EARTH REPAIR CORPS

July 2019 – Crop of the Month

Tomato – Scientific Name: Solanum lycopersicum
Family: Solanaceae
Written by Guest Contributor: Jennifer Goode

Tomatoes are the most popular garden vegetable crop in Texas, likely due to the relative ease with which they can be grown. Tomato season can easily last from April until October in most parts of the state, or even longer if there isn’t an early freeze. In Dripping Springs, we currently have a plot of 6 tomato plants that has been producing dozens on a weekly basis since June.  

If you missed the opportunity to plant tomatoes during the spring, you can plant transplants through July and take extra care of them until they’re ready to produce in the fall. Tomatoes grow well in most Texas areas if planted in nutritious soil that drains well. They generally need at least 6 hours of sunlight each day, but the mid-summer sun in Texas can be too extreme. It is recommended to devise a way to shade the plants from the western sun during this time of year. 

 

 Variety Selection

Texas gardeners can grow a variety of small and large fruit tomatoes, including Cherry Grande, Juliet, Red Cherry, Small Fry, Big Beef, Big Box, Celebrity, Homestead, among many others. The first thing to determine is how much space you have for your plants. 

Tomatoes come in Determinate and Indeterminate varieties. Determinate varieties usually put out a large crop at a time and are ideal for container planters, or for gardeners who have the ability to preserve their harvest. Indeterminate tomato vines continue to grow and fruit over a long period of time.  They require larger, sturdy cages and are not suited for container planting. 

 

Planting Tips

Soils with a significant amount of organic matter are best for tomatoes. It’s recommended to spread 2 to 3 inches of organic matter, such as compost or leaves, over the planting area and then mix the material into the top 4 or so inches of soil. 

Most tomatoes will need to be planted at least 3 feet apart, but some varieties may require more space depending on their vine size. Proper airflow between the plants is important to prevent mildew.

You will want to plant each transplant slightly deeper than it was previously growing. Make sure the soil is loosely packed around the base of the plant, and that you leave a “donut” around the plant base to help hold water. Adding mycorrhizal inoculants will benefit the plants’ ability to absorb and retain water and nutrients. 

Fertilize the plants every 3-4 weeks with one to two tablespoons of fertilizer. Once the plants begin to flower, add one to two inches of compost to the plant base for extra nutrients to help the plant develop its fruit. Liquid seaweed is also recommended during this time. 

 

Pest Management

Tomatoes are susceptible to a variety of pests, and there are a variety of methods to address these ranging from seaweed extract, molasses, cornmeal, neem oil, garlic, and more. 

Usually, you can find capital letters on tomato plant labels that note which diseases that particular variety is resistant to. Some of these notes include:

  • A – Resistance to alternaria leaf spot
  • F – Resistance to fusarium wilt
  • FF – Resistance to race 1 and race 2 fusarium
  • L – Resistance to septoria leaf spot
  • N – Resistance to nematodes 
  • T – Resistance to tobacco mosaic virus
  • V – Resistance to verticillium wilt 

For a more comprehensive list of tomato pests and how to address them, watch this video from Central Texas Gardener.

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July 2019 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode
Inland Sea Oats/River Oats/Wood Oats, etc – Chasmanthium latifolium
Family: Poaceae (Grass)

Inland Sea Oats is a lush and vibrantly green clumping grass that is most commonly seen in the shade of woodlands, and along the floodplains of creeks and rivers. It is a warm season grass, but can grow near year-round in milder winters and summers, making it a great choice for forest grazing systems. Tall stands of this strikingly beautiful grass also make great cover for wildlife, who also are fond of the abundance of seeds it produces.
 
 
Chasmanthium latifolium, like many native plants, has been severely reduced from its historical range by centuries of overgrazing due to its high palatability.
 
Inland Sea Oats is remarkably hardy when in the shade, and can grow in much more rugged and alkaline areas than the few habitats where it remains, as long as it has shade and a good covering of leaf mulch at its roots. It can grow in more sun as long as there is plenty of moisture and deep soil. It can survive the worst summers by going into drought dormancy, but will usually remain green and growing even in drought years.
 
 
Chasmanthium latifolium is one of the earlier grasses to emerge in spring, and by summer it may be four feet tall with good spring rains. Its seeds are often ready around late summer or early fall, but in more beneficial rain years, we can even see its fully-formed seeds as early as June and July. This grass is one of many plants that is sensitive to the highly variable seasonal weather conditions of central Texas, and has quite variable growth and bloom times depending primarily on the abundance of rain in the spring and summer, and fewer hard freezes in winter. It can remain green and growing even through mild freezes, but will usually be dormant by late winter. 
 
