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Published on Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wind...

The first in a small series of articles dealing with specific challenges or benefits that we are addressing on our larger farm. I will eventually cover Wind, Sun, Water, Traffic, and Rolling Out from Zone 1 when everything is already put down for you (Retrofit).

When you start reading about wind you come up with wind breaks.  I like the idea of a wind break but so far I have not liked the recommended species lists or the overall designs suggested by the USDA.  My first challenge with windbreaks is that they are so "linear".  The only time water flows in a straight line is when it's falling so why create wind breaks that are essentially straight lines perpendicular to the prevailing wind?  I do understand the theory behind it. But on the permaculture side of things I'm still trying to think through the line.

Out on our particular prairie I have noticed it is only a prairie because it was logged - clear cut - of the natural mixed stand of evergreen overstory with  deciduous, dryland understory.  This land, sandy clay (a more specific description can be supplied by my friend, Phil), supports large, deep rooted trees shading shallow rooted shrubs, sub-shrubs, clumping grasses, and ferns.  That's what grows here natively and I would suspect the wind has a very different effect on the ground with all of that over the top of it.  In fact, I might even suggest the reason my soil is so deep is because of the movement of the wind causing ton's of plant matter annually drifting through the branches and adding to the soil.  I'd be curious if there is any information about how the weather patterns have changed in the last 100 years just because those evergreens are gone - if anyone knows where you can find that kind of data I'd appreciate it.

Nevertheless, it's a prairie now.  The ground still holds massive amounts of water, too.  There are places on the lawn that are swampy not because of over watering but because the water actually presses up from underneath. With that much water it would seem best to plant deep rooted trees that can over shelter less robust plant life.  I'm thinking a mix of nut trees - American Chestnut, Beech, English Walnut - with Sugar Maples mixed in for additional leaf litter.  Under that I'd like to add American Persimmon, Medlar, PawPaw, hazelnuts, nitrogen fixing shrubs like pea shrub or Eleaganus spp, and Juneberry.  Into that I would mix hops vines, maypop, native clematis, European currants, jostaberry and Gooseberry.  So, with all of that in a 25-40 foot swath (on the East, West, and South sides of the lawn) around the events area there'd be plenty of space on the inside to create a more formal wall of the woody hibiscus, herbaceous hibiscus, Shasta daisies, blanket flowers, foxglove, tulips, daffodils, crocus, phlox, perennial geraniums, trellised blackberry/raspberry brambles, and even the hybridized wild roses. I would also interplant all of that with perennial herbs - Anise Hyssop, Mint, Thyme, Oregano, Sage, Marjoram, Lemon Balm, Chives, Curry Plant, Lovage, Angelica, bayberry, winter savory - and annual herbs - dill, basil, cilantro, parsley.  And because they are so prolific it would be very easy to plant strawberry everywhere they fit and let them do what strawberries do.

How does this deal with wind? Well, first it's not a single species of tree, or even a cluster of 5 that cover all the "levels".  We all know that nature doesn't work like that even if there are only a small number of apex species that dominate the tree stand.  Second it's not three layers deep or a flat wall like a traditional windbreak. It's also considerably more dense than the traditional, and far more complex - even multi strip wind breaks are designed with a row of closely planted evergreens, a swath of space, and a second row of something, another swath of space followed by a third row of something.  From the permaculture perspective this is a huge waste of space and effort just to defend against the wind.  Also, most windbreaks attempt to cause the wind to get redirected up creating a "dead" zone on the leeward side of the line.  This is so you can catch snow before it drifts or plant crop rows right up to the back side of the windbreak.  But then you create disadvantaged parts of your crop right behind their "protection" that get starved of light, have to compete with the windbreak for water, or lose the benefits of some wind to strengthen them.  Since we don't have a crop on the leeward side in the traditional sense we think we'll be taking advantage of the loess/insect drop directly behind our windbreak on the leeward sides.  Because the larger trees are dispersed they break up streams of wind without creating a full wall of shade by themselves and allow the taller shrubs to screen lower where the people are likely to appreciate a breeze but not a full scale gale force party wrecker. It would also keep us from entirely losing our pastoral views in favor of a living wind-wall.

