drone-like sound every Saturday in the summer. It is probably not possible to reduce this nuisance.

Smell Sectors

Flats Mud

The mud in the flats has become far less objectionably smelly in the past few decades, due to clean up efforts, and control of 'overboard discharge' (dumping sewage directly into the river). There is still occasionally a smell from this sector, for the house this encompasses South-Southeast to North-Northwest.

Flood sectors

Sea level issues
Chart of sea level rise
Sea level at Portland Maine, 1912 - 2015
photo credit: University of Maine

Having a family that has lived on the same piece of land about 5 miles from the site, for about 90 years, gives perspective on sea level change. Even without climate change induced rise, small changes in sea level have a distinct and noticable impact on the shoreline. If land is to be kept indefinitely, vigilance and action are required.

View Sectors

There is a river view from South to West-Northwest. The best view is directly to the West, with the travel of the sun presenting beautiful sunsets, seen from the house in all seasons except high summer (when the sun is too far North, and trees are in full leaf). Maintaining that view while still adding trees to the shoreline is a priority for the clients.

Permaculture Zones


Permaculture Zones
Permaculture Zones for Hjälmaren (2013)
photo credit: Google Earth

Zone 1

Encompasses the house and immediate surrounds, it is reserved for things which are visited multiple times in a day. These include Medicinal and food herb garden, strawberry patch up against the foundation stones for early spring warmth, hops trellis for summer shade, kitchen garden, cider press stand, patio for enjoying the view, clothes line, American Chestnut Castanea dentata, games lawn. To be added are: woodshed, greenhouse on the house's South side, tool shed, chicken coop, root cellar, Sugar Maple Acer saccharum, Sea Buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides. See plan below.

In this zone, the large coniferous trees, which are, or potentially are shading the solar panels, will need to be pruned or removed, as opportunity presents.

Zone 2

Zone 2 is all those places which are seen at least once per day under normal summer circumstances. Trips made there to do work, are less frequent than Zone 1. Elements in this zone include Bee hive, orchards, grape, paw paw, and kiwi vines, nut trees, the 'Secret Garden', berries, and periennial vegetables like rhubarb and asparagus. This is also the home of the compost bins, parking area, mail box, and other remote hardware.

Zone 3

This is the zone for large gardens and food forests, that only need tending infrequently. In the lower section, should be placed, the mushroom garden (under heavy shade), as well as the main crop garden in the 'big garden' golding potatoes, wheat, cabbage, etc.

The upper (Northern) section of Zone 3, contains the keypoint dam, which if circumstances allow it to be deep enough 4-5 feet (2 meters) should be put into aquaculture, with an ecosystem supporting fish for consumption. If the ledge prevents that depth, the area can be turned into a rice paddie (a la Ben Falks). This would make it an ideal place to free range baby ducks, to weed and fertilize the rice plants.

Zone 4

This zone is currently forested, with most(ly eastern white pine, which is overcrowded. The many trees that are dying are the current source for firewood. This can continue, but replacement trees should be planted to fill any openings in the canopy, with the plan of increasing the value of the trees in lumber, craft, and denser firewood species: BeechFagus grandifolia, Black Walnut Juglans nigra, Shagbark HickoryCarya ovata, White Oak Quercus alba, Red Oak Quercus rubra, Black Locust Robinia pseudoacacia.

The eastern border needs to be made more secure, it is recommended that this be planted with a hedge of honey locust Gleditsia triacanthos trees, which can form a lay-down hedge once they acheive a good size.

The lower part of this region is currently home to a large number of Ostrich Ferns Matteuccia struthiopteris. This plant produces fiddleheads, which are an edible spring green, and a possibly cash crop. They should be encouraged.

Zone 5

Shoreland Zone

The regulations for the shoreland (within 75 feet of the mean high tide line), make it a de facto zone 5. There will still need to be some work done in this zone, for example, there is still erosion which will be mitigated, and trees planted to maintain the land within the regulations. This should all be strictly done with native plants if at all possible.

