EARTH REPAIR CORPS

Earth Repair Corps will be publishing a series of interviews with Permaculture Design Course graduates who have used the education & resources they gained from the course to further their careers in the world of sustainability.

Our hope is to convey what a life-changing opportunity the Permaculture Design Course can be, while learning more about what first attracted these former students to sustainable design and how they have applied those principles since taking a PDC.

Learn More about the Permaculture Design Course and Register Today for our next class in 2019.

We’re continuing this series with Thora Oneil Gray of the Austin Discovery School – read more below.

1) When did you initially become interested in sustainable design and why?  Please describe to us any moments in your life that piqued your interest in sustainable, regenerative, and holistic systems.

I started off as a young environmentalist/activist condemning corporations and big government. I was attending protests, speaking up against oppression, etc. This led me to the question: “how can we do this better?”. Standing up and being pissed at the powers that be is not enough, you have to mulch the path, sow the seeds to get the results you want. I was interested in community, alternative building styles, growing food, eating healthy etc. I didn’t hear the word ‘permaculture’ until I moved to Austin. It was like an exciting map of putting together all the basic fundamentals to live more harmoniously with the natural world. 

2) What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a Permaculture Design Course?

My first official course was 3 years ago now. My goal was three fold: 1) Take the official course/receive certificate to teach in the future; 2) Plan for the future development of the Austin Discovery School’s new campus; and 3) Invite the community to take stake by adding to the design fundamentals of the school. 

3) Who taught your Permaculture Design Course and when?  What did you appreciate about that course, and what would you have like to have learned more about?

I asked Kirby Fry (Earth Repair Corps), Caroline Riley (Whole Life Learning Center), and Taelor Monroe (Austin Permaculture Guild) to come to the Austin Discovery School to teach a PDC. Each teacher brought their own unique style of teaching and deep, specialized knowledge. I really appreciated the guest speakers they brought in like Gary Freeborg and Pliny Fisk, as well as any hands on activities i.e. cob construction, Permablitz, and working with the laser level. I wish we had more time to dive deep into soil (I really just need to take a full on college course on soil – I’m totally enthralled by it).

All Images © Woody Welch 2018

4) You’re in a unique position to have hosted a Permaculture Design Course at the Austin Discovery School, and then have had a Permablitz take place at the school.  What was that experience like for you, and how may it have helped your school to advance your gardening education program?  Please describe to us a little bit about the scope of that Permablitz.

If you want something done… do it! Our little school of now 13 years has grown considerably from 100 students to over 500. When the lease finally was up at our prior residence, our administration looked at buying the buildings in the back half of the property as our permanent address. These were the buildings of the old state school that sat for 30 years unattended and returning to nature. A major renovation took place with many unintended consequences. School was delayed due to the renovation and parents were starting to lose patience. Hosting our first Permablitz was a great way to boost the morale and sense of community allowing all to take stake in our public alternative school. We had over 200 people come out to help install the the food forest. Digging over 300 linear feet of berms and swales on a dramatic slope, as well as planting 30 fruit trees and herbs. Another major hurdle that effected my program at the Austin Discovery School, Ecowellness, was installing a septic system near the gardens.  Huge amounts of caliche soil were unearthed during this installation and then spread all over the soon to be annual food gardens!! Almost 2 feet thick in some areas. Ack! We resolved this by importing well over 10,000 bags of leaf debris (thank you Craigslist) and tilling it in before digging our southeast sloping garden beds on contour. Now we practice dry land cover cropping during the summer, and chop and drop a month before school starts to encourage the soil community to thrive without major disruption.  Community and gumption – that’s what it takes. We have accomplished so much in such a short period of time with biomass and sweat equity.

5) What other courses, if any, have you participated in that have helped you to learn more about and implement sustainable design systems?

I have attended a Intro to Holistic Management at Green Gate Farms, I’ve studied herbalism with Ginger Webb (Texas Medicinals), taken the Citizen Gardner’s Course at the Sustainable Food Center, bee-keeping classes, and attended teachings with Mycoalliance.

6) Have you been able to apply what you learned from a permaculture design course to your life, and business endeavors?  If so, please elaborate.

Without a doubt I use what I have learned with permaculture every day at my job as an educator at the Austin Discovery School. I’m doing my best to leave behind a thriving ecosystem which can also be viewed as a learning lab for students k-8. 

7) Have you had the opportunity to teach, mentor, and or pass on information about sustainable design to friends, family, or employees?

