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Stanhope Suburban Homestead Design Competition - Entry B-14 September 2, 2013

Permaculture Suburban Design This design is for a suburban yard in a semi-urban environment occupied by a family or small community. It is permaculture-based, hence sustainable and optimally-respectful of the environment. Design of the house itself is not included here, as it is the focus of a separate project. The design is prepared for entry into a design competition centered on a specific property in Keene, NH. The design itself, however, can be adapted to other properties not suffering from undue constraints. The property and house are currently unoccupied and there is thus no client to guide the design. This implies a merely suggestive design which will eventually need to shape itself to the residents’ particular needs and wishes. The permaculture paradigm of this design is meant to serve as a guide to a family seeking a high degree of self-reliance in providing their food and energy, all on a part-time basis for most, if not all, of its members. It also responds to a family’s commitment to a green lifestyle involving organic agriculture, waste recycling, frugality and simplicity. In this sense, it involves both land and social aspects. Some of the ecological and architectural terms (for instance Hugelkultur or Trombe wall) may not be familiar to all, but these and other terms can be accessed online (Wikipedia etc.) for clarification.

Core design elements     

A sustainable food-producing property, to include vegetables, grains, meat and eggs. An energy- and food-producing greenhouse attached to the house. A grid intertie approach (see Energy section below) Resource and recycling built-in processes. Leisure features for the family.


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Adaptive growth over time.

Views The best way to get a grasp of the design is to view the 4 graphics provided at the end of the document. They are… Existing Conditions The property is generally flat lawn studded with trees in various places. The neighborhood is an older, established one, dating back to the middle of last century. It is likely that one of the families living there in the past would have had a vegetable garden, but there is no sign of any recent gardening activity; this implies an impoverished soil that will need much initial improvement before its microbial activity becomes rich and sustainable. The procedure of sheet mulching is suggested to convert the lawn to a productive food garden. Land Use See the section The 5 land features below. Homestead Features These are some of the main features of the design, presented graphically. Greenhouse Portrayed here are the particulars of the greenhouse, a central element in the design.

The 5 land features 

Vegetable gardens o 3 gardens: small front garden, large back garden, greenhouse garden (on the side and rear of the house). Flowers and other insectary plants are interplanted within these gardens. This is particularly useful in the front garden as a nod to the norms of neighborhood living. The gardens start small and grow in size over time – See #5 in the Assumptions and the Phasing section, both below. Grains fieldlings o 2 small fields for cultivating grains, for human and animal feed, and because of ease of use: plant and reap only twice a year, done manually. Animal pasture o Backyard animals (see below) provide fun for the family. They also provide eggs, meat, and manure. In the winter, the animals live mainly in the greenhouse. Fruit land


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3 types of fruit: apple trees in the pasture, fruit trees along the driveway and in the leach field, and berry bushes in the back yard. Leisure areas o 5 types of activity areas for the family or community: play areas for the kids, light sports areas, lounging patio and fire pit, secret garden for meditation or reading. And last but not least: a hot tub within the greenhouse! See the Living here section below.

The land is distributed in these 5 components for a number of reasons:  

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The outside commitments of the residents (assumption 5) and the existing tree canopy coverage preclude more space devoted to gardening. Nor is more needed. Diversity is good for a holistic health approach, good for sustainability (e.g. animal manure enriching the garden soil), good for diminishing external expenses, and good for the human spirit in the form of the work required on the land. There is no lawn area in this design, hence no noisy mowing, one of the traditional annoyances of suburban living. While there is no place for the kids to play large area sports, there is presumably lots of space for such activities in their friends’ yards and in nearby parks. Some of the driveway is being reclaimed, assuming only one car will be garaged. Either a one-car family or the other car(s) taking up the visitors’ parking spaces. The yard is unfenced except for the pasture sector, where the animals roam freely.

The greenhouse The greenhouse, largely modeled on the Solviva greenhouse on Cape Cod (see the bibliography section), is a major feature of the project and serves 3 basic functions:     

Year-round growing of edibles. Winter quarters for most of the animals. Energy production for the house (passive solar capture). Mild heat production in winter from compost heaps. Greywater treatment during winter months.

The greenhouse establishes a controlled climate for tending a garden year-round, even in the rough winters of the north-east. The garden follows the same permaculture principles (keyhole access, crop complementarities, soil enrichment, pest control, etc.) as do the external gardens. In the hot summer, the greenhouse will be cooled through airflows created by opening included low-level windows and rooftop panels. Experimentation could also be conducted with the summer growing of tropical vegetables and fruit. In the wintertime, the animals (except for the sheep) are housed inside the greenhouse in their own winter quarters. The inside-outside pond remains active for raising cold water fish like trout, while the inside fish tank is devoted to warm water fish; it also enables experimentation with aquaponics.


