EARTH REPAIR CORPS
Earth Repair Corps Teaches 2nd PDC at Texastopia Farm in Blanco, Texas
January through June, 2019
Written by: Kirby Fry
All Images © Woody Welch 2019

This past winter and spring of 2019 Earth Repair Corps had the privilege and honor to teach its second permaculture design course at Texastopia near the headwaters of the Blanco River.  The design course consists of 72 hours of classroom instruction, group activities after lunch, individual and group design projects which are presented to the class, and a talent show on the last evening of class.

View overlooking the main house and classroom facility of Texastopia Farm.

Class Overview

The classroom provided to Earth Repair Corps by Texastopia offers a great learning environment for both teachers and students.  There’s comfortable seating and tables, a 4’ tall by 16’ wide dry erase board, a “close throw” projector with a pull down movie screen, surround sound, dimmable lights, and a fabulous air conditioning system.  ERC couldn’t ask for more.

The course curricula covers the first 9 chapters of Bill Mollison’s book, Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, and then goes over specific design systems for the home moving outward from there to the areas closest to the house and then out into the broader landscape.  

One distinction of this spring PDC is that we have been making an effort to emphasize the difference between design methodologies and design systems, and so along with methods of permaculture design, Earth Repair Corps has also been teaching Yeomans’ Scale of Permanence 1 and Savory’s Holistic Decision Making Process 2 .

This spring, thanks to the speaking and recruitment efforts of Pete VanDyck, we had 3 members of the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) attend the PDC.  Carol Patterson, Mark Hamilton, and Thomas Marsalia all attended representing EAA’s board, upper management, and field technicians. EAA has tens of thousands of acres on the Edwards Plateau in conservation easements that it oversees and is looking to implement soil and water conservation methods that were discussed during class on a model site.  Their design project was phenomenal.

Along with many other great students were two of ERC’s partners, Randie Piscitello with Goodwater Montessori Public Charter School, and Jennifer Goode with Texastopia and ERC attended the course and earned their PDC certification.

Class Curriculum & Activities 

Our guest teachers included Shelley Belinko who taught about design principles and methods of design, Heather King who taught about annual vegetable gardening, Travis Krause who taught about running a family farm and animal systems, and Peggy Sechrist who taught about Holistic Management and intensive cell grazing.

One of the activities that the class participated in was using the radial laser level to layout two conservation terraces and a level sill spillway above Texastopia’s road leading to the Blanco River.  Then, by the time the class resumed the following month, Pete VanDyck and Texastopia had installed the terraces, planted them with native trees, and mulched them with straw. It was a great design process for the class to be a part of.

About a quarter of the way through the course, day 3 or so, the students begin their design projects.  This spring PDC we allowed a wide range of projects including group and individual projects, as well as onsite and offsite projects.  This gives students the opportunity to work on designs for their own properties, and or work together as a team on site if they do not have land of their own.  I was especially impressed with the design project that the EAA team presented for a piece of land that may soon become a lab and working model for soil and water conservation methods on the Edwards Plateau.  All students are encouraged to make use of Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence and Google Earth Pro for their presentations.

Students trace a sitemap of Texastopia before conducting an energy flow activity.
Students present their energy flow maps.

The evening before the last day of class we held a talent show.  Bill Mollison always had a talent show during his PDC’s and joked that if you don’t perform in the talent show you wouldn’t graduate.  What I usually experience is students being surprised and a little uncomfortable before the talent show, but really opening up and having a fantastic time during the talent show.  Not only did we have several musical performances, but people sharing with us what they are good at, and giving us “how to” demonstrations.

The spring 2019 PDC covered a wide range of topics and hopefully opened doors for its graduates to further pursue those topics.  One of the main objectives of the course is that the graduates become better designers and hopefully better teachers of sustainable design.  Those of us teaching the class get to make new friends, and support others in their efforts to create abundance through good design.

If you’re interested in learning more about our Permaculture Design Certification and obtaining one yourself, please read more here.