Other Zone 5

The Northern non-shoreline section of zone 5 joins a contiguous natural wildlife strip, extending mostly uninterrupted, for about 500 acres. Again, this area should mostly remain unmolested, just enjoyed.

Element Analysis


The humans in this ecosystem are, as everywhere, the most disruptive factor, despite any desire to minimize that disruption. Humans seem to have lost the ability to be unobtrusive. That said, the client's wish to reduce that disruption not only on the property, but off it as well. Yearly inputs to the system for humans include food, water from the well, sawdust for composting toilet 1 cubic yard (1 meter3), Energy: Electricity (2,000 kiloWatt-hours), Propane (150 gallons or 570 liters), Gasoline (125 gallons or 475 liters).

Yearly outputs include: Trash (200 cubic feet or 3.5 meters3), Composting toilet(1 cubic yard or 1 meter3 per year), Heat.



Bees require little not naturally present in every environment suitable for humans. They need water, food, in the form of pollen, and nectar, and propolis (from pine sap) to seal air leaks in their house in winter. Supplementing this in times of great stress with sugar syrup, and providing a suitable house is all that should be required. In exchange they will pollinate all the flowers within a 2 mile (4 kilometer) radius. They will also produce more honey and beeswax than they can use, which can be harvested for human needs. Propolis interestingly sells for about $70 USD per pound ($32 per kilogram).


Chickens require, food, water, and shelter as do we all, and additionally grit to activate their gizards, dust to bath in, and protection from predators. They provide eggs, fertilizer, compost processing, pest control (notably both ticks and slugs) and ground preparation in the form of scratching.


Sugar MapleAcer saccharumNeutral / AlkalineMoistFull / ShadeSyrupNectYesCoppice, Lumber
Paper BirchBetula papyriferaAcidMoistFull / ShadeNectPioneer, Lumber
PecanCarya illinoinensisNeutral / AlkalineMoistFullNutsNectYesCoppice, Lumber
Shagbark HickoryCarya ovataNeutralMoistFull / PartNutsNutsNectYesCoppice
American ChestnutCastanea dentataAcidDry / MoistFull / PartNutsNutsNectCoppice
North American BeechFagus grandifoliaAcid / NeutralMoistFull / ShadeNutsYesNectYesCoppice
Honey LocustGleditsia triacanthosNeutral / AlkalineMoistFullSeedsYesNectThornsHedge
Witch HazelHamamelis virginianaMoistFull / PartCraft
Sea BuckthornHippophae rhamnoidesAllDry / MoistFull / PartBerriesYesNectYes
Black WalnutJuglans nigraNeutral / AlkalineDry / MoistFullNutsNectYesAlleopath, Lumber
AppleMalus domesticaNeutralMoistFullFruitFruitNectYesCoppice
BayberryMyrica pensylvanicaAllMoist / WetFullNectYesWax
Korean PinePinus koraiensisAcid / NeutralDry / MoistFullNutsNuts
Eastern White PinePinus strobusAcidMoistFullProp[9]Lumber
Quaking AspenPopulus tremuloidesMoistFullYesYesPioneer
ApricotPrunus armeniacaNuetral / AlkalineMoistFullFruitFruitNect
CherryPrunus cerasusNeutralMoistFullFruitFruitNect
PearPyrus communisNeutralMoistFullFruitFruitNectCoppice
MulberryMorus rubraNeutral / AlkalineDry / MoistFull / PartFruitFruitNectBaitCoppice
White OakQuercus albaNeutral / AlkalineDry / MoistFull / PartAcornsAcornsNectYesBaitLumber
Red OakQuercus rubraNeutralMoistFullAcornsAcornsNectDynamBaitLumber
Staghorn SumacRhus typhinaNeutralDry / MoistFullTeaYesNectPioneer
Black LocustRobinia pseudoacaciaAllDry / MoistFullFlowersYesNectYesYesThorns, PredatorCoppice, Lumber
Weeping WillowSalix babylonicaAcidWetFullYesCraft
Mountain AshSorbus americanaAcid / NeutralMoistFullFruitYesNectCoppice, Lumber
Eastern HemlockTsuga canadensisAcidMoistFull / PartYes
YarrowAchillea millefoliumAllDry / MoistFullSpecYesConfCompost
ChivesAllium schoenoprasumNeutral / AlkalineMoistFull / PartLeavesNectYesDeter
BearberryArctostaphylos uva-ursiAcid / NeutralDry / MoistFullFruitYesNectGround cover
Siberian Pea ShrubCaragana arborescensAllDry / MoistFullYesYesNectYesThorns
Japanese knotweedFallopia japonicaFullYesYesYesBiomass
Sweet PeaLathyrus odoratusNeutralMoistFullPoison?YesNectYesFlowers
Shiitake MushroomsLentinula edodesWetShadeYes
Ostrich FernsMatteuccia struthiopterisS. Acid / NeutralMoist / WetPart / ShadeBuds
DaffodilsNarcissus pseudonarcissusFullDeterFlowers
BlackberriesRubus fruticosusAcid / NeutralMoistFullFruitFruitNect
RaspberriesRubus idaeusAcid / NeutralMoistFullFruitFruitNect
ComfreySymphytum officinale X S. asperum AllMoistFull / PartNectYesDeterCompost
TansyTanacetum vulgareFullDeter
Poison IvyToxicodendron radicansPartTouch poison
Red CloverTrifolium pratenseAllMoistFullfoodforagebeesYesYesGround cover
White CloverTrifolium repensAcid / NeutralMoistFull / PartYesNectYesYesGround cover
Wild BlueberriesVaccinium angustifoliumS. Acid / AcidDry / MoistFullFruitYesNect
Highbush CranberryViburnum trilobumNeutral / AlkalineMoist / WetFullFruitFruitbait
PeriwinkleVinca MinorpHMoistSunforagebeesn2dynampestGround cover