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A major function of the greenhouse is passive solar capture via Trombe walls for 3-season heating of the house, as described in the Energy section below. In the summer, these walls are covered in white cloth and emptied of any water content to preclude heat storage. The greenhouse is limited in size in its first year, so as to make it manageable. It is expanded to include the hot-tub and additional gardens in its second year.

The gardens and other growing areas All growing on the property is organic, with no commercial fertilizers or pesticides being used, ever. Organic measures are employed for both soil conditioning and pest control. All three gardens (greenhouse, backyard, front yard) intermingle vegetables and flowers according to the wishes of the residents. The gardens follow permaculture design principles and add to it hugelkultur (growing on mounds over rotting logs). Apart from the greenhouse garden, the backyard garden is the main garden of the property. This is to be established over time, as work effort is available from the residents (see the Phasing section below). This is the main seasonal vegetable garden, planted with seedlings started in the greenhouse and continually planted and harvested throughout the summer. This garden lies in the most open sunny area on the property. In the fall, it will be planted with a winter green cover crop to enrich the soil for the next growing season. The front garden, which gives on the street, would be similar, with perhaps a greater proportion of flowers and other ornamentals. Two small fields (fieldlings) provide grain crops for human and animal feed (lucerne hay, etc.). They are planted and harvested in spring and in the fall, without mechanical machinery (oh, the joy of using a scythe!). The fieldlings are watered from the sky (rain) only. For these reasons, they require much less effort than the gardens (see assumption 5 below). Green cover crops in the winter enrich the soil and preclude the need for crop rotation. The area around the driveway will be planted with fruit trees (peaches, pears, nuts ‌) and ornamentals. This area includes the leach field for effluent from the toilet in the house (see the Waste section below). Note that the existing apple trees on the property are kept in place, although rejuvenated through cautious pruning. The driveway area also includes a largish covered (and openable)bin for the delivery of well composted (odorless)manure from a local area farm to be used as soil amendment in the various gardens as the homestead gets established with its own composting processes.

The pasture and its animals The pasture is a green area for raising the backyard animals kept on the property. It is fairly large to start with and can be further expanded or rotated as needed later on. A good deal of it is shaded in the


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summer by the existing trees on the west side of the property. Currently mostly a lawn area, it can be left to grow and self-seed itself, while being munched on and fertilized by the animals. The pasture includes a wetland/pond adjacent to the west side of the greenhouse. This will be particularly attractive to some of the animals and will also be used for fish. Later, the pond could be expanded into a swimming hole if desired and if there is sufficient water. Water in the pond will be aerated via the power provided by a small windmill installed nearby. Four types of animals are suggested, although the eventual residents may have different preferences.    

Typical pets, particularly dogs. Backyard animals, such as chickens, rabbits, ducks, perhaps a few sheep. Farmed fish: trout and tilapia or catfish. Wild residents: bees, pigeons, bats, martins and other birds.

Cats are not recommended because of their aggressive behavior towards birds, especially fledglings. Indeed, it would be nice for the residents to establish the property as a bird sanctuary. Even to provide bird baths, bird houses, and bird feeders in wintertime. The ducks will have a duck hut (merely a shelter) next to the pond and a nesting spot inside the greenhouse for the winter. The pond is an indoor-outdoor pond, partly within the greenhouse. In the summer, panels can be removed at water level for easy access; in the winter, the panels reach just below water level and the ducks have access in and out by swimming under them. The other backyard animals are housed in a combined coop/hutch/covered pen under the foliage of the main trees. Their feeding station is likewise built under the apple trees. As for the wild residents, the pigeons and bats can have built-ins in/on the main animal structure. The others are housed elsewhere on the property. The pasture will have a double-gate entry at the north-west corner of the property for use mainly by visiting neighbors (see the Community section further on). Main pasture access for the family is from the door on the west side of the greenhouse.

The edibles       

Vegetables Eggs Meat Grains Fruit and berries Mushrooms Cultivated ‘wild greens’ and edible flowers


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All organic and well-raised.

Energy and water A grid intertie approach (see the Ryker book in the bibliography) is proposed, which incorporates offgrid technologies while remaining connected to municipal systems. The principal advantage is flexibility at 3 levels: fluid use of the technologies, cost spreading over time, and legal regulations. Additional energy provided by 5 types of process:     

Solar heat capture from Trombe walls in 3 areas: the house walls within the greenhouse, the southern garage wall, and the hot tub walls (half-walls). Solar collector for hot water production (on the house roof). Photovoltaic panels for electricity. Heat produced by the greenhouse compost bins. Wood burning stove in the house.