References:

  1. Using the Scale of Permanence as a Tool for Land Evaluation
  2. An Overview of Holistic Management and Holistic Decision Making
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March 2 and 3, 2019
Written by: Kirby Fry

All Images © Woody Welch 2019

Earth Repair Corps Teams Up with Goodwater Montessori Public Charter School

During the spring of 2017, I ran into Randie Piscitello at the TerraPurezza Permablitz.  She had learned online about the work Earth Repair Corps (ERC) was doing with the permablitzes and wanted to find out how ERC could help Goodwater Montessori install a terraced orchard and annual vegetable garden on the school’s campus. Goodwater Montessori Public Charter School is in Georgetown, Texas, and was still under construction at the time of the TerraPurezza Permablitz. I believe that the school opened and began its operations during the fall of 2017.

Aerial view of the orchard terraces at Goodwater Montessori.

The Goodwater Permablitz took 2 years of planning and fundraising to implement.  This story is a testament of how planning and persistence pays off. Randie and her associate, Heather Pencil, worked together to raise $15,000 for the installation of the garden at Goodwater Montessori.  Parents and community members individually donated up to $1,000, and had plaques with their family’s names on them dedicated to the trees we planted and to the picnic benches we assembled during the Goodwater Permablitz.

The end result of this team effort and permablitz might just be that we have created a model farm and garden for all Montessori schools in the United States of America. 

ERC and Goodwater Montessori are also planning to have a summer intensive permaculture design course (PDC) on the Goodwater campus oriented towards educators and how to replicate what ERC and Goodwater accomplished during this permablitz.  We are filing the paperwork that will enable educators to get Continued Education Units for taking the PDC.

The Design Process

The land that Goodwater sits on is a long and narrow property and is in Texas’ Blackland Prairie. Below the school’s driveway and parking area, a hundred yards or more from Stadium Drive where the entrance is, is a large field that is mostly undeveloped.  We were given permission from the school to install a terraced orchard in that field.

I made several site visits to the school before the permablitz in 2019 and that’s when Randie, Heather and I began identifying the “known knowns”What objectives will be achieved from this garden? What are the measurable outcomes for the school and students? Where is the water supply line? Where is the access?  What existing infrastructure would we need to avoid? What is the soil like? Are deer and other animals present that could affect the garden?

Once those questions were answered, we started with a process of elimination, asking where can’t we install an orchard? There is a large engineered detention basin just below the parking lot where the storm water from the campus drains into, so we couldn’t install a terraced orchard there.  There is the buried sewer line on the east side of the field where we could also not install an orchard. At the very bottom of the field is a low lying marshy area that was also not suitable for an orchard, so that left us with the middle and west side of the field.

The next issue to consider was how to fence in the garden and keep it safe from animals and other unpredictable elements, the “known unknowns”.  Pete VanDyck advised Randie and Heather to look into Critter Fence deer netting, which they promptly did and purchased over 900 linear feet of fencing, materials for 2 pedestrian gates and one vehicle gate.  Now that we knew how much fencing we had, we could set the dimension of the garden / orchard. The garden would be 150 feet wide by 300 feet long.

Some other known elements that would be included in the garden were a garden shed, a deck to be used as a stage, 8 picnic tables, and a large area set aside for composting school food scraps and annual vegetable gardening.  All of these elements would be at the top of the fenced in area (the north side) leaving everything downhill from there available for the terraced orchard.

I then created several renditions of the design on Google Earth Pro, and finally laid it all out on the ground during the winter of 2019.

Terrace Installation

Laying out these terraces was pretty straight forward.  The 150 foot by 300 foot garden area was relatively flat with only a 2 or 3 foot drop in elevation over 300 feet, which meant that we could lay out the terraces in a way that made the most sense for maintenance and access.  Five, 100 foot long terraces were laid out perpendicular to the east and west fence lines. Two 140 foot long terraces were laid out close to and parallel to the west fence line, which would serve as an evergreen privacy hedgerow between the school’s property and the church next door.

