Tag Archives: Observation

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?

“Don’t just do something, stand there!”

I’m right at the beginning of transitioning (is that a word?) from reading books and watching endless Youtube videos about Permaculture and Permaculture Design, to getting down and dirty with my field and doing something to take me towards what I think I want to do with it.

All the books tell me to slow down and, if I can, observe the site for an entire season, a whole year. Definitely a case of “Don’t just do something, stand there!” Well, I was in Donegal last week … oh, I’ve already told you about the drop of 28 feet. It wouldn’t stand scientific scrutiny, but for now it tells me I can grow quite large trees down there (up to 30 feet) and not intrude upon the view across the site from the house, which is fantastic … the view, that is! Slieve League and Teelin Harbour. This is good information.

So, what DO I want to do with it? Well, at its simplest, I want to use the field. It has lain idle pretty- well the entire time I’ve owned it and that’s just not right going forward. So my starting plan is to grow food using the practices and disciplines of permaculture. These say that I should

  • aim to produce increasing harvests with decreasing inputs over time.
  • optimise the use of local resources and energies and
  • minimise the amount of inputs I take in from outside the local area.
  • mimic what nature does in wild woodlands.

This will be good for my local area, for the air we breathe, for my family and good for the animals and plants that will live with us in and around the property.

The energies concept is interesting. Every site has them, energies or inherent resources: wind, rain and sunlight in different degrees. My site also has a strong slope and a stream down the side and across (in a pipe) at the low point. it has a really big rock (about 6 feet tall), under a neighbour’s overhanging tree, on its south edge and it had (perish the thought) an old (and probably inefficient) septic tank that the government will soon be coming to inspect. When they do, I’ll replace it with a modern efficient system. but until they come, I’m doing nothing, because they’ll probably want me to change whatever I put in now anyway. For now, I’ll wait and make sure I only have to do the job once! I need to capture these energies / resources and make sure I get the best use from them before they leave my site and my control.

How? Perhaps a wind turbine will work to power any pumps I may need, a kettle for a cuppa, a light to read / work by, power for chain-saw or shredder. I’ll see can I redirect the stream/drain, so that I give myself a trickling, aerating stream flowing into a small pond for perhaps some ducks at some point. A pond is good for frogs, birds and other friendly pest predators. Ducks will eat copious amounts of slugs and creepy crawlies and give me a harvest of eggs as well and, of course, manure. The rock will be a thermal mass to capture and then reflect heat out onto a bed, giving a warm micro-climate for tender plants. The sun will ‘feed’ trees, bushes and plants of different heights, with the tallest to the north side, smallest to the south and west, minimising shadow. I’ll have to block some of those prevailing SW winds with a hedge or fence of some kind, to allow shelter for the plants and fruit trees/bushes. I also want some nice sitting areas for afternoon tea, or an evening glass of wine and to allow my wife sit and paint and enjoy the view.

I am also thinking of putting in a container or old caravan as a shed and protected sitting / work space with the makings of a cup of tea out of the rain. it would also provide shelter/ climbing structure for a fruit tree, or a vine of some kind and perhaps a water harvest off the roof to irrigate a vegetable bed on the sunny side. Lots of possibilities.

This nicely demonstrates another principle of permaculture: one element providing multiple functions, and each function provided by multiple elements. This gives a resilient system, where if one element (crop) fails one year, I’m not left hungry. When Ireland’s major staple, the potato, failed in the 1840’s, the country collapsed into a disastrous famine. Diversity prevents this type of occurrance.

First job: start to cut back the old willow hedge on the north side. This runs most of the length so it will be a big job, not to be rushed … not with my back! Therefore I will start slowly, cutting with my loppers, bushman saw, or perhaps a small electric chainsaw on the thicker boughs. I’ll provide myself with a substantial amount of firewood (once it’s seasoned), I’ll get a heck of a lot of fresh air and exercise, I’ll get to see the field for long periods of time, some days early, some days late, through several seasons. Multiple harvests! It will give me something to be doing while I observe the site over time. While this is going on, of course, I can also develop a modest veggie patch at the top of the site, where it’s easy to get to from the house and easy to pick from.

That’s enough for today, don’t you think?

By the way. I’m adding a contact for if you’ld like to get in touch.