I teach young folks currently. I feel confident teaching the basics to them. We do a lot of learning through doing/direct applications which is perfect for their busy bodies. Feeling the weight of a shovel, or the moving of mulch, the tasting of carrots. Kids thrive on this real-world activity with instant results they can see, touch, taste, smell, and feel. We are creating full bodied scientists. Kids who question and get over irrational fears. Because they can make observations and learn to be calm in nature. One day I would like to teach adults, right now I’m still learning by doing, experimenting, and discovering.

Thank you so much for your involvement and initiative, Thora!

 

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November 2018 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode

 

Rusty Blackhaw, Cramp Bark – Viburnum rufidulum
Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)

Fall weather draws beautiful colors from the leaves and berries of the Rusty Blackhaw tree, one of the most common and widespread species of the Viburnum genus in Texas. Rarely growing over 20 feet in height, the berries of this graceful understory tree are an important source of food for wildlife heading into winter. Viburnum rufidulum can tolerate full sun and rockier soils than other Viburnums, but truly loves to grow in the deep, rich soils and shade in the understory of tall forests, the forest edge, and along streams and rivers. They send out bright puffs of white blooms in spring, which are similar to the blooms of other small trees like Roughleaf Dogwood and Elderberry, which are often found in the same areas. This genus is also frequently referred to as Cramp Bark, and the different species have long been used for their medicinal qualities that soothe muscle spasms, such as women’s menstrual cramps, among other uses.

All Images © Elenore Goode 2018
Rusty Blackhaw’s distinct features include its dime-sized oval-shaped berries that change in color from green, to pink, to purple, blue and then dark bluish-black when ripe, its small, toothed, oval leaves that turn a deep red hue in fall, the drooping form of its limbs, the rusty color of the new leaf buds, and the large, rough “dinosaur scales” of its bark. The edible berries are sweet and mild when ripe, and somewhat prune-like once they dry; a nice nibble on the trail. In landscapes where there are not enough fruiting trees present to support wildlife, the berries may disappear as soon as they ripen, or before…but where there are enough berries relative to wildlife and they aren’t immediately eaten, the berries can remain edible on the tree into winter, providing a long-lasting food source.

 

Viburnum rufidulum is one of the many beneficial fruiting trees of the natural hill country forests and prairies that were once present here in great numbers before large-scale habitat destruction occurred. The loss of the vast amount of vegetation that sustained and was managed by the millions of deer, elk, bison, black bears, etc that lived here is still felt by wildlife and plant populations today, as this habitat has never been allowed to fully recover to its historic species diversity and abundance. Like many of the more palatable natives trees (more palatable than Juniper, that is), most Rusty Blackhaw seedlings are currently unable to grow and mature across much of their natural range.
The continued presence of high browsing pressure on a habitat that is already denuded of much of its plants has created a situation where most species of native plants in many parts of the hill country and much of Texas have not been successfully reproducing for anywhere from decades to even 100 years or more. These are any areas where we see old trees, but no new young stands of trees growing up to someday replace the old.

Despite the very small number of livestock and wildlife currently in TX compared to 200 years ago, the vegetation is still unable to recover because livestock have unrestricted constant access to the plants, and there are too few predators left to influence the movement of wild herbivores, many of which are also fed and managed like livestock. The distribution of plants has subsequently shifted towards the spiny, thorny, less palatable species that can withstand this land mismanagement. Many places have a large amount of young junipers constantly coming up because there are few other fruiting trees left for birds and mammals to eat, and so they eat the prolific juniper berries and drop those seeds under every large tree they sit in. And in many places, the only seedlings able to survive browsing once they germinate are also the junipers. Thickets of spiny brush in forests often contain many rare and endangered native plants that manage to remain in the landscape only in such safe and impenetrable areas.