Some of these alternative energy systems will profit from the NH renewable energy incentives programs and from the Keene town property tax incentives. Two further sources of energy could be experimented with later on, and are thus planned for in the design:  

Wind energy from small backyard wind turbines atop the garage. Geothermal system to tap the ground’s steady temperature.

Additional water will be provided by rainwater collection from the house roof, the greenhouse, the garage roof, and the animal structure roof, each with in-built water storage tank facilities.

Recycling waste Recycling of household products (paper, plastics, glass, kitchen refuse…) will all be handled within the house and likely dealt with in the interior house design, potentially in conjunction with some elements in the greenhouse regarding vermiculture composting of food waste. The permaculture design involves recycling 4 types of waste:    

Plant waste. Animal waste. Greywater waste from the house. Human waste.


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The grid intertie approach is also useful here for the later two types, especially in relation to city permitting processes, which may be limited and lengthy. Until officially approved, the planned in-place treatment of greywater and human waste can be delayed and such waste simply evacuated through the city waste system to which the house is already connected. Plant and animal waste (which will eventually be fairly substantial) will be collected in a number of localized compost bins set around the property. This strategy makes it easy to dispose of this waste and re-use it once composted. The composting process is odorless and varmint-proof since no meat or dairy products are included. Greywater waste is drained into a small holding tank in the greenhouse. From there, some of it is processed in a small biocarbon wetland bed (wood chips and dead leaves) planted with appropriate vegetation (such as Canna lilies, bulrush, etc.). Once so purified, it is then used for general watering. The rest of it is directed to a similar outside purification bed next to the pond area in the pasture. The humanure system is copied from the system in use for a great many years at the Solviva house on Cade Cod (see Bibliography). It involves a regular flush toilet in the bathroom, which empties into a compost filter box attached to the east side of the house. This fully enclosed and well-insulated box is filled with a biocarbon mix and a colony of worms that process the waste and continually reduce it to compost usable in certain areas of the property. The liquid effluent seeps through the box and drains out into connected ground-level biocarbon beds with appropriate plants to absorb the nitrogen and filter the pathogens in the waste. These various waste recycling and water purification management strategies, as demonstrated at Solviva, are sanitary, trouble-free and non-polluting localized processes that offer a bright alternative to city-based waste disposal.

House-yard linkages A number of design ideas cut across the 2 separate design projects for the Stanhope Avenue lot:       

The grid intertie approach. The greenhouse passive solar design, incorporating a Trombe wall. A hot-water solar collector on the roof of the house. Roof-water collection and usage within the house and greenhouse. Waste disposal of greywater and human waste. Food storage in a cold-room to be built in the basement, as well as in basement freezers. Growing of mushrooms in a specific area of the basement selected for that, since mushrooms need no light to grow. This in addition to the outdoor growing of seasonal mushrooms.

These linkages will involve coordination between the two design projects and involve a number of assumptions, as specified below.


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Living here The property would be most appropriate for a growing family or for a small intentional community of like-minded adults sharing the facility. Discussed below is the family situation, but the community one would be quite similar. A good deal of the food needed by the family would come from the gardens, the fieldlings, the fruit trees and the animals, for a very varied and healthy diet. All organic and humanely raised and culled, of course. Establishing and maintaining this homestead life will require quite some effort, of course, but it will be pleasant work and will give a lot of pride in what is achieved. Given what is being proposed, the family living here will likely be comfortable with a relaxed lifestyle espousing voluntary simplicity (for instance no car, or only one) and social networking (for instance, bartering with production surpluses). The kids will have a backyard different from those of their neighborhood friends and which complements them nicely in terms of possible activities. Of particular interest will be the proposed maze for the very young and a tree-house fort and rope walkways within the white pines. The leisure activities of the family as a group are small-scale but varied. Proposed are horseshoes, pingpong (with the table housed in the old garage), tetherball, camp fires, reading or meditation in the secret garden, all activities to be adopted or replaced by the eventual residents according to their own interests. Of particular interest will likely be the proposed hot tub to be established on the existing cement platform in the back yard. Being within the greenhouse, the hot tub will be particularly appreciated in the wintertime when it is snowing outside! The water in the hot tub will be heated by the attached Trombe short-wall and possibly with additional electric energy as needed. The backyard selection of animals will not only provide food for the family, but also loads of entertainment freely obtained from the antics of these animals. A pleasure for the whole family and all friends (and neighbors, see below).