This would also work like a strip of forest between the entertaining areas and the growing areas - an avenue for wildlife of many kinds to be themselves without turning everything over to wild space completely.  This could also allow us choose where to "lead" wildlife so they are less likely to head straight into the orchards because they're already so well fed in the windbreaks. It also gives the sense of seclusion in a clearing on the "entertainment" side with plenty of windows into the wilds to generate conversation.  In the event there is a need for more obtuse animal obstruction, I've considered planting a living fence from the mash of pear and apple pressing on the wind side specifically because they are so dense that the deer don't go through and can't jump over.  Right now, deer are not such a big deal because there just isn't any cover for them in the wide open fields; not that they don't visit, they just don't dominate.

In the long term, past the first two years of work, we're thinking to create several "belts" of these kinds of plantings and interconnect them throughout the property so that you could go from one more forested environment to a crop oriented one. It would also allow for giving some fields a rest while putting others to work, mob grazing when wanted, and other like processes to keep the ground fresh and productive.  Of course, these would also have to be planted perpendicular to the wind and across the slope to slow water down and hopefully collect it in some open ponds for fish and edible water plants.

The one really good thing about all this wind is that it is there because someone else took the time and effort to take out the forest - which, being the opportunist I am, allows me to recreate a forest structure with plants I prefer in a design I prefer with end goals that I prefer.  I may not have the wood resource the land originally came with, but I now have a design opportunity I wouldn't have otherwise and isn't that a permaculture concept in too?

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Siemen Family Farms, Inc.
Siemen Family Farms, Inc.>

Siemen Family Farms, Inc.

A Wedding and Event Center North of Deer Park, Wa with plans for a commercially viable Permaculture demonstration farm.

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3 comments on article "Wind..."

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Mike Hagar (website host)

8/29/2013 12:13 PM

Great consideration about wind Sean. As you know we have a similar problem in the Peone Prairie. We have invested in trees for wind breaks but so far have had no noticeable problem. It does get windy but mostly in the early spring and fall so timing is a big key.

I like your approach and choice of trees but on 40 acres it could get very expensive. Part of your plan may be to establish zones for animals that provide shade and seasonal fruit and nut drop (for pigs and chickens) as well as mob grazing (lots of fence for location control).

I would suggest that you invest in the book "Restoration Agriculture". He has an approach that supports what he calls "Oak Savannah". Savannah is a more open space than a Forest. Now that you have 40 acres you may be tempted to create a 40 acre zone one garden of Eden.

Wind is an issue but not necessarily one that will impact your zone 1 and 2. With weddings, kids and a large zone 1&2 (for family and events) you will have your hands pretty full. The rest of your property could be kept in Wheat (subcontracted) or grazing and should start with your animal plan.


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Annie M

10/26/2013 8:47 PM

Sean and Shannon,

Congratulations on obtaining your place. I've been reading your thoughts on handling wind/windbreaks and wanted to share a problem we have due to a neighbor erecting a long solid fence (the full 660 ft length of our property). Since the fence went in 3 years ago we've had severe frost issues on fruit tree blossoms that have never been an issue in the previous 31 years. Our property is 99 ft wide and 660 deep (1.5 acres)with the long dimension in a north/south axis. Basically a wind tunnel. This worked to our advantage before the fence went up because there wasn't much to slow the wind down. The wind coming from the southwest was channeled through the land with no barrier moving cold air with it. Now that the wind no longer has unfettered access we have severe frost damage to earlier flowering fruit like cherries and all 6 varieties of apples. We still get pears and plums. There have been many of the 34 years we've lived here that had late frosts but there has never been a complete crop failure. Some blooms got bit by frost but not every single one.


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Annie M

10/26/2013 8:59 PM

Ha! I hit add comment before I finished my thought. Sorry. From this experience I'd suggest looking carefully at where you may be creating frost pockets before you plant. You can address the problem by installing later blooming plants or funneling the wind so it's able to move the cold air through your space rather than stagnate. This has been an issue we have yet to solve. We may get some smudge pots. I've also wondered if we brought in some large basalt rocks if, because they're dark, they may absorb enough of the sun's heat to raise the temp in the orchard enough to prevent blossoms from freezing. I have not found any specific permaculture references related to blocked airflow. I sure don't want to rip out my fruit trees.

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