All Images © Elenore Goode 2018
Understory trees and shrubs like Rusty Blackhaw are still locally present and sustaining viable population sizes in some areas, but are also locally extinct from large areas, as has happened to the population distribution of many trees in heavily-browsed and eroded landscapes. Some species, like the Hawthornes/Mayhaws, have become extinct from most of their range in the hill country due to the loss of suitable habitat and soil moisture that comes with erosion and deforestation. The micro-climate conditions these trees thrive in that were once present here – in terms of soil depth, moisture, and canopy cover – can be re-created across their historic range by stopping erosion, slowing and soaking in rainfall runoff, letting forests grow old and create deep shade, and allowing forest organic matter from limbs and leaves to accumulate and build the rich soil these understory trees love.
Re-introducing the great historic diversity of native fruiting trees is also essential to creating the habitat stability necessary for restoring so many other macro and micro wildlife populations above and below ground. When there are more different species growing, then there is a greater amount of time when there is food available from their leaves and fruits, reducing the temporal fragmentation of resources in the landscape.
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November 2018 – Crop of the Month
Fig – Scientific Name: Ficus carica
Family: Moraceae
Written by: Kirby Fry

 

The fig tree is mentioned over 44 times in the bible, and the image of a person sitting underneath a grapevine and fig tree is used repeatedly as a way of describing an atmosphere of peace and safety.

Bill Mollison, after installing miles of conservation terraces in warm regions, would plant a fig tree every 200 feet or so along the terraces as a way of luring in birds and other animals that would eat the figs and then spread seeds from all of the other fruiting plants in the area that they had eaten around the fig trees.

The fig tree and terrace, in other words, can be a nucleus for the genesis of life and ecosystems.  Mulberry trees can also serve this purpose here in Texas.

– Planting Tips – 

Fig trees are readily available in plant nurseries this time of the year and do especially well along the Texas Gulf Coast.  Those of us living closer to the coast, where freezes are milder, can begin planting fig trees in the late summer or fall as soon as the fall rains begin.  It is recommended to plant young fig trees in the late winter or early spring the further north and west you live to prevent the tree from being damaged by hard freezes.

There are a few varieties of figs that do well here in Texas.  Celeste is the most cold-hardy variety, and ripens in mid to late June.  Alma is another variety more commonly planted closer to the Gulf Coast where freezes are less severe.  Alma bears fruit at an early age and is a late season variety.  Everberring is a third variety that does well across Texas, but it is not as cold-hardy as Celeste.  Its fruit ripens from July through August.

Fig trees are bushy and should be planted no closer that 16’ apart, and where possible they should be planted on the south side of buildings and wooded areas to be given protection from cold north winds.  Offering them morning sun is also helpful as the sun’s rays will dry the dew off of the fig leaves earlier in the day and reduce damage from fig rust (Cerotelium fici).

A hole wider and deeper than the root ball should be dug, actually burying about 2” of the trees stem or trunk below grade.  Remove dead or damaged roots with pruning shears, make a mound of soil in the bottom of the hole, and then spread the roots out around the mound.  Water the tree in thoroughly just before the last bit of soil goes in.

Young fig trees need a deep watering once every week or so during the hottest times of the year.  Even as mature trees, they will be more vigorous if consistently watered throughout the year.

Figs are tough trees but they are susceptible to four plagues.  Fig rust is a leading cause of decline and fruit reduction in high rain areas.  If the leaf has brown patches on it, it is likely fig rust and any fallen leaves with fig rust on them should be collected and safely disposed of.  The dried fruit beetle is an insect pest that can get inside the fruit, through a little hole in the bottom of the fruit referred to as “the eye,” and ruin the fruit.  Selecting the proper variety, like the ones mentioned above is the best way to keep out the dried fruit beetle.  Root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne sp.) are tiny worms that live in soils and will multiply over the years damaging roots and inhibiting the trees uptake of water.  It is important to buy fig trees that do not have the nematode already in the pot, and plant the fig into nematode free soil.  The last plague is fig mosaic virus, which causes a mottling of the leaves during the onset of high temperatures.  There is no cure for the fig mosaic virus except for selecting plants at the nursery that are not already infected with it.

Plant a fig tree in your vineyard and you will know peace.

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October 2018 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode

 

Plateau Goldeneye, Toothleaf Goldeneye, Chimalacate – Viguiera dentata 
Family: Asteraceae

Plateau Goldeneye is a 3-6 foot semi-woody perennial herb/subshrub that can be seen blooming profusely in October through November, often forming large colonies to make vibrant displays of yellow flowers. It branches out widely into a bushy and airy form, and each plant produces showers of blooms, followed by seeds that are wonderful for helping birds and other wildlife through winter with the timing of their availability.