Once the wet weather broke and the site dried up, Pete VanDyck with VanDyck Earthworks and Design showed up for a week with a mini excavator to begin installing the terraces.  The soil was still somewhat wet, and the earth excavated from the swales came out in large clumps. He did a great job though, and the terraces ended up being quite gentle and smooth. The bottom 4 terraces had a slight grade to them, less than 1.0 percent, and had a check dam and a level sill spillway installed in each one of them to hold the water back but then to also allow the water to exit the swales during significant rain events.  As it turns out, almost half of the uphill surface water runoff from the church’s lot to the west drains directly into the highest orchard terrace and subsequently cascades into the terraces below. The swales are 7.5 feet wide, 1 foot deep and ended up spanning 500 feet in all. They will hold 2,250 cubic feet of water below grade, or 16,875 gallons. A 2 or 3 inch rain will fill them up. The berms are 9 feet wide and 1 foot tall and yield very beneficial raised beds for the trees.

The two terraces that we had planned which were parallel to the west fence did not get installed because the fence line was so overgrown with brush (mainly gum bumelia, hackberry, and juniper) that we did not have time to clear it before installation.  Instead, after the fence line was cleaned up, we ended up planting the evergreen hedgerow trees on grade.

Another task that Pete and I took care of that week was excavating 1,000 linear feet of trenches and setting a 1 inch water supply line.  The water line was connected and set, and the trenches were backfilled before the March 2019 permablitz took place.

Tree Selection

I sent Randie a list of trees that I thought would be suitable for the site.  She looked over the list and pretty much took it from there. There is a little bit of everything in this garden – citrus, loquat, mulberry, apple, plum, peach, pear, chickasaw plum, fig, pomegranate, and pineapple guava.

The trees were laid out in a fruiting calendar configuration – that is they were grouped together and planted based on when they would bear fruit, with the earliest fruiting trees planted at the top of the orchard and the later fruiting trees planted at the bottom of the orchard.

The lowest terrace was used as a native woodlot demonstration plot where we selected oak, ash, maple, elm, hickory, and more.

The evergreen hedgerow along the west fence line is where chose to plant the evergreen loquat and citrus (meyer lemon, Satsuma orange, and kaffir lime).

The Weekend of the Permablitz

There was a huge amount of planning and preparation that went into getting this permablitz ready, and even though a colossal amount of work was done prior to the permablitz, there was still even more work to be done during the permablitz.

Thirty cubic yards of chipped tree mulch had to be moved by wheelbarrow 100 to 200 linear yards down the field to the orchard.  The west fence line still needed to be cleared and cleaned up, and all of that brush had to be moved out of the fenced in orchard.  An 8 foot wide by 16 foot long stage was built on Saturday by Chris, the father of one of the students, and 8 picnic tables were assembled.  Several raised beds with wooden 2” x 10” borders around them and trellis between them were also built.  

It seemed like planting the trees was actually one of the easier tasks.

Perhaps, at least for me and a few others, the biggest chore was setting and installing the Critter Fence.  Scores of “ground sleeves” had to be pounded 2 feet deep into the ground, 15 feet apart, in which the the vertical fence posts would be inserted.  We got all of the ground sleeves set, as well we built the 2 pedestrian gates, but it wasn’t until after the permablitz that Randie and Heather got the actual deer netting up and built the vehicle gate.

Thank goodness for Mason Dillard, a licensed irrigator and recent permaculture design course graduate, who showed up before, during, and after the permablitz to help install the irrigation system.  He installed 12 zones of irrigation, providing bubblers for each tree, and drip lines for the annual garden beds.

Heather managed to have all of the meals, breakfast and lunch on both days donated.  She was also instrumental in getting many other materials donated including all of the lumber supplies from McCoy’s, and garden supplies from Lowe’s. The local retail community really came through for this event! All we had to do was ask them in a professional and nice way to help out.

This permablitz required a lot of planning, fundraising, and hard work, however, I believe that the yields will be exponential symbiosis and abundance.

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Earth Repair Corps is 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 check out our upcoming Fall 2019 PDC.

We’re continuing this series with Jim O’Donnell of The City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division – read more below.


