Suggestions to develop logged hilly land

Hello friends,
I have been reading these forums for past several months and joined today to seek suggestion to my very specific need. I  have no farming experience but has been educating myself on ecological farming methods.

I recently bought a 10 acre land near Sawantwadi in southern Maharashtra. There was originally a forest which was logged about 10 years back, it was again logged in 2012 for harvesting firewood. Today there are only stumps of old trees and a dense regrowth forest in very initial stages. The land rises in elevation from 70 meters above MSL to 130 meters over a distance of 350 meter with variable gradient at different places. There is a seasonal stream that runs through the land and there is no scarcity of water.

I want to develop this degraded forest into an ecologically sustainable farm based on permaculture principles. I understand that it will need earthworks for digging ponds, swales and terracing; all of which are yet to be planned. But I do not want to just go big bang with JCB, completely clear all the vegetation and then terrace the land, as has been advised by everybody I talked to on neighbouring farms. I fear it will be more ecologically damaging to land and soil biome, which I want to avoid.

All the experts and enthusiasts, please suggest how should I proceed in this case.

Disclaimer: Iam no expert!!

Pls post snaps of the land…to get a idea
Natural farming prefers growing the local plants…check the surrounding lands for local crops/plants Have a soil test done to know whats best.
Grow some green manure…sunhemp etc for a layer mulch…or cut the undergrowth to use as mulch…mulching is preferred method in Natural farming
Dig holes (without JCB)where water stagnates…to conserve water…based on observation and recent rain fall( if any…since its Maharashtra!!) You can build small earth check dams on the seasonal stream…to conserve water…allow/grow plants beside the stream to conserve water or for consumption. You will need water source…bore/well…perennial one… for crops/plantation and or habitation.  Wild gooseberry/ amla could be one plant for hilly terrain.

Hello Vinay, thanks for your response.

I have attached few photos from Google Earth to give you a perspective of my land and also few photos showing its vegetation during the dry and wet months. Average annual rainfall in this region is about 4000 mm, but this year it has been a little less - may be around 2500 to 3000 mm, but in no way a scarcity situation.

I want to develop this land according to permaculture principle of Earth Care. As you can see there is good amount of vegetation on the hill. I can use that vegetation for mulch or in many other ways to enrich the soil.
As is obvious, I will have to terrace the hill to increase utilizable area and for better management of farm. But I am very reluctant to cut down the vegetation, which also includes few large trees, so that JCB can go in to terrace the hill.
Also, I am concerned that cutting down the trees will disturb and degrade the soil ecology. Currently as it has been an undisturbed regrowth forest of 3 years I assume the soil is also recovering and healthier now.

So my dilemma is how to not cut any trees and still terrace the land. Any and every suggestion is welcome.

There are already few Charoli (Chironji), Indian Gooseberry (Amla), Kokum and few timber trees and bamboo growing wild. I will certainly integrate and propagate them in my farm. I am also researching other varieties of tropical fruit trees that I can plant on this farm.

Nice  farm land!
Did u google for permaculture farms in Maharashtra? U can connect with similar farms. … /van-vadi/  for permaculture

The july/aug snap appears green…the may one looks scrubby.
You could grow bamboo and timber trees around the perimeter of the farm…bamboo can be used on the farm(fencing…supports for growing creepers )
As you rightly mentioned …you could propagate the present usefulf trees to proliferate. 
The stream looks to be originating from your land …why dont you plan to hold the water rather then letting spill out of your boundaries? 
If you have luxury of time… dont terrace…watch and proliferate the present useful trees …plan after a year or two
Kindly note i have no experience…only teeny-weeny knowledge from books of Fukuoka  ( )

Hello Vinay,

Thanks for your response and link to Van Vadi. It was very informative and inspiring to read their story. I am trying to learn from as many sources as possible so that I can find solutions to my specific situations. Books from Fukuoka, Bill Mollison and Sepp Holzer have been of great help.
I intend to survey my land and map the topography this Dec. as it is essential to plan all the needed features on the land.  The stream originates within our boundary, so I am planning to develop 2-3 pools spread higher up on the land and divert water from the stream through swales on contour, so that water is held up there for longer.  Also I am planning to dig a pond at the base to hold as much of the water that flows down from top pools and swales.

The land has varying incline – at places very steep and others lesser so. I think terracing will help transforming more of slopes to cultivable land, easing access and also preventing water run-off.  Also, I think doing all of it at the beginning and in one go will be better as no more disturbance of land will be required. Later on terracing may not even be feasible as there will be plantation growing around.

So my problem is – I do not want to much disturb the land and destroy vegetation, but still require terracing and those pools. Doing it with JCB will be easy but more damaging and doing it with manual labor, which will cause least damage, has its own challenges and does not look feasible at present. How to overcome this contradiction?

I will further search for support and advice in permaculture community.  If possible, I will find some similar farms to visit and learn first-hand. You have any recommendations?

Have u seen this links… … ce-garden/ … ce-a-hill/

On the weekends you can camp out on your farm and build it bit by bit.

Here’s my 2 cents from what I’ve learned so far:

Since you have bought a hilly piece of land, you require to put in additional thought and work into making things a success. If possible, do nothing with the land until you get a chance to observe what occurs during a sustained heavy rainfall, ideally during the monsoons. Walk the length and breadth of the property while it is raining heavily and understand how the rainwater is flowing, where it is eroding the most, where it is collecting etc. This will immensely help your planning effort.

In principle, you should try to:

  1. Spread the water flow as much as possible around the land while significantly slowing it down.
  2. Build storage ponds around the higher reaches of your property so the water percolates down and flows naturally down the slope under the soil towards the edge of your property.
  3. Putting a pond at the lower edges of your property may not be of much use to you besides being a means to check erosion and storage.
  4. Plant a lot of trees, especially N fixing trees as a supporting tree to the tree that fetches $.
  5. Pumping water up a 60 meter incline isn’t going to be fun. Plan your water requirements for the higher parts such that you have adequate storage at the top from the stream/rain events.
  6. If you are able to build a large storage body high up and find a source besides the stream, irrigating your land during the drier months will be a piece of cake.
  7. Explore the possibility of constructing a Suranga for some of your water requirements; they are found in your area.

When it is time to summon the JCB:

  1. Make sure the JCB driver is an expert! Very very important to avoid costly mistakes and heartache.
  2. Understand what trees are useful to you and what you would like to retain and what you would want to eliminate. Make sure your reasons for elimination are sound for it will take several years for a tree to grow back again. Mark the trees for removal by tying a ribbon for quick identification (or the other way around).
  3. Do not rush thinking of the per-hour rate. Slow it down when required and do not hesitate to stop work and think things through before allowing work to continue. This could save you laborious double work and further expenses.
  4. Work on small areas at a time. Hire the JCB for half the day or less and carry out a small task to check if the results match your plan. Take some time and think about the results before hiring the JCB again.
  5. Have a plan worked out in detail before the JCB arrives.
  6. Start work at the top and work your way down; your goal should be to check erosion at the higher reaches and to retain water at each stage.
  7. Start with planning a pond at the higher reaches and connect this pond through a network of swales and spillways to another couple of ponds located suitably along the incline where the water is flowing to.
  8. Dig your swales deeper and wider where there are very heavy flows and at the edge of your property.
  9. Plant trees along the downstream edges of the swale (at the end of the bund down the slope, not on top of it).
  10. It will help to have an outline and or contour map of your land to make plans.
  11. With enough thought, time, money and hard work invested in the project, you will be able to get this done.

Hi PrafulK, interesting to see how this project has progressed. May we please have an update?