This highly drought-resistant plant can grow in either full sun or deep shade, and in a wide range of soil types and moisture and pH levels. But it loves to grow at the edges of places like woodlands and meadows, canyons, slopes, fields, just outside of riparian areas, and other transitional areas where it receives a nice balance of shade and sun. With the right amount of sunlight, along with adequate soil depth and moisture availability, it will happily grow up to 6 feet high. The happiest stands of Viguiera dentata that I see are usually along the edge of a canopy of large trees, growing in the deep soils of old riparian terraces bordering the edge of the floodplain.
All Images © Elenore Goode 2018

Goldeneye is a very useful plant to re-introduce into our landscapes to build soil organic matter and humus in places that suffer from marginal or depleted soils, and low plant biodiversity/availability of food for wildlife (such as: much of the landscape of the Hill Country and of Texas, due to 200+ years of biodiversity and vegetation loss from severe over-browsing by livestock, and deforestation.) This usefulness comes from a combination of its traits, including: quick growth, great drought tolerance, high deer resistance, ability to spread well from seed, and love of disturbed soils. It is also a perennial that can easily regenerate from its roots over and over.

It is one of my favorite plants to use for creating cover and structural complexity for wildlife in places where the native shrubby vegetation of the forest understory and woodland margin is depleted or missing. Simply collecting seeds of this plant and throwing them out in some bare soil can bring about large stands of this hardy perennial that create a wealth of seed and flowers for wildlife, while also creating leaf litter to shade and protect soil, and sending deep taproots down to stabilize soils and build structure, humus, and symbiotic relationships with fungi and soil micro-organisms.
These hardy plants are ideal to begin the ecological succession of disturbed soils, where they quickly improve the soil conditions and act as nurse plants so that other less resilient species can begin to grow.
Especially in ecosystems that are missing so many of their native plants, even a minor increase in plant diversity can quickly create cascades of biodiversity improvements in both the above and below ground communities of organisms that interact with the plant. Another important aspect of increased biodiversity is remediating the temporal fragmentation of resource availability with enough variety of plants and insects in the ecosystem to create stable year-round food sources available to all organisms.
The vast haze of blooms in a large Goldeneye patch is alluring to pollinators, attracting and sustaining a great diversity of native bees, flies, wasps, beetles, moths, butterflies, and more. These insects in turn attract their own predators…and the complexity of the beautiful web of interactions between the creatures drawn in by just one species of plant can become almost dizzying.
We may also look at these seemingly minor insect and plant interactions as a vital transport of nutrient and mineral exchange across the landscape, with each organism involved in the moving and cycling of nutrients through their consumption and wastes.
All of these interactions add up to an almost incomprehensible amount of work done by insects (through their actions like burrowing and cycling of nutrients) towards creating fertility, tilth, and permeability in soils, which in turn helps create resiliency to drought and flood. A soil that is built from a greater diversity of plant material, and insect and microorganism interactions, will be healthier, more porous and complex, and can infiltrate more heavy rainfall into the aquifer, hold more water in the soil and landscape through increased organic compounds and biological processes, and will better be able to share and disperse nutrients and moisture to plants in need through fungal networks.

All Images © Elenore Goode 2018

Plateau Goldeneye needs more soil to grow than its smaller cousin, Skeletonleaf Goldeneye, which can better handle growing in more shallow caliche-based soils. Yet as Viguiera dentata occurs over a very large range, from Texas, west into Arizona, and south into Central America and elsewhere, it has, like many plants, taken on localized adaptations within its species to the range of environments it occurs in.

Viguiera dentata is also known as Chimalacate in Mexico, and has a long history of medicinal use. Research available online says that this plant has anti-bacterial properties and that the above-ground/aerial parts are still used by people across Mexico for baby rash, labour, and fire ant stings. It is often infused/cooked into bathwater, or the fresh leaf is applied directly in the case of fire ant stings.

Sources for medicinal use information:

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October 2018 – Crop of the Month
Pomegranate – Scientific Name: Punica granatum
Family: Punica granatum
Written by: Kirby Fry

 

Once the fall rains begin in late September or early October we can begin to plant our edible beneficial perennial gardens.  Perennial plants, just like annual plants, need optimal planting conditions for success.  A few conditions are achieved at this time of the year, which include – fall rains, cooler temperatures, and nursery availability in containers.

A couple of my favorite nurseries for buying containerized fruit trees at are Far South Wholesale Nursery in Austin, Texas and Bloomers Garden Center in Elgin, Texas. Pomegranate, fig, and loquat are all available in containers during the fall at these nurseries.

