Getting a Baseline in an open field

At last, I got to spend a few hours back in my field. My task: to establish a baseline after the disaster of my first set of measurements. I also took along my camera to show you a little of how things look.

Facing West showing rushes in foreground, ferns and the drop to the left (South) at the bottom

Facing West showing rushes in foreground, ferns, brambles and the drop to the left (South) at the bottom. You can clearly see the bottom ‘pole’ and Slieve League beyond. It’s on the Wild Atlantic Way’. Fabulous @ 1974 feet.

I realised the best plan for a baseline was to use the ‘amenities provided’ so I decided to use the telegraph poles. You see, when your field is not regularly supervised over the years, when the telephone guys come around, they plonk their poles on your ground, rather than your neighbours. Anyhow, I now have a pole just inside my fences at each end of the field. Being a very slopey field, the poles can be seen from everywhere, whereas a fence-post cannot.

So, I began by checking and adjusting the measurement between the knots on my measuring line. I was as much as 9 inches out in some cases (oops). So I got that right before I started. It reminds me of the maxim:

“There’s never time to do it right, but always time to do it again!”

The line is an unused white washing line on which I tied knots every 5 metres along its length. I’ve tied some red twine on the fifth knot (25 metres). Finally, I attached a short piece of rough twine to the front end, to allow me attach the line to the poles or to fence posts etc., without losing any inches off the line. I use a carpenter’s tape measure to capture the final few metres of each measurement.

Line of sight

The line from fence post 3 to top of field, where you can see the top pole at right hand end of house. This pic also shows the strength of the slope and Ferns close by, Rushes in the mid ground and Brambles on southern boundary to the right.


Then I got some fence-posts and arranged these in a line-of-sight from ‘pole to pole’, putting the posts every 25 metres. Because of the 20% slope, I needed an extra post at 11 metres, (top of the slope) so I could see a full line from the first post down the slope. So my posts end up at 11M, 25M, 50M and 75M. From the last post to the far pole is 13M and with the small gaps from each pole to the adjoining fence, my field measures a total of 91 metres along this ‘baseline’. At the top/road end, it measures 26 metres across, giving me approximately 2,400 square metres (4,046 is an acre).

I still have to verify the measurement across the bottom end, which is awkward, because of the mound at that end where it falls away sharply at the SW corner. (Wasn’t this supposed to be straightforward?). Instead, I’ll measure at the foot of the mound, where I can see from fence to fence, north to south. Actually, if I do it at the 3rd round post (see photo), I have already noted that the post is 9 metres from the North fence, so all I have to do is measure the other way (duh!) to have a complete width. Looking at my site-map on the deeds (It’s tiny) and at the Google earth picture, it appears to be an almost perfect rectangle, so it  should measure 26 metres down there too. I’ll trust the measurement on the ground long before the maps!

Measuring the drop at the rock, mentioned in previous posts, I used a tape measure and the camera to record. See below: 2.6 M drop at the RockCamera great tool in survey!

Species: The photos show Willow, Rowan and a Sycamore along the boundaries. Then I have quantities of Rushes, Nettles, Thistles, Ferns and Brambles all growing strongly. Actually, the abundance of the growth is very encouraging. Shaun’s sheep have done a great job of processing the biomass and manuring the ground! I have lots to learn before I can begin to identify the lesser species, grasses, flowers etc. I have just ordered “Wildflowers of Ireland — a Field Guide” and will post a review in due course. Which reminds me, I have to do reviews on a few other books as well. Aranya in his book Permaculture Design, uses ‘D-A-F-O-R’ to record how prevalent each species is: D= dominant; A= abundant; F=frequent; O= occasional and R=rare. Some folks add M=Missing to record species you’d expect to find in an area, but don’t! So my collection of rushes, nettles, ferns and brambles all come in  between D & A, depending on which part of the field you’re looking at. Thistles are O=occasional, but large, standing nearly 3 feet tall and with a 2-3 foot spread in some cases.