About Jim

My degree is in education from The University of Texas. I was a teacher in Dripping Springs for 28 years. During the summer, I worked monitoring endangered species for different contractors. The Vireo Preserve in the 1980’s was home to the largest breeding population of Black-capped Vireos in Travis County. I was able to get the 214 acres of the Preserve set aside in 1989. So, we manage Vireo as endangered species habitat that also includes the addition of rare and unusual plant species.

For the past 10 years, I have been working for the city’s Wildland Conservation Division which manages 13,000+ acres to protect habitat for endangered species. I continue to monitor endangered species, but now with the addition of lots of restoration work. Volunteers are the key to our work and success. I love working with people who come out to Vireo to learn how to manage their land in a more regenerative way!

1. How did you become interested in sustainable design?

I grew up in the Bull Creek watershed in northwest Austin.  As a teenager, I was able to hunt, fish, and camp in our Ashe juniper-oak woodlands.  Even though the landscape had been dramatically altered by a history of clearcutting and overgrazing, there was still incredible beauty in this recovering system. 

Observing our Hill Country landscape for over 50 years now, it is clear that some areas are so degraded that only a thoughtful and knowledgeable design can bring them back.  Most land managers use fire and herbicide with the mistaken belief that the land requires such techniques. 

Our approach on the City of Austin’s Vireo Preserve is to demonstrate that real regeneration begins with soil health, rehydrating hillsides, and adding diversity at all levels of the system. 

We have been successful enough that we are beginning to apply our designs and techniques on to other properties within the City of Austin’s Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.

2. What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a permaculture design class?

Over the years, I have witnessed numerous re-vegetation projects that usually end in failure.  I was intrigued with the permaculture design system that incorporated a holistic approach to interacting with the landscape to promote sustainability.

3. Who taught you your permaculture design course and when?

I finished my permaculture design course in 2014 at the Whole Life Learning Center.  The instructors were Kirby Fry, Caroline Riley, and Taelor Monroe.  I was very impressed with the instructors’ knowledge and commitment to earth repair and sustainability. 

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

I have taken Elaine Ingham’s classes on soil biology.

5. Have you been able to apply what you have learned to your life and business?

I have been heavily influenced by the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham on how to build healthy soils.  I am also collaborating with colleagues Dr. Brian Pickles and Monika Gorzelak, former graduate students of Dr. Suzanne Simard (University of British Columbia), to investigate the role of fungal networks in distributing resources among plants within forest ecosystems (“world wood web”).  I am also supporting research by Dr. Moriah Sandy (University of Texas at Austin) on potential medicinal and ecological properties of endophytes on Ashe junipers.  All of this research supports further knowledge on how to build regenerative ecosystems. 

All Images © Woody Welch 2019

6. Have you had the opportunity to teach, mentor, or pass on information about sustainable design?

I have had the opportunity to work closely with several area Master Naturalist chapters to teach about design.  The Capital Area Master Naturalists have been extremely helpful in recruiting volunteers for our project and giving us a platform to speak at presentations.  I’ve also been a guest speaker at St. Edwards University and recently at the University of Texas.  I am very excited to be a speaker at the Global Earth Repair Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington, in May.  And finally, I want to express my deep appreciation to the local permaculture groups for all the knowledge that they impart, their good work, and dedication to community.

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March 2019 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode

 

Tinantia anomala – False Dayflower
Family: Commelinaceae

False Dayflower is a delicate perennial herb native to central Texas that loves to grow in the forest understory, in woodland meadows, slopes and edges, and in riparian areas and their margins. It grows very well in the rich soils made by the leaf litter of trees but is hardy and adapted to the various kinds of rocky limestone soils common in central Texas. They like to have some extra shade and moisture, but are also highly drought tolerant once established in a suitable spot.

Tinantia anomala will grow out its fine, grass-like leaves from fall through winter, eventually sending out stalks that can reach a height of up 1-2 feet, and then the small purple blooms begin to brighten the forest floor, usually starting around mid-March. This herb prefers growing during the cool season and will often go dormant once summer heat sets in. Tinantia’s cool season growth habit complements that of the warm season plants that emerge later, helping to maintain photosynthesizing plants and their roots in contact with the soil for longer.