I’ve chosen Pomegranate as the crop of the month for October because it thrives during Texas’ hot summers, it can tolerate poor soil conditions, and my daughters, like so many others, love the fruit which is very high in antioxidants.  Like crape myrtle, it is in the Lythraceae family.  It does better in the central, south, and west parts of Texas, and does not like hard freezes.  Some varieties of pomegranate can be grown as far north as the Dallas / Fort Worth area.  The wonderful pomegranate is the variety most commonly sold and planted in Texas.

– Planting Tips – 

Pomegranates should be planted in rows from east to west, about 12 to 15’ apart.  The rows should be about 15 to 20’ away from one another.  Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball, backfill with native soil, build a ring of soil around the newly planted tree, and then fill that ring at least 2 or 3 times with water after planting allowing the water in the ring to soak in each time.

Fertilize the tree with an 8-8-8 organic slow release fertilizer, and possibly add another source of organic fertilizer that is higher in nitrogen like an alfalfa meal.  Pomegranates need a deep watering every 10 days or so from late spring through the summer.  If the tree gets too dry and then early fall rains come the fruit will split, so even-watering is important for good fruit production.   A humid summer may lead to fungus growing on the trees and forming fruit.  Neem oil, and insecticidal soap will reduce most fungus and insect plagues.

Pomegranates will shoot up a lot of suckers from their base.  Three to five trunks should be selected and allowed to flourish, the remaining suckers should be pruned back annually.  Prune on a regular basis and do not prune too much in one year as this will expose too much of the trees’ vascular system to mold and fungus.

A healthy pomegranate sapling requires 3 to 4 years of growth before it begins to produce fruit.  The fruit is ripe in September, about 60 days after the tree flowers.

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Earth Repair Corps will be publishing a series of interviews with Permaculture Design Course graduates who have used the education & resources they gained from the course to further their careers in the world of sustainability.

Our hope is to convey what a life-changing opportunity the Permaculture Design Course can be, while learning more about what first attracted these former students to sustainable design and how they have applied those principles since taking a PDC.

Learn More about the Permaculture Design Course and Register Today for our next class in 2019.

Paul Oveisi, owner of Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden in South Austin, helps us kick off this series. Read more below.

1)    How did you become interested in sustainable design?  Please describe to us any moments in your life that piqued your interest in sustainable, regenerative, and holistic systems.

My interest was an evolution that likely happened over the course of my entire life but I can think of a few ”tipping point’ moments that led me to take sustainable design more seriously as a way of life. The first was an impromptu, almost accidental, visit to the Earthship Community near Taos, NM. I was awestruck that these experimental, sustainable, whole-system homes could be both so strikingly beautiful and functional. There was connection between design, science, and artful creativity that struck a chord with me that stuck with me for years. Years later, having left my lifelong home of Austin, TX to live in New York City, I couldn’t let go of what became an obsession. I read every book by Michael Reynolds which led me to other forms of sustainable architecture which led me to sustainable agriculture. I stumbled on some old videos of Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison and spent several years reading everything I could on permaculture, regenerative agriculture, and related fields. Working in hospitality I found a little community of like-minded chefs and farmers who were implementing some of these strategies. Moving back to Austin, I decided to drop everything, get my PDC and work on a plan to incorporate sustainable design into a new way of life. 

2)    What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a Permaculture Design Course?

Honestly, everything and anything. Having read dozens of books on the subject I wanted to get some hands on experience and meet like-minded folks. I was also hoping to find some work outside the PDC to further hone my skills and expand my knowledge.  

All Images © Woody Welch 2018

3)    Who taught your Permaculture Design Course and when?  What did you appreciate about that course, and what would you have like to have learned more about? 

My course was taught by Kirby Fry and Caroline Riley in the Fall of 2015. I thought it was a well-designed course, by dynamic and well-rounded instructors who were extremely knowledgeable and engaging.  I would have liked a bit more information on the architectural components but that’s splitting hairs – it was a fantastic course. 

4)    What other courses, if any, have you participated in that have helped you to learn more about and implement sustainable design systems?

I’ve taken a Grow Green course by the City of Austin which was informative. Notably, I enjoyed input from a meteorologist from LCRA and fire-wise design from a Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center representative. Informally, I’ve found particular interest in soil microbiology and have watched countless hours of advanced composting techniques and soil microbiology analysis – most notably by Karl Hammer and Dr. Elaine Ingham, respectively. 

5)    Have you been able to apply what you learned from the Permaculture Design Course to your life and business endeavors?  If so, please elaborate.