Dry laid rocks around foundation of Hjälmaren,
photo credit: Topher Belknap


Rocks, Small

Small rocks are useful for stacking against the foundation, this provides thermal mass heat storage for nearby plants, extending the season.

Rocks, Medium

Movable rocks are useful for establishing boundaries, making snake (and other predator) habitat (no venomous snakes in this area), and putting around the non sunward side of ponds to act as a sun absorber to melt ice. There is a large supply of such rocks between the secret garden and the proposed key point dam location.


Zone 1

Schematic of Zone 1
Schematic of Zone 1
photo credit: Topher Belknap

Most of the Zone 1 design is discussed above, for the remainder it is a matter of squeezing as much function as possible between existing trees. As existing trees are removed due to threatening the house with dropped branches, or to acheive increased solar insolation to the windows and solar panels, they should be replaced with productive deciduous trees.

Gardens in this zone include (G) a strawberry patch, up against the dry laid stone facing of the foundation to create a warmer microclimate. (H) A couple of cold frames can be placed to the South side of the greenhouse, benefitting from its supply of warmth and ease of access in the winter. (I) An herb garden to grow food and medicinal herbs. (J) An annual food garden for high maintenance vegetables. (N)A trellis growing hops also shades the South side of the house in high summer, and produces ingredients for beer for the winter.

Additionally, there is room for some productive trees and their support systems. Include in this area Sugar Maples Acer saccharum, American ChestnutCastanea dentata, Black Walnut Juglans nigra, and Sea Buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides.

New Orchard

Schematic of New Orchard Plantings
Schematic of New Orchard Plantings
photo credit: Topher Belknap

The new orchard has some unique constraints due to its location. It is on the inside of the curve of the private road, and as such the sightlines should be maintained to ensure safe travel on the road. In addition, there are utility lines above, that will need to remain free from interference with the plants. Thus, trees and other plants will need to be pruned, so that only trunks are present between heights of 2 feet (60 cm) and 6 feet (180 cm). Along the property line, taller and fuller plants are ok.