While the most common flower colors seen are the varying shades of purple, they also occur in white and blue. Their soft flowers sprinkle the awakening forest floor with a soothing display, along with the blooms of many other small herbs of similar habit that Tinantia is fond of growing with, such as: Baby Blue Eyes/Nemophila phacelioides, Golden Groundsel/Packera obovata, Heartleaf Nettle/Urtica chamaedryoides, and the related Spiderworts/Tradescantia and Dayflowers/Commelina species.

All Images © Elenore Goode 2019

Tinantia makes a wonderful groundcover, quickly spreading through its rhizomes to send out new shoots. One small transplant can easily spread over a foot or more in one year without any nurturing beyond choosing a good spot. At the same time, it is a gentle plant that does not tend to overtake gardens, and is easily pruned if overgrown. It grows easily from seeds as well. False Dayflower is an excellent choice for habitat restoration projects where hardy plants that can reliably succeed from transplant without extra care are able to be utilized.

The finer, fibrous part of their root systems interweaves gracefully with the varied root structures of other plants to create greater structural complexity in the soil. Tinantia‘s roots, though delicate, are still wonderful at holding soil together and spreading to stabilize loose soils. Tinantia anomala is another wonderful native plant we can easily incorporate into landscapes to increase biodiversity and provide early season pollinator and wildlife forage.

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If you missed our February newsletter, you can view it here.

And don’t forget to sign up to receive The Dirt in your inbox!


 

This month, we take a break from our regular programming to focus on the incredible & innovative community of environmental stewards that we have here in Central Texas.

 

Read more about their stories, learn about their work, and even get involved in some of the upcoming events.

 

The more we collaborate, the more opportunities we have to create abundance.

 

– Earth Repair Corps
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January 2019 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode

 

Elymus/Wildrye genus  – Prairie/Canada Wildrye and Virginia Wildrye – Elymus canadensis and Elymus virginicus, etc.
Family: Poaceae

Elymus is an agriculturally and ecologically important genus of mid-size cool season perennial bunchgrasses, and many different species are found in a variety of habitats throughout Texas. Cool season grasses grow starting in fall and winter, when the warm season grasses are beginning to go dormant. Elymus canadensis (featured in the pictures) and Elymus virginicus are two of the most common species that are fairly widespread across the state. While these two species are generally distinguished by their drooping (canadensis) vs upright (virginicus) seed culms, Elymus species may also have multiple varieties that occur within them (as with canadensis), have been found to hybridize, or have been said to be simply different forms within the same species (Guide to Texas Grasses – Robert B. Shaw).

In Central Texas, the versatile Wildryes are frequently found growing in shade or sun along lowland and upland riparian areas, woodland edges, meadows, prairies, forests, etc., with quite a bit of variability between all the species as to preferred moisture and sun conditions. Though they love to grow in the moist and deep soils and creek banks, they aren’t actually too picky when planted elsewhere. Even within one species, such as Prairie Wildrye/Elymus canadensis, some stands are happy in full sun when they have enough soil and moisture, and many others love to grow in the shaded understory of large trees, especially if they are in shallower soils or further from water.

Elymus species are very hardy grasses that are still common and somewhat abundant in the wild compared to many other native cool season forage plants. Their habit is to go dormant in dry summers unless they are in a moist area, but these grasses will otherwise have green growth for much of the year. Cool and moist conditions at the end of spring will prolong their growth into summer before going dormant.

They are important forage grasses that reliably provide food for wildlife, livestock, and soil microorganisms during winter when green forage is otherwise scarce. These grasses are generally grazed in rotational systems from fall through spring, but then avoided after their long seed culms go to seed at the start of summer, as these seed culms are said to be potentially problematic to livestock due to possible fungal growth. But while the livestock avoid it, the thatch and seeds they produce will be used by wildlife for nesting material and food.