A resounding yes. After my PDC I spent a couple of years working in the field doing various landscaping and design related projects for both landscaping companies and non-profits. The knowledge I obtained from my PDC and beyond very much informed my decision to combine my experience in hospitality to create a permaculture inspired business model – but I wanted to spend some time getting my hands dirty first. 

6)    Have you had the opportunity to teach, mentor, and/or pass on information about sustainable design to friends, family, or employees?

Yes, too many to count. We do a formal training/walk-through of all employees of my organization on basic permaculture principles and I’ve had countless conversations turning many people onto the discipline – whether sharing books by Holmgren, Shephard or Fukuoka, or sharing Geoff Lawton videos. Again, too many to count.  

Thank you so much for your involvement and initiative.

It is my pleasure.  

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Permablitz at Proffitt Ranch, Marble Falls, Texas – 2018 09 29

Hi All,

The Permablitz season has officially begun. We kicked it off at the Proffitt Ranch in Marble Falls during the last weekend in September.

Photos by Kirby Fry

Here is the crew,  fencing in a 75′ x 130′ annual and perennial garden. Both drip and sprinkler irrigation systems are being installed.

Image 1) The site the day before the ‘blitz. It was mowed and prepared for layout – a very nice, clean slate for us to work with. Great job Proffitt family!

Image 2) Same site, same time of day, a day later, permablitz now taking place. We hand dug nearly 500 linear feet of trenches for irrigation in just one day. The soil was a loamy sand that was a breeze to dig in. This is a trench for an irrigation line that will have 8 overhead sprinklers along it, watering an annual vegetable garden. There are five 3′ wide by 120′ long garden beds.

Image 3) The calm before the storm. Materials and tools dropped off yesterday. Rained on at least 2 or 3 times today. The showers though didn’t stop us for more than 20 or 30 minutes.

Image 4) Simultaneously installing the fencing and irrigation systems as thunderstorms rumbled over us.

Image 5) One row of sprinkler heads set.

Photos by Woody Welch

One the second day we finished setting the irrigation lines, shaping the garden beds, installing 2 pedestrian gates, and getting the seeds and vegetable into the ground.

Our next Permablitz will be at Zanzenberg Farm in Center Point on October 13th and 14thHope to see you there!

Explosive abundance,

Kirby Fry

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September 2018 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode

 

Indian Mallow – Abutilon species, Abutilon fruticosum 
Family: Malvaceae (Mallow Family)
Plants in the Abutilon genus are collectively called Indian Mallows and occur across Texas in a variety of species and local ecotypes. These perennial herbaceous subshrubs are usually between 2 and 4 feet tall, with semi-woody fibrous stems bearing many heart-shaped soft green leaves and small edible yellow flowers. Abutilons are extremely hardy to drought even in shallow or rocky limestone soils, and they grow happily in both full sun and part-shade. They remain green and bloom throughout the driest conditions, making them an important source of good forage and nectar for wildlife and livestock. There is excellent in-depth information on various Abutilon species and their uses in Scooter Cheatham and Lynn Marshall’s Useful Wild Plants encyclopedia Volume 1.
Indian mallows generally begin blooming in summer and continue through fall, sending out wave after wave of blooms and seeds.  The smaller Abutilon fruticosum that is common in the hill country is often found growing well with wild petunia (Ruellia nudiflora), whose purple flowers contrast it well. Abutilons easily re-seed themselves and spread in disturbed soils, making them ideal for habitat restoration projects, especially to help quail and other animal populations in landscapes with poor soils and limited food availability. They are great support plants for pollinator gardens, pastures, forests, etc to provide shade, forage, and flowers during summer despite any droughts.
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September 2018 – Crop of the Month
Cabbage – Scientific Name: Brassica oleracea
Family: Brassicaceae (the Brassica family)
Written by: Kirby Fry

 

September is one of Central Texas’ main planting windows.  As soon as summer temperatures drop and the rains begin, it is time to get your fall garden into the ground.

A great fall crop is cabbage which is in the Brassica family.  I’ve chosen cabbage out of the Brassica family because it’s not the hardest leafy cole crop to grow like Brussel sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower, but neither is it the easiest like mustard, kale, or collard greens.  It’s right in the middle, and it is very satisfying to grow a nice head of cabbage which stores well, and is an expected staple in many winter soups and stews.

– Planting Tips – 

As I mentioned, cabbage is not the easiest crop to grow, so we need to do several things just right.  It prefers cool weather, so in Texas it does best in the fall. It needs a head start and so should be transplanted as a 5” tall seedling on a cloudy day.  The seedlings should be planted 12 to 18” apart from one another in rows 3’ apart. Savory King and Blue Vantage are a couple of recommended varieties for Central Texas.