So, gradually I’m gathering information about the field, its flora, its shape and dimensions. My next step will be to measure from the posts along my ‘baseline’ to the various points along the boundary: tree, rock, stump, pipe, etc., and develop a base map, which I WILL share with you when it’s done. After that comes the beginnings of the design: permanent structural elements like paths, swales or drains, a pond, retaining wall, a shed of some kind, raised bed(s), and gradually adding planting schemes, starting with the trees. This won’t be a quick job, will it?


If you’ve been here before, you know my field is in Donegal where, I recently discovered, it rains about 1,600 to 1,800 mm a year. That means, without drainage, my land would be covered 4 or 5 feet deep, except for the fact that I am the proud owner of a fine sloping field, (up to 20% in spots) and the rain runs off, but the ground gets bloody wet too!!

Permaculture videos and books and talks all seem to spend lots of time on swales, hence Patrick Whitefield refers to them as something of a ‘Holy Cow’.

But in our wet climate in NW Ireland, they’re hardly appropriate. However, how much is enough, when it comes to water? If I put in drains, the water runs away. If I put in swales, too much water hangs around. How do I decide? I can imagine a high pond, catching run-off from the road and from my house and the cement drive opposite,  with an overflow arrangement into a lower pond perhaps, but is 2 ponds too much in 2/3rds of an acre (circa 2600 sq. metres)?

Problems, problems. Any suggestions, anyone?

While I have a problem, it’s good to have it discussed online. I’d appreciate any help I can get. Tll next time. Byeee.

Oh yeah, any suggestions for the best PDC around these islands? R

see Book Review “How to Makea Forest Garden” by PW

New definition of wealth — a permaculture definition

Hi folks.

Still stuck in Dublin. However, I’m still ‘alive and learning’ from magazines, books, blogs, and the internet. I was listening, yesterday, to a podcast (no. 089) on the permaculture website It’s a phone conversation between the (rather loud) American host, Paul Wheaton, and a genius of permaculture, Australian, Geoff Lawton. (

He says, during the conversation, that the average industrial worker does 40 to 60 hours a week and, in his opinion, all he has to show for his labour is … gadgets.

On the other hand, he referred to people who survive on their permaculture produce with just 12 hours work per week and what they have in return, is the following:

  • Clean air,
  • Clean water
  • Clean food
  • Sensible housing
  • Warmth
  • Friendship and
  • Community

“This is wealth” he says. “There’s no value in money. It only buys you gadgets!”


As a total aside, I am the delighted victim of serendipity today. I was talking to my wife just yesterday, saying “I’d love to grow a kiwi fruit up that eucalyptus tree” in our garden. Then this afternoon, my daughter phoned me to say she had just bought me a kiwi plant at a Garden fete in Claregalway in Co. Galway. Cool or what? Fresh kiwis from the garden … and I bet you thought it was a tropical fruit!

I’ll report on its development as time passes. I’ll have to take a cutting for Donegal.

Till next time, God bless.

Illness stops me in my tracks

Illness in the family keeps us from going to Donegal, so I haven’t had the opportunity to check out my mapping errors. In my previous post, I had said a student was drafting up a decent-looking map for me, from my plotting notes. Well, it seems I’ve a lot to learn!! I know that some of the ‘apparent’ errors are caused by the sometimes steep slopes in the field, but some of my measurements are way off. It strikes me that I should get a helper in the field, next time. So, not only can I not go to Donegal, I can’t even progress my mapping project until i go and check my measurements.

That said, I have been reading and watching videos online. I finally gave in recently and bought Sepp Holzer’s book ‘Permaculture’. Brilliant. He has such a complete understanding of his material and is so brave and relentless with his experimentation. You also have to be impressed by his observation of nature. So inspiring.

