When developing a permaculture homestead, you’ve got a lot of dreams and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. In fact, you’re probably wondering where to start. Here’s how to create a plan that breaks down all your dreams for your permaculture homestead into bite-sized phases of development.
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Phases of Development for Your Master Plan
In my article 6 Maps to Draw for the Permaculture Designed Homestead, I walked you through creating a master plan for your homestead paradise. In this article, we will work from the master plan to produce phases of development.
Here is my Master Plan:
Planning Phases of Development
With our Master Plan in hand, we have a grand vision for our homestead. In my own Master Plan above, MY DREAM is to create:
- a food forest
- a meadow
- walking trails in the woods with edible foraging strips throughout
- a vegetable garden
- a collection of outbuildings including a garden shed, wood shed, small livestock compound, composting center, and greenhouse
Each of these dreams will take significant time, effort, and cost to complete. For this reason, the worst thing I could do is try my hand at all of them at the same time, willy-nilly!
Give each dream the proper attention so it is done well and functions efficiently within the whole system.
What we need now is a realistic schedule that not only breaks down the whole list into manageable steps, but that also considers emergent and limiting factors to put the steps into the most efficient and logical ORDER.
Let’s dive in and see if we can make sense of this.
I’m going to walk you through five exercises that will help you prioritize your dreams and plan phases of development.
Exercise #1: The BIG LIST
In this step, list all the MAJOR considerations within EACH of your dreams. Here’s an example of the difference between a major and minor consideration:
Major Consideration: Having a water source for your garden
Minor Consideration: What you want to plant (That part comes later!)
For example, for my Vegetable Garden Dream, I must consider the following major tasks/challenges:
- Water: Downspouts from the house need buried and directed to garden; there is no spigot near the garden
- Storage: There is no storage for supplies or materials near the garden
- Garden Design: Plan layout of permanent beds
- Bed Development: Import organic matter and materials for raised beds
- Fencing: Deer, raccoons, and many more critters from the woods will be vying for my delicious crops!
I’ve put the above tasks and challenges into the most logical order I can think of in this moment. I don’t want to plant a garden before I have a water source or before I have a place to store equipment and materials.
I also don’t want to plant anything before I’ve put up proper fencing. Rather than plant a garden and then curse the deer for eating it, I will take the proper action before growing any crops. (Avoid time and money wasters whenever possible).
Phases of development don’t have to be super-productive phases. We developed the original Tenth Acre Farm over 8 years. There was very little productivity in those first couple of years, but the end result was an amazingly beautiful, efficient, and productive micro-farm.
Would you like to learn more about using permaculture design to improve the biodiversity of your garden, reduce maintenance, and increase yield?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Exercise #2: EMERGENT AND LIMITING FACTORS
In this step, you will go deeper into what factors may affect the ORDER in which you complete your phases of development.
Emergent Factors are emergency-type tasks that need to be completed right away.
Example 1: Our basement floods when it rains because the downspouts are improperly channeled and the formal landscaping is improperly graded.
I’ve moved ‘properly channel downspouts toward future growing areas‘ to the top of our task list because it solves an emergent issue. I’ve also added ‘regrade and redesign formal landscape‘ to the top of the task list for the same reason.
One emergent factor can create a cascade of other tasks that move higher on the list.
Limiting Factors are challenges that might prevent certain tasks from being completed in a certain order.
Some examples are:
- Seasonal: Tasks that can only be completed during a certain time of year
- Financial: Tasks that have to wait until money is saved
- Labor: Tasks that must be completed by skilled professionals or that have to wait until helpers are available
- Resource: Tasks that must wait until resources/tools/materials are purchased/collected/delivered
Example: My Vegetable Garden Dream requires that we build a garden shed for tool/material storage, which must also include a spigot for watering (running a water line as well as electric). This will be time-consuming (and perhaps expensive) to build. When I factor in the additional costs of garden bed development and fencing, the vegetable garden project as a whole moves lower down on the list while we save money for it.
Exercise #3: SMALL CHANGES WITH AN IMMEDIATE BENEFIT
Are there any tasks that you can do before others, are easy to complete, and would create significant momentum? In permaculture, this is referred to as ‘the least change for the greatest effect’. We want small and easy wins to motivate and encourage us to keep going (low hanging fruit).
It can be beneficial to work outward from your zone 1 (see 6 Maps for your Permaculture Homestead for an explanation of zones) or other already managed areas.
Example: Regrading and redesigning my formal landscape (zone 1):
- allows us to bury downspouts and properly direct them toward growing areas (passive irrigation)
- eliminates basement flooding
- improves biodiversity with more flowering and native plants (good for future gardens)
- improves curb appeal and general enjoyment of outdoor sitting areas
- reduces formal landscape by 685 square feet, making it more manageable so there is more time for food-growing projects
Now obviously the formal landscape is not useful in the sense that it produces a lot of food. But it does help us knock out several challenges at once, giving us momentum, and takes away the nagging in the back of my mind about the jungle growing by the front door.
This exercise ultimately helps to relieve worry of all there is to do and starts momentum in the right direction. When we have a clear plan of action, we can simply focus on the next thing on the list, and put all our energy into it.
Exercise #4: The TIMELINE
For this exercise, it can be helpful to physically put your major tasks in the most efficient/logical order. I like to use sticky notes on a whiteboard, other people like to use index cards, and still others like to use a spreadsheet on the computer. Choose what works for you.
Here’s what my timeline looks like when I put all of the major tasks into order, considering my dreams, emergent/limiting factors, and easy wins:
Exercise #5: PHASES OF DEVELOPMENT
Now take your timeline of tasks and divide them into phases of development.
I like to think of phases in terms of YEARS.
In this case, when I take the 25 tasks on my timeline above and divide them into phases, here is what I get:
Phases of development allow you to have a stopping point. To be sure, we homesteaders could easily to-do-list ourselves right to our grave, and life is definitely more than a to-do list!
At the end of a phase, stop to enjoy and appreciate what you’ve created. Celebrate your hard work and commitment to work done well.
The cool thing about doing this with sticky notes on a whiteboard is that if something doesn’t get done during the prescribed phase (year), it can simply be moved to the next phase (year) with an adjustment of sticky notes.
Our Phase One here at Tenth Acre Farm @ Twisted Creek:
As you can see in my Phases of Development photo above, we’ve already checked a few items off our Year One list and have gained momentum.
We brought in a professional tree service to take down the tall trees that were too close to the house. They chipped up the small stuff, which is a great beginning for the food forest. They left the big stuff, and we’ll slowly turn it into firewood and lumber. Once the heavy machinery was gone, we buried the downspouts, directing them to the garden areas, and regraded the formal landscaping.
I’ve redesigned the landscape, and I’m excited to have 685 square feet LESS of landscaping areas to manage. The remaining landscaped areas will be more beautiful, more biodiverse, and easier to maintain. I can’t stop smiling as we head toward food forest development right on time!
Summary for Planning Phases of Development
All things considered, developing a homestead is an exciting and rewarding venture, but it can be overwhelming to figure out how to accomplish all there is to do. Using phases of development can be super helpful for breaking down all you want to accomplish into manageable tasks and putting them into a logical and efficient order.
- Practical Permaculture: for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and the Whole Earth by Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein
- Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide by Aranya
Need more ideas for growing a permaculture garden?
Have you used phases of development to pace your way through completing a dream?