Cabbage is a heavy feeder, so an organic slow release fertilizer (5-10-10) should be put out when the seedlings are transplanted and watered into sandy loam garden beds.  Apply fertilizer again after 3 weeks. Mulch heavily with an organic wheat straw. To extend your harvest later into the fall, repeat the planting process again 2 weeks later.

Cabbage does well when growing alongside green beans and cucumbers.  Avoid planting cabbage next to other brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower as they are also heavy feeders and attract the same pests.  Plant cabbage in a different area of the garden every year to avoid buildup of soil borne diseases and insect pests. Cole crops are susceptible to quite a few plagues like black rot, cabbage yellows, and black leg.  There are varieties to choose from that are resistant to cabbage yellows, and black leg. The cabbage looper and cabbage worm can also be a problem, so planting dill near your cabbage will attract beneficial wasps that will kill the worms.  Aphids can also be a problem so lady bugs and lacewing might need to be introduced into your garden as well.

Water your cabbage plants well, especially when they are making their heads.  Harvest the heads when they are full and firm after 50 to 60 days, hopefully the heads will be about 6 to 9” wide, and don’t wait too long to harvest as they will get tough.  Cut the head out from the center of the plant leaving the outer leaves and you may get another smaller head a few weeks later. Get the cabbage heads out of the sun immediately and store them in a cool dry place.

Cabbage tastes great whether sautéed or added to soups.  Many of my friends also make sauerkraut and kimchee (fermented forms of cabbage) which can be stored for long periods of time.  This is a great crop to get in the ground this summer, and enjoy for the rest of the upcoming fall and winter.

 

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Earth Repair Corps – Ten Elements of Sustainable Design
Written by: Kirby Fry
2018 09 07

 

Following is a list of 10 design elements that may be found within sustainable human settlements – organized from the lowest amount of maintenance to the highest amount of maintenance.

 

MECHANICAL SYSTEMS (Lowest Maintenance Required)

  • Sustainable Building

As a builder, I believe that a well-built house should pay you to live in it.  So how do we build a home that generates the electricity that it needs for power, the water that it needs for plumbing, and the income that it needs for financing?  Three parts of this question are answered below – solar energy, rainwater collection, and graywater harvesting. However, homes need to first be properly oriented to take advantage of passive solar heating and cooling.  A house should be oriented broad side to the prevailing summer breeze to allow for air circulation through the home. A house should have evergreen tree cover on the west and north sides to shade it from the hot setting summer sun and shelter it from the cold winter winds.  Good insulation, continuous ridge vents, and double hung sash windows are also key design elements for passive solar cooling and heating. A wise home should also orient its occupants to the patterns in nature and the flows of energy through the landscape by having comfortable indoor outdoor living spaces like screened in porches and comfortable patios.  If a home is a duplex, or has a garage apartment next to it, then it can also generate income.

  • Solar Energy

When a home faces its broadest side to the south in Texas it is not only optimized to receive the prevailing summer breeze, but it is also aligned to receive the maximum amount of solar gain for photovoltaic or solar panels on its roof which generate electricity.  A standing seam / hidden fastener metal roof is best for attaching solar panels to because the panels can clamp on to the standing seems of the roof panels and not require that screws be set into and through the roof which might result in leaking. Our friends at Sun Power and Freedom Solar Power  have demonstrated that for a very reasonable cost these days, 15 to 20 340 watt solar panels can be attached on to a home’s roof top and yield 100% of a home’s energy requirements.

  • Rainwater Collection

Collecting rainwater off of your home’s roof and gutters is some of the lowest hanging fruit that there is for any mechanical system.  Rainwater storage systems are quite affordable these days – about 50 cents per gallon of storage, and there is no cleaner source of water, in my opinion, that the rain falling from the sky.  

Every 100 square feet of rooftop surface area here in Central Texas, where we get an average of 30” to 36” of rainfall per year, warrants 1,000 gallons of cistern for rainwater storage.

So a 1,000 square foot roof would be justified in having 10,000 gallons of rainwater storage connected to it.  To make this water available to us and our family, however, you will also need a pressurization pump and a filtration system that can easily be installed in a garage or mechanical closet.