Speaking of inspiration, I get a regular email & video from ‘Peak Moment’ with Janaia Donaldson. This month’s video is called ‘Shaping Water and Soil’. It  features some land work by Brian Kirkvliet at “Inspiration Farm” in Washington State. (He’s a great explainer / teacher) What was interesting for me was the fact that they had a wet, soggy field (so like Donegal) where, in an average year, we have 1600 – 1800 mm of rain. Isn’t that scary… it’s 4 to 5 FEET of water … everywhere) I had been asking myself what was the difference between using swales and banks, as opposed to putting in drains to catch and move the water fast. This 26 minute video shows a series of on-contour-swales with grazing and/or vegetables between.

They always say about swales and water in permaculture videos and books,  that you ‘Slow it, spread it and sink it’. You make use of it as often as possible, before you allow it move off your site. So, it seems to me that, despite all that rainfall, i sill have to hold it on my land as long as possible and not just drain it away as fast as possible. I feel a pond coming on!

The Inspiration Farm video shows they use polycultures very well and layer planting with fruit trees, shrub fruits, harbaceous plants and groundcover, all together on the swale banks. Also in the mix are nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators and biomass makers. The ‘dynamic accumulators’ are the deep-tap-rooted plants that harvest minerals from deep in the soil and make it available to their neighbour plants (especially fruit trees which tend to have shallow feeding roots). For example, comfrey, nettles, teasles and dandylions. Finally, they make the point that they are growing SOIL, not food. If you get the soil growing and improving every year, the food will come naturally and abundantly, without irrigation, without manure and without pesticides. (Type ‘shaping water and soil’ into the search window on

Till the next time. Enjoy.

How do you develop a Field into a food Forest when you are continually NOT going there?

First my wife had a fall now a family member is ill, so despite all my hopes for progress over this long May weekend … it hasn’t happened. However, since my last post, I have been up to Donegal and I have taken a load of measurements. I drew the roughest of sketch maps and began slowly to measure and annotate the map. 


I saw a tip in the book by Aranya, referenced in a previous post, whereby I tied knots, every 5 metres, along a long piece of white washing line (string would do). Then a pocket tape was used for the final metre or two. It’s not exact, but I don’t really need exact, do I? It’s brilliant and saves a lot of walking to and fro. A student friend has my unlovely rough work and is attempting the difficult task of transferring it to a CAD drawing. As soon as I have his draft, I’ll scan both and let you see what I’ve done.

You pick out points around the property and triangulate from those points, so that when you have a long distance to measure, you break that into smaller points and measure triangles. If you know the length of the 3 sides, your shape will be perfect as long as you stick to scale. If there are no convenient landmarks to measure from, create your own with a stake here and a pipe there and a rock someplace else. It works really well.

Another apology though, again I went without my camera. Sorry. I WILL get photos and show how I used the line and the tape. Very effective, as long as you’re careful in your counting. You also discover, as I did, that what looks like a rectangular field, is definitely not. so, again, with little real progress to show, I catch you next time.

Photo ‘survey’ of the Field

A kind friend has suggested I show some photos and drawings as I proceed here. I was in the field briefly over the weekend and I took loads of photos, so I’ve loaded some of these to give you a feel for where I’m at. It really is frustrating only getting into it for 20 minutes or an hour on the occasions when I get up to Donegal. This time we were moving furniture to Donegal and taking some bits home to Dublin and we had to leave early the next day too. So much to do; so little time!

This casts shadow above the rock as it stands on south edge

This neighbour’s casts shadow above the rock … it stands on south edge.

In order to get the most out of my opportunity and thinking similarly to my friend, I took about 30 photos up and down and across from different angles. I took photos of some of the features: some of the willows, old wall, ‘the rock’, trying to capture as much as I could for me … and for you. I will be starting to draw what is called a ‘base map’ shortly and I will use the photos as references. The base map is a simple map of the site omitting anything you’re going to remove and showing the existing features in position. then you can copy this multiple times and record specific things on different copies and, if you use tracing paper or clear acetate to draw on, you can overlay the different elements. Aranya, in Permaculture Design (see my book review) deals with this process in detail.

The rock/bank stands about 7 feet tall.