This clump of Elymus canadensis is being grazed by wildlife in December.

Wildryes are also an excellent grass to use for pasture re-vegetation and habitat restoration projects, since their seeds are easy to find, collect, and germinate, even in poor soils. Their seeds establish exceptionally well and quickly compared to many other native grasses, and love shade or sun. Elymus stands can be very prolific in combination with deciduous forests that protect them in summer and then let the sunlight through in winter. Wildrye species are all-around great for improving degraded habitat conditions by revitalizing disturbed soils and bridging the temporal fragmentation of food sources that is exacerbated by low species diversity.

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

 

Juniper species, Juniperus ashei etc
Family: Cupressaceae
The many different sturdy and robust trees of the Juniper genus lend a resilient character to the landscapes they inhabit, gifting them with an abundance of berries, protective evergreen cover, and rich organic matter. The presence of this herbivore and drought resistant tree provides an important source of food for many organisms – from birds, mammals, and insects, to the soil microorganisms and plants – that live in symbiotic relationships with the juniper trees through mycchorrizal connections. The stringy bark of mature trees is a staple nesting material used by the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler and other birds. Most wildlife consume Juniper in some way, and though it is overall resistant to deer browse, they will eat more and more of it when there is less other food. Goats will readily eat Juniper, and where they are penned with them, they may even kill trees from overbrowse.

Some plants that love to grow in the rich duff made by the fallen needles of Juniperus ashei and the sub/separate species ovata include:
– White Honeysuckle
– Madrone trees
– Texas Persimmons
– Texas Red Oaks
– Yaupon and Possumhaw Hollies
– Asters
– Spiderwort
– Beautyberry
– Frostweed
– Cedar Sedge
– Other hardy Salvia species, Pellitory, etc.
To understand the current distribution and overabundance of Juniper trees relative to other species, we look back to the ecological and land use history of the area, and at current land management methods. Junipers in many habitats are frequently the innocent targets of misguided scapegoating campaigns to blame them for the ecological disasters that they are simply cleaning up after.They are the bandages on the open wounds caused from centuries of overgrazing, burning, and denuding hills of all their vegetation.
In Texas, the past few centuries have seen great habitat losses in terms of species diversity and abundance, soil depth, soil moisture and aquifer levels, and various other further compounding interconnected factors that lend to the overall destabilization of habitat regeneration processes in the ecosystem. The loss of other fruiting species of herb, shrub, and tree from a habitat further propels the expansion of the Juniper, since its berries are one of the most available and reliable food sources that provide food for wildlife throughout winter. Subsequently, these animals distribute the berries across the landscape, especially under the live oaks they like to sit in – if you want fewer new Junipers, start by giving wildlife something else to spread! 
In the same way that many of our garden weeds are trying to restore minerals and organic matter to the soil and tell us that something is needed there, many of the places where multitudes of Junipers sprout up are simply in need of some kind of vegetative cover and soil organic matter, due to livestock or deer pressure preventing anything else but Juniper from growing. Restoring the abundance and diversity of the thick and diverse vegetation native to Texas will help prevent so many young Juniper seedlings from appearing.