  • Graywater Harvesting

By collecting the rainwater off of our home’s roof, using that water in our house, and then harvesting the resulting graywater in the landscape we can eliminate the possibility of wasting water.  The easiest graywater to collect is the water coming out of our laundry machines because a pump lifts that water up and out of the laundry machine and can pass it through a wall and deliver it into the landscape to be used for irrigating trees and bushes.  This Old House, and the City of San Francisco made a great video of how to harvest gray water from a laundry machine. 

Sinks are the next easiest graywater to harvest because they are up about 2’ 6” from the level of the floor or slab, and can also be brought through a wall.  Bathtubs and shower stalls might be the most challenging to harvest because the drain is below the floor and can generally only be retroactively harvested from homes that are on pier and beam.  

 

PLANT BASED SYSTEMS (Moderate Maintenance Required)

  • Annual Gardens

I believe that, in Texas, a productive annual garden begins with good fences.  Our garden fences need to at least be deer and rabbit proof, if not squirrel and raccoon proof.  Cultivating soils on contour, relying on efficient irrigation systems, and using cover crops and sheet mulch are also essential for sustaining productive annual vegetable gardens.  Choosing climate specific and plague resistant varieties of non-genetically modified seeds is another important step in the design process.

  • Perennial Gardens

Orchards, trellises for grape vines and berry brambles, and edible beneficial perennial gardens make up the heart and soul of permaculture design.  How do we weave these plant based systems into our local ecosystems and create agriculturally productive ecosystems? Soil conservation strategies, protective caging, cover crops, mulch, and drip irrigation are some good techniques to help us with this objective.  Every homestead should also have culinary herb gardens, medicinal herb gardens, and pollinator gardens. We need to be familiar with what planting zone we are in, how much rainfall our region gets, and what perennial, edible, beneficial plants will do well where we live.  Microclimates, as well, should be created to accommodate other plants that might be doing well in areas just beyond our planting zone.

  • Woodlots

How many acres of land, and how many mature trees does it take to grow your own home?  This is a puzzle, that as a forester, I would like us to solve. Some of our native trees like pine, oak, cedar, and cypress are fantastic trees for home construction, fencing, tool making, and fuel woods. A sustainable homestead should include a woodlot where trees are planted from seed and seedling, and cultivated to grow and replace the wood we use in our day to day lives.  Improvements on portable wood mills make milling your own lumber for timber framing and natural building more possible and easier than ever.

  • Ecological Restoration

In Texas, most of the state was either logged, burned, plowed, developed or overgrazed by 1865.  Today, many of us end up inheriting land or buying land that is secondary or tertiary growth, meaning that it has been cleared and has regrown, again and again.  

The initial diversity of plants and animals that once existed here in Texas is now gone, or hiding out in remote isolated pockets and islands. As stewards of the land, we need to get to know our local natural regions and ecosystems, and reintroduce the plants and trees that once existed here in abundance.

 In our efforts to become better stewards, we often find out that deer populations, more than any other factor, are determining what is allowed to survive in many Texas natural regions. Tree cages and drip irrigation are now necessary tools for reintroducing essential keystone species of flora that have been missing, in some cases for hundreds of years.

 

ANIMAL BASED SYSTEMS (Highest Maintenance Required)

  • Small Animal Systems

Chickens, pigs, and goats can provide food and income for any homestead and farm, and are a great way to make use of thrown away food scraps, to control insect plagues, and to reduce woody vegetation that may pose a fire hazard.  Eliminate the need for composting food scraps by feeding them to your small animals. Chickens can be moved through the landscape eating weeds and insects. Many of our friends in Texas, like at TerraPurezza Farm, who are raising pigs have also diverted massive amounts of food being thrown away to feed their livestock. Goats browsing woody brush may also be one of the best ways to feed people and keep woody brush at bay, reducing fuel loads around our homes and infrastructure.

  • Rotational Grazing Systems

In Texas, all too often we see improper cattle grazing techniques being used to obtain the 1-d-1 agricultural property tax evaluation.  With better cell grazing and rotational grazing techniques, however, land owners can still maintain their 1-d-1 ag evaluation, and actually restore grassland and savanna ecosystems rather than degrade them.  Improvements over the past couple of decades on portable electric fencing, and movable water troughs have made intensive cell grazing easier and more efficient than ever. Allan Savory presents a wonderful TED talk on this subject and Jaime Braun, who has taught at our Permaculture Design Course, runs some very successful cell grazing systems right here in Texas and in Mexico.

 

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