The rock/bank stands about 7 feet tall.

I thought it only fair to show my hardworking staff at work. I can’t do this on my own! Here, one of Shaun’s sheep keeps the grass down and the field manured … believe me there’s plenty manure. I’m amazed how tight they get it and even eat weeds down to the root and can tackle young bramble too. Worth their weight in … manure! 🙂



This hole in the bottom of the north wall is where the drain enters the field. it measures about 18 inches (450 mm) across and about a foot (300 mm) high. I love these little gems of old field-craft; things a city-boy would never see. This is the sort of detail you uncover when you do a deliberate ‘survey’ of a property. So often we miss the detail while looking at the field, or the view, or the neighbour’s place. I own the field for years, but only when I look with the eyes of a permaculture design survey did I see many small details I’d never seen before.

I was planning a trip to Donegal and the field for this St Patrick’s weekend (2014), but my wife had a fall last week and we’ve had to cancel that. I had hoped to draw a Base Map of the site. More on that next time.

What to do first? Hard landscaping.

I’ve already said I will begin by cutting down / cutting back the old willow hedge, and so I shall. However one group of things I need to place, in my head, at least, is the structures and similar ‘hard’ landscaping elements. I need / want a shed and space we can use for storage of tools and also as a seating, or workspace, where perhaps, of a summer’s evening, one might watch the sun go down and sip a glass of wine. (Relax: I’m 40 years married next month!) This space might also facilitate the making of a cup of tea and perhaps a loo … “A man has to do etc etc.” Although the permaculture writers do extol the value of human urine as a nitrogen rich fertilizer.

I’m thinking a 20 foot container, or an old caravan. The latter scares me as caravans are mentioned specifically on the county council website as undesirable for more than a brief period. I need a shed and workspace. My wife paints and will need a studio space. I’ll be in the garden and would appreciate somewhere to get out of the sun/rain from time to time. I’m also fond of a cup of tea, when the humour takes me. So I’m looking to have it all and have it now, as the young folk say.

If anyone out there in internet world has any ideas, I’d appreciate some input here. I’ve no skills around welding, or converting a steel container into a suitable space. I’ve done ‘YouTube’ videos on insulating and converting containers into classrooms and the like but that’s all very fine … on YouTube! Very different thing in my field, with my container. Oops. My daughter says you can find everything online: used double glazed doors and windows, drainpipes … ‘whatever’. Maybe it IS possible on a shoestring.

That’s one problem.

Another is there’s a very wet segment in the bottom of my field. I’m wondering if there’s a spring there. I plan to dig a fairly big hole and see if it fills up and develops a flow. Any thoughts on that one? It would be BRILLIANT if there was. Then I could begin to develop a system to harvest some this water flow for the house and eliminate some of my water charges, Any surplus could be diverted into the pond already mentioned. (Permaculture again: one function provided by multiple elements.) We currently have no charges for drinking or toilet water for our homes in Ireland. This however is about to change, later this year, when our ‘beloved’ government is to introduce water charges. So water harvest becomes a deliberate and money-saving requirement.

I have plenty of water harvesting opportunities around the house and garage. Both are higher than the garden, so it should be easy enough to redirect roof water into tanks, through filters, so we can pump it into the house for use in toilets and for showers. Surplus run-off can be directed into pipes under the road and into the garden steam / pond system. A grey water system, perhaps using reed beds is also a possibility.

Another plan is to divert a drain that passes along my boundary with my (higher) neighbour, into my property when it first enters the site below the road. Then I can take it away from the boundary into the property on a meandering path and into a proposed pond. Finally I hope to allow it curve its way down to the existing low point, where it exits my field. it’s what might be called a ‘seasonal stream’, as it tends to become almost totally dry in summer, even in Ireland!

So, plenty of plans and thoughts. But what will I be  ABLE to do? i.e. allowed to do? Aaaaghhhhhh.

There’s a contact form on my last post. feel free to come back to me with your ideas. Thanks.

Catch you later.