Community living As an unusual and forerunner property in a traditional town, it is important and desirable for the residents to be in touch with their neighbors and to be inviting to the larger Keene community to see what is being accomplished on the property. Opening up the property somewhat to the community can help in this regard and ties in nicely with Keene’s Building a Spirit of Place community development and beautification effort. Seven specifics are suggested:


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Community bulletin board. This will provide a place for the residents (and neighbors) to post announcements of interest to other community members. Visiting path. This will allow neighbors and others to freely visit the property, especially the pasture with its animals, on their own even when the residents are absent or otherwise occupied. Of course, indication of when it is inappropriate to visit can be posted on the bulletin board planted at the entrance to the path. Stanhope Avenue website. A standard website devoted to the property and its lifestyle, providing information for neighbors and visitors from the community and elsewhere. Also publicizing any special events planned for the site, such as public demos or invitations to work parties, etc. Animal food bin. A relatively small bin to be set up outside the entrance to the pasture, in which neighbors can deposit selected leftover food scraps or garden scraps for distribution to the animals. Co-op tool shed. This is envisioned as a neighborhood borrowing facility for tools, particularly big tools such as a log splitter or a small branch chipper. Neighbors will likely not only borrow tools as needed, but also contribute some of their own tools to the co-op. All on an honor basis and in a friendly manner. This tool co-op could be housed in a section of the existing garage. Carbon reception bins. As a lot of carbon-based materials (such as wood chips, dead branches to be chipped, and tree leaves) will be needed to add to the compost bins and condition the animal beds, bins are to be built (next to the delivery bin just behind the visitor parking area) to receive any such materials being dumped by understanding neighbors who do not want to compost their own. Although many will probably eventually see just how useful localized composting is. Surplus plant exchange. It would be nice to organize an annual plant exchange at which the residents and the neighbors offer their surplus plants to others in a simple exchange. Take a one and leave a one. Surplus plants can also be announced for giving on the bulletin board at other times of the year.

Project assumptions 1. The interior house design will welcome the addition of the planned greenhouse attachment and its passive solar features. 2. The house design will welcome the human waste management process proposed here and the local code will eventually permit such a process. 3. The neighbors will be permaculture-friendly, including the animal features, or be befriended into this way of life. 4. Money will be available for initial set-up. 5. The adults living on the property will have regular jobs and thus be involved only part-time (leisure time) with gardening and animal care.


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Phasing of the project Everything cannot be done in the first year of occupation of the property. And so, some things come first and others later on. Here are some suggestions: 

Initial tasks: o Meet the neighbors (the Meades, Taylors, Hazens, and other immediate neighbors), who will not only be local resources (what varmints prowl the neighborhood?, etc.), but perhaps become eventual friends as well. o Buy and plant fruit trees and berry bushes, since they will take some time to grow and start fruiting. o Adapt plans to your own desires and interests. o Assess the site, particularly the soil conditions, in order to determine needed improvements in specific areas before planting, such as one-time plowing to counteract existing soil compaction. First summer: o Prepare and plant garden beds in area to be covered by the greenhouse. o Install the passive solar system and the greenhouse (assuming money is available for these expenses). o Get a few animals. When too wet or cold to garden: o Fence in the animal pasture and dig the pond. o Build the animal summer and winter quarters. o Install the alternative energy, water, and waste systems. Second year: o Prepare and sow the meadows for grains. o Prepare and plant the two outdoor gardens (front yard and back yard) o Get more animals. Whenever you just feel like doing it: o Build your leisure areas.

Maintaining sustainability Keeping the place going in a sustainable fashion just requires the usual chores of owning a permaculture garden and keeping backyard animals. Some of the tasks involved, all enjoyable if done with a proper attitude:    

Spring… Growing seedlings and planting out the crops. Summer… Experimenting with tropicals in the greenhouse. Fall… Cold season preparation, including settling in the animals to their winter quarters in the greenhouse, planting cover crops in the fieldlings. Winter… Tending to the greenhouse dynamics.


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Sustainability is a year-long process that will require some important effort up-front, but once established, it will become a dynamic ecosystem in equilibrium involving human activities that become routinized.

Bibliography There are many books and resources to be consulted, but here are 4 of the most exciting:    

Retrofitting the suburbs for the energy descent future, by David Holmgren Off the Grid, by Lori Ryker Solviva, by Anna Edey Edible Forest Gardens, by Dave Jacke


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By Philip Duchastel