Old Orchard

Schematic of Old Orchard Plantings
Schematic of Old Orchard Plantings
photo credit: Topher Belknap

This section currently contains a number of heritage apple trees, and volunteers from them; the oldest may be 150 years old. When the property was acquired, these trees were in sorry shape, but pruning and care have brought a number of them into significant production. They are to be the backbone of a food forest. They should be provided with support species, nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, and pest deterers. The space between them will then be filled with supplemental productive species (see below).

Large Garden

The large garden was not adequately close to the house (Zone 3) to function well as a vegetable garden. That function should be moved to Zones 1 & 2, and this garden converted to a main crop garden, growing grains, potatoes, and other large starch crops. In addition, it should be reconfigured to have rows run on contour instead of trying to fight gravity with straight rows running diagonal to the contour lines.

Top bar hive
Top Bar Bee Hive
photo credit: Topher Belknap


As the beehive did not get adequate attention placed as it was in Zone 3. It should be moved to the border between zones 1 and 2. The bees are housed in a top-bar hive, which is a more natural system, allowing more appropriately sized bees, reduced toxins in the wax, and easier access by beekeepers. I think it would be great if Geoff made a video about them.



Recommended plants to supplement the requested varieties in the New and Old Orchard areas:

Specific Issues

Japanese Knotweed

Research into eradicating this invasive alien species is mixed and no solution appears to be sufficient to the task. The three options appear to be poisoning, digging, and chopping. They all seem to roughly equivalent in effcaiousness. That said, poisoning with Glyphosate is ruled out particularly since the property is on a tidal river; digging is significantly more hand labor than just chopping. The trick to chopping is to be perserverent, keeping the shoots younger than 15 days. This will produce large amounts of biomass for compost or mulch, which can be put on gardens, after it have composted or dried.

Poison Ivy

Full protective clothing and manual removal appears to be the most appropriate remedy given that one of the clients is exceedingly sensitive to the oils of this plant. Disposal is then in the region's biomass fired electric plant. Ground from which it is removed should then be prepared with a sheet mulch and some rampant plant to hold that niche to keep it from returning.

Shoreline Banking

Bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is reccommended as an first attempt to vegetate the shoreline banking. It is resistant to salt, and overheating, spreads by root extension. Fully mature it can encompass 10 square feet (1 square meter), though it may want to be planted more densely than that if it takes in the problem locations.

Ticks & Slugs

These two elements in excess will be controlled by an introduction of chickens and ducks into the local ecosystem.

Phased Implementation

Realities being what they are, it is not anticipated that this work can all be accomplished right away. Particularly things like the lond shoreline swale which must be constructed by hand will take a number of years to complete. The important thing is to begin, and then continue. Water and Trees are the things which area best started soonest, water since it is so disruptive, and trees because they take so long to reach maturity. It is better to complete the design for a given area, and then move to the next area, rather than trying to bring all areas up to the same level before proceeding to the next level. This reduces the amount of resources that need to be gathered, for example, one flock of chickens can work heavily in a single area, and then be moved, rather than needing 10 flocks, and then having to put them on welfare when the jobs run out.

Areas in which work is being contemplated should see first the grazers (pigs, goats, ducks) and scratchers (chickens), to prepare the area by removing existing (small) vegetation, and start the process of fertilization. Next, the support species should be planted, ground covers, Nitrogen fixers, and dynamic accumulators. The intended productive plants can then be added, This can happen at the same time if the soil will support it.

Ad Hoc Implementation

For this large a property, and limited time of two occupants, some elements or changes will happen whenever there is a bit of time, or conditions warrant.

Downed trees which are not destined to be firewood, should be rotated in place to be on-contour. Logs on Contour

Rocks in the flats of the shore should be moved up against the banking, to make that more secure against erosion. They should NOT be placed so as to interfere with shore grass. Rocks with seaweed attached, that are also in a zone where there is (or might potentially be) shore grass, should be moved away from that area, as seaweed smothers the grass.