 
This native grasses will readily grow from seed, and when happy they can spread quickly into large stands from both seeds and rhizomes. The seeds germinate very well in disturbed soils, and are a great choice to sow into eroding areas to help stabilize them, though its best to give the seeds at least a thin mulch if there isn’t full shade, or if there is a lot of erosive water movement.
 
Dense mats of Inland Sea Oats can slow and infiltrate large volumes of water, and will catch and build soil in places that were previously eroding away.
 
Their above and below ground structures are very well suited for catching heavy rains, from their tall stems and broad leaves that slow the rain, to the way the angling of their stems then directs water down in to the center of the clump, where their strong roots then funnel it down into the ground.
 
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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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June 2019 – Crop of the Month

Pineapple Guava – Scientific Name: Feijoa sellowiana, Acca sellowiana
Family: Myrtaceae
Written by: Kirby Fry

The pineapple guava is native to the tropics of South America but has naturalized in subtropical and sub temperate regions all around the world.  It is a well shaped, evergreen bush or small tree with attractive flowers that grows 10 to 15 wide and just as tall. It can be used ornamentally and even be pruned into more formal appearing hedgerows.

A mature pineapple guava can tolerate freezes as low as 12 degrees Fahrenheit, but plants 3 years and younger can die back during freezing temperatures and should be protected with frost cloth for their first few years.  The pineapple guava does very well in Central Texas cities where there is a “heat island” effect and along the Gulf Coast.

Variety Selection

There are a few different varieties that are available such as ruby (red fleshed fruit), supreme (white fleshed fruit), Indonesian seedless, and crunchy white.  These varieties are not always available in local nurseries though, and may need to be ordered from a catalogue or online. 

The fruit varies in size and sweetness, and grows to be anywhere from an inch in length up to 3 or 4 inches in length. A young pineapple guava tree will produce half a bushel of fruit (4 gallons of dry fruit) by its third year.  A mature tree will produce 3 or more bushels per year, or 24 gallons of dry weight fruit or more.

Planting Tips

In Central Texas a pineapple guava will probably not achieve its full size and so can be planted 10 to 12 feet apart.  It should be planted out of the way of freezing north western winds, and be given western shade. It likes well drained sandy loam soils with a little bit of clay in them. 

Dig a hole twice the size of the container that it comes in and water it in well after planting.  It needs a little extra water in the hottest time of the summer, usually two slow and deep waterings per week will suffice.  Fertilize your pineapple guava with an organic form of nitrogen such as alfalfa meal during mid summer and early fall when it begins to flower.  The fruit will begin to ripen mid fall.

Pruning Tips

Gradually prune your pineapple guava, removing branches growing straight out from the trunk less than 1 foot off of the ground.  To shape it into a small tree remove the lower one third of the branches to encourage vertical growth. It can be pruned into a more formal hedgerow but more aggressive pruning will set back fruit production the following fruiting season.

Pest Management

The main pest for pineapple guava in Texas, mostly in the Rio Grande Valley, are root-knot nematodes, which can be addressed by adding organic matter fine mulch such as grass clippings) and compost over the plant’s roots.

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January 25 and 26, 2019
Written by: Kirby Fry

All Images © Woody Welch 2019

Earth Repair Corps Teams Up with the Multicultural Refugee Coalition

In January of 2019, Earth Repair Corps had the good fortune to host a permablitz (or volunteer perennial garden installation) at the Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC) New Leaf Farm near Elgin, Texas.  

The property where the farm lies is in the Blackland Prairie natural region of Texas and has black clayee soils.  Typically, corn, soy beans, cotton, wheat, and sorghum are grown in this region.

The property is owned by John Beal who leases it to MRC.

Our relationship with MRC began when I received a phone call from Steven Hebbard, their farm manager at the time, during the spring of 2018.  I went out to New Leaf Farm for a site visit and was shown a 3.4 acre field where Steven told me that they wanted a terraced orchard and a perennial food garden with the possibility of row cropping annual vegetables and fruits in between the terraces.  Steven had been working with Jamie Soma on an overall permaculture design for the entire farm and so I did my best to honor their existing plans and create a system that worked well within their design.

Wandaka Musongera is New Leaf Farm’s current farm manager whom we worked with extensively during the design process and permablitz.

Aerial view of the terraces at New Leaf Farm.

The Design Process

The first thing I did was find out how long and how wide the field was.  It was about 500 feet long from top to bottom and just a little over 300 feet wide.  Since New Leaf Farm wanted the possibility of row cropping between the terraces we were about to install, we laid out 4 terraces exactly 100 feet apart from top to bottom, with each terrace being about 280 feet long.  This is the part of the design process that I call identifying the “known-knowns”, which is a process of elimination. This part of the design process entails answering a few basic questions, such as: What are the objectives of the client? How big is the job site? What is the soil like? Where are the roads? Where is the water for irrigation?