Juniperus species are highly drought-adapted trees that need and use very little water, which is how they are able to survive in such rugged climate conditions. Juniperus ashei is able to grow in poor, dry and alkaline conditions of the Hill Country where few other plants can, and has proven itself as an incredible early-successional species to set ecological and hydrological functioning back into motion where it has been brought to a near halt in the “moonscapes” created by anthropogenic habitat degradation. Forests are rainmakers, holding onto rainfall in their locality through their body mass, so that the water remains available in that area rather than flowing off to sea, and allows the landscape to maintain local/small hydrological cycles and healthy springs through the respiration of plants.  The dominant Juniper forests of many brittle and dryland habitats are essential for holding moisture in the local landscape in the form of biomass and soil moisture levels, and if they were to suddenly be removed, remember that what is also being removed from that place are the effects and potential of a large volume of water that is part of the local water cycle; all the water that is contained within the trees, and the soils they make and keep moist with their shade. Another way forests increase soil moisture is by drawing dewdrops out of the air in certain conditions, and they can then fall to the ground.
Juniperus species act as nurse trees across many different habitats by protecting more palatable plants under their branches and creating rich organic matter from poor substrates for other plants to grow in. They are an integral species in ecosystems that have lost their historic plant diversity, and that are still under unnaturally high deer and livestock browsing conditions due to the feed supplementation of these populations beyond what the local carrying capacity of the land can handle.
The abundance of Juniper trees in the degraded hills and rangelands of Texas speaks to its hardiness amidst the severe erosion, deforestation, and overbrowsing/grazing that have eradicated the more palatable vegetation. On steep slopes, Junipers provide essential coverage for the soil, and their dense layers of branches help break the impact of the heavy and intense downpours common in Texas, helping the rain to percolate into the soil instead of washing it off the hill and contributing to flooding. Rather than focus efforts on opening up more of the historically-abundant forest canopy in a state where we can’t stop complaining about the heat, we should remember that the original forests of Texas were rich with understory grasses and shrubs that thrive in dappled and even deep shade. The lack of species richness in many dense, young, re-growth stands of Juniper is due more than anything to the fact that the seed bank for other species has already been lost from the spot in question by previous poor land management. Most Hill Country plants will happily grow in a Juniper-derived soil when re-introduced properly.
The Juniper species across their habitats must be re-envisioned as what they are: truly vital backbones holding the ecological functioning and integrity of their habitat together, and repairing it from centuries of land mismanagement.
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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.

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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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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Earth Repair Corps Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at Texastopia in Blanco, Texas – 2018 06 19
Written By: Kirby Fry
Read about the first half of the class here

 

Hello Everyone,

Earth Repair Corps just completed its first PDC near the headwaters of the Blanco River at Texastopia.

Pete VanDyck and I signed the PDC certificates together.  It was a real honor to teach with Pete, and everyone else that made this course possible.

During the second half of this course we discussed specific design systems, beginning with the home, and then moving outward towards further away and larger systems; from the built environment (the home), to intensive annual vegetable, culinary, and medicinal gardens (right around the home), to small animal systems, broader annual crops,  and orchards (several yards away from the home), to intensive cell grazing systems and wood lots (well away from the home), and then on to ecological restoration.

 

So much thanks to our guest speakers.

Heather King shared with us just what it takes to grow an annual vegetable victory garden and market garden here in Central Texas.  She covered how to cope with profitability, heat, drought, hard freezes, heavy rains, and unpredictability.

Tina and Orion Weldon spoke to us about their amazing work at TerraPurezza raising pasture fed pigs, harvesting the food waste stream to supplement their feed costs, and marketing organic produce and meats to restaurants.  TerraPurezza has received a Texas Department of Agriculture Young Famer Grant, and an Environmental Protection Agency award for Green Infrastructure, and Low Impact Development.

Adam Russell shared with us that healing the human body and healing the soil have a lot in common.  Both have to breath in air, both need water moving through them, both need neural connections, and both need protective covering.  He also gave us a tour of his family farm in Blanco, Texas showing us where he installed conservation terraces, and where he applied the Yeoman’s Keyline chisel plow.

Jim O’Donnell spoke to the class about the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP), where he is working to create ecological resilience around the City of Austin’s western greenbelt.  One of our next permablitzes will be at BCP.

Woody Welch spoke with us about a sustainable energy economy, and specifically spoke with us about photovoltaic energy systems.  During the second to the last day, Woody also spoke to the class about financial strategies for staying out of debt.

 

So much thanks to our graduates.

They participated in 72 hours of classroom instruction in order to get their design course certificate.

The last Saturday night, the class had a fantastic talent show.

The last Sunday morning, and our last day of class, we held a Blanco River blessing ceremony, AND a father’s day blessing ceremony.  I’ve never experienced anything like that since I was alongside a river in Peru near Machu Picchu.

The students’ design course presentations were terrific.

 

Explosive abundance,

Kirby Fry

 

 

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