Basic Surveying for Food Forests.

Hey everyone! Today I want to talk about a useful tool that folks in the landscaping industry use to stay productive and efficient. That tool is basic surveying.

The first thing that comes to mind when most people think about food forests is a sort of wild look with no or little control. I want to discuss this idea because I think it turns people away from food forests in general. It shouldn’t because food forests can be beautiful landscaped areas, completely intentional in style but still maintaining the laissez-faire attitude.

But if you’re going to move your food forest from crazy all over the place slopes and dips to nice contours and beautiful clusters of well-designed and self-maintaining foliage, you’re going to need to know how to shoot elevations and make sure your slopes are going to work for your design.

There are a lot of really important things you have to think about when you’re setting up your land for a food forest.

One of those things, arguably the most important, is water management.

If you don’t properly survey the land first there could always be issues with backflow of water on to houses on to foundations of sheds or barns, or just plain erosion of Mounds or Hills, causing unsightly and expensive damage.

All of this can be avoided just by knowing a few certain things. These useful tips can help save you from a lot of Heartache and headaches.

So before anything goes down, it’s paramount to spend some time just observing your site. Figure out what is old what is new what is high what is low what is shady and what is sunny.

#1. The first thing you should do on your site is find what’s called a benchmark. A benchmark is literally a mark in pencil or pen or felt or maybe just something tied to a fence or a post.

You’ll want to find something on the site that will not change overtime. For instance, when we do backyards we always use the sill of the door, because we know it will never change. We’ll base all of our other measurements and elevations off of this benchmark.

Next thing you want to do is select points on your land which are important to you, as you have observed them. For instance, if you want to compare two heights, put a mark on or a stake in the ground at those locations.

Maybe you’ve made a plan and that plan includes a new deck or shed and you know approximately where the corner point of that shed or deck is going to be. Mark that too. Just mark anything you think is important.

Pro tip: it might be best to leave out some marks or stakes where access with a machine like a skid steer or a bulldozer or an excavator is going to need to get through, so you don’t have to ever remove your stakes. It’s extremely helpful on large projects and small alike.

Now that you have all of your points marked out you’re going to want to find some elevations and distances. Take your tape measure and run it from your benchmark to the steak or stake to stake and record those measurements. (this is where having a map or some kind of drawing of your site is very very useful, but there’s other ways of recording which I’ll get to in another post).

Now here comes the tricky part. You’re going to need either a very long string and a line level (just a leveling bubble on a couple of hooks, which you just put on the string anywhere), or even better you can rent a transit ( not very expensive to rent, as it’s just a tripod with a laser level on top, and a measuring stick with a sensor device that slides up and down the measuring stick). If your area is very large, you can get what’s called an engineer’s level, which is basically just a telescope with crosshairs that you pre level, and a measuring stick that you view through the telescope.

Next, you’re going to want to set up your string, laser transit, or engineer’s level so that it shows level with the benchmark you made. If the property doesn’t slope all that much and you can’t get the tripod to sit low enough to see the benchmark through the crosshairs or to point the laser directly at it, just get it as close as you can and then make note of the difference.

For instance, if your benchmark is only 1 foot off the ground, but your transit level sits 3 feet off the ground then the difference is 2 ft, so you’d write that transit is +2 ft from benchmark on your plan.

If you buy a red string you can pretend it’s a laser. You can even make laser sounds if you want. Which is just silence. Because lasers are light and they don’t make sound.

To keep things simple, let’s just assume that the benchmark can be seen directly level through the crosshairs, or that the laser transit hits the benchmark perfectly.

So for all intents and purposes, the idea is that you have a level disc that cuts a plane through your site at the level of your benchmark.

Congratulations you’re halfway there!

Now comes the easy part. Just go to the point with your measuring stick, make the laser beep or line up the crosshairs, amd measure down or up to any location that you want, from your benchmark level. Now mark that difference on your plans or right on the stake.

So there you have it. Once you have all of your different elevations from benchmark marked on your plan or in real life, you can start designing with water management in mind.

You should always keep the water flowing away from the house, Barn, or any other element that might erode away like a foundation wall. If you need to move a lot of water quickly from one area to another you can always add weeping drainage hose. It is a 4in corrugated perforated plastic hose that allows water to fall into it and then quickly move down slope two or more preferable area.

Now that you have drainage issues worked out, you can move on to what your Food Forest is going to be shaped like. This part is up to you, but if you want more design ideas, stay tuned for my post on design tips for your forest garden.

But just so you get an idea of what you’ll be trying to go for, think about this:

The idea is to slow the water down but never really stop it. Stagnant water often causes more problems then it seems. If the fact that mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water doesn’t deter you, just realize that if the water doesn’t move or it stops somewhere, it’s going to fill up that hole. And that hole only holds so much water. It will overflow to the next elevation. Trust me, you don’t want to have to deal with that kind of problem. Best to avoid it altogether, and just keep the water moving slowly. And what do you think is the best way of doing that is?

That’s right.

Evapotranspiration from trees.

That’s what you guessed right?

Of course you did. You’re very smart.

So if you’d like to know more, whether it’s the design process or just the hands on stuff, all you have to do is subscribe! Thanks for reading, and good luck.


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