It took us 5 days of surveying, however, to figure out how to lay out the terraces on this field.  Steven told me that he would like to have the terraces slope a bit in order to prevent water standing for too long, so initially I set the first terrace on contour in order to establish a baseline and went parallel and down from there.  The three successive terraces below the top terrace all have a 0.5% grade to them draining water very gently to the riparian area where the water would naturally leave the field. It was like laying out the terraces on a giant lump of kneaded bread dough though, with lots of humps and bumps, and dips and drains, and was not a simple process. With the help of Lacey Proffitt, we must have laid out those terraces at least 4 different times before getting the design up to my requirements.

Terrace Installation

Once the layout was complete, Pete VanDyck with VanDyck Earthworks and Design arrived and spent a week on a mini-excavator installing the terraces.  I have lost count now of how many times Pete and I have executed such designs and installations together. Five level sill spillways, where the berm of the terraces stops but the swale continues, were installed in order to allow excessive water out during major rain events.  The swale, or below grade part of the terraces, is about 7.5 feet wide and 1 foot deep. The four terraces combined can hold back about 5,040 cubic feet of water, or 37,800 gallons of water below grade, right at the feet of our perennial agriculture. It requires a 2 or 3 inch rain event to fill them up. The berms are about 9 feet wide and 1 foot tall and offer the fruit trees we planted a broad tithy garden bed on contour giving the trees a real “leg up” on that clayee soil.

Volunteers digging irrigation ditches.

Tree Selection

The next design parameter I was given is that New Leaf Farm was interested in perennials that could possibly be used as natural dyes, had market value, and fell within the spectrum of low to moderate maintenance and upkeep.  Shortly after the terraces were installed and before the permablitz, MRC was given nearly 30 pomegranate trees that met those parameters and which were planted on the lowest terrace about 10 feet apart. 16 mulberry trees were selected for the highest terrace which are extremely hardy and can be used as a natural dye. 16 pears were selected for the terrace second from the top, and 16 Asian persimmons were selected for the terrace second from the bottom.

Golden ball lead trees, considered a farmers tree, were planted at a ratio of 1 farmers tree per 4 fruit trees between the fruit trees.  Farmers trees are native leguminous trees that may offer some or all of the following characteristics – native, leguminous, sugary bean pod and fodder for livestock, deep rooted, dappled shade, and mine for minerals by their root system and deposited on the ground’s surface through their leaf litter.

The mulberry and pear trees were purchased from Flavor Farms out here in McDade, Texas just a couple of miles from where I live. The Asian persimmons were purchased from Bloomers Garden Center in Elgin, Texas. The golden ball lead trees were purchased from Far South Wholesale Nursery.

The Weekend of the Permablitz

Saturday the 25th was a partly sunny and cool January morning.  Very fortunately the terraces had already been installed so the main 2 jobs for the permablitz crew was getting 4 water supply lines, each about 100 feet long, to the 4 terraces, and planting about 60 trees.  Nearly 30 people showed up that day including the Wandaka Musongera’s mother and younger siblings. Wandaka’s mother provided us with lunch on both days of the permablitz.

To get the water supply line to the middle of the terraces we had to dig nearly 400 linear feet of trenches at least 6 inches deep.  This was by far the hardest task we had, and it was interesting to see how the crew got better and better at digging as the day progressed.  It also really helped when I spray painted the trench lines for everyone to see and follow more clearly.

Woody Welch, a board member of Earth Repair Corps, had his drone up in the air taking pictures of the property, and was himself also taking some really great pictures on the ground.

During lunch on Saturday Steve Moakley, a MRC board member, spoke to us about their mission, Tim Miller gave a presentation on how to plant his heirloom leaks, Wandaka spoke, John Beal spoke, and I also gave a brief presentation on permaculture design.

Tim Miller of Millberg Farms giving a presentation on his heirloom leeks.

That Saturday night and early Sunday morning however, it rained hard and limited our access to the field where we were working.  We basically had to cart in wheelbarrows all of the trees and soil amendments about a quarter mile along very wet and muddy farm tracks to get them to the terraces.  It never ceases to amaze me though how well and how carefully the permablitz crew can plant trees. All of the trees were planted before lunch on Sunday, and by the end of Sunday most of the supply lines had been set and the trenches back-filled.

The permablitz at New Leaf Farm was a great experience and hopefully the beginning of long friendship between Earth Repair Corps and the Multicultural Refugee Coalition.

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Written by: Kirby Fry
All Images © Woody Welch 2019

A permablitz is an event where a group of volunteers works together to install a permaculture (permanent + agriculture) garden for a friend, a neighbor, a school, and/or a community garden.  The garden can be an annual garden made for annual vegetables, or it can be a perennial garden made for fruit trees and other perennial food crops such as asparagus, brambles, and grapes.

A permablitz can also include installing a rainwater collection system, a gray water harvesting system, and/or building a chicken coop, trellis, or espalier.

Aerial image of Festival Beach Food Forest in Austin, TX nearly 4 years after their 2015 Permablitz

How did we find out about permablitzes, and when did permablitzes get started here in Central Texas?

The permaculture community in Texas may have first learned about permablitzes from Dilek Wise, a graduate from a Permaculture Design Course that I helped teach with the Austin Permaculture Guild in 2011 or so.  Dilek found out about an organization called Permablitz Melbourne, in Australia, that was helping their community to install permaculture gardens.  Permablitz Melbourne had by then installed scores of gardens, and did a great job of documenting their work. They’ve also made some very helpful videos about how to run your own permablitz – a few are linked below.

                       How to run a permablitz?

                       Permablitz on Costa’s Garden Odyssey, 2009

                       Plug In TV – Permablitz

When I learned about Permablitz Melbourne’s community effort working together to conserve soils and grow food locally, it reminded me of the work I had done as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala.  In the Highlands of Guatemala, north of Huehuetenango, we built and kept up 5 tree nurseries (each in a different village), implemented soil conservation methods, and planted woodlot trees in those villages, as well as 2 others.  After getting out of the Peace Corps, it always seemed to me that we could and should be doing that kind of work here in Central Texas. Permablitz Melbourne demonstrated that indeed such a community effort was possible.

Then, during the winter of 2011, while I was helping to teach a class called Food Forests for All, at The Whole Life Learning Center, I shared with the students of that class what Permablitz Melbourne was up to.  The students were enthusiastic and we had our first permablitz at Austin Ecoschool that very next January of 2012. Many of the people in that class have since had multiple permablitzes at their homesteads, and at community gardens that they were associated with.

Photos from our January 2019 Permablitz at the Multicultural Refugee Coalition’s New Leaf Farm

Since 2012 we have had well over 50 permablitzes, averaging about 9 per year, being held from September through May. In 2015 Earth Repair Corps was incorporated, in part, to help promote and run the permablitzes. If we have learned anything over the past 7 years, it is that we are not just building gardens, but communities that garden.

Since I was leading many of these events and heavily invested in them, there were at least six design elements that I tried to include in each and every permablitz.

  1. Soil and Water Conservation.  As I’ve said during many of my talks and classes, soil and water conservation is the cornerstone of permaculture design – that which all else is built upon.  Usually, whether we are planting trees or making annual gardens, we build some sort of earthworks on contour such as conservation terraces or raised annual garden beds.  These earthworks serve to slow, spread, and sink surface water running off the garden site, make that water available to the plants in the garden, and catch any soil sediments and detritus that might also be running off of the site.
  2. Perennial Food Crops.  Perennial food plants are the key stone of permaculture design – that which holds it up over time.  A perennial food crop yields fruit, nuts, and berries year after year, unlike annual food crops that produce for 1 or 2 seasons and then have to be replanted.  In Texas we have been planting mulberry, pomegranate, Asian persimmon, fig, apple, peach, plum, pear, pecan, pineapple guava asparagus, artichoke, grape vines, and blackberry brambles.
  3. Support Species of Plants.  Another aspect of permaculture design that distinguishes it from organic farming is that we are creating agriculturally productive ecosystems, so not every plant we establish in a permaculture garden is a food crop.  We use cover crops extensively, like clover, winter pea, rye grass, buck wheat, black eye pea, and millet to improve soils, and help vegetate bare soils.  Farmers trees like black locust, acacia, golden ball lead tree, Eve’s necklace, and arroyo sweetwood are all native leguminous trees that offer dappled shade, have deep root systems that bring up minerals from subsoils, and many of which fix Nitrogen into soils.  Lastly, deep-rooted herbs like comfrey, sorrel, and dock are added to some of our gardens for their soil-enhancing properties.
  4. Soil Amendments.  Many of our soils in Texas have been eroded and do not have the available mineral content nor the organic matter in them available for agricultural crops to flourish.  Bill Mollison was an advocate of adding soft rock minerals to soils to provide crops with needed elements, including soft rock phosphate, agricultural lime for calcium, pelletized sulfur, green sand for potassium and magnesium, and trace minerals.  We also add a slow release organic fertilizer in the hole of every tree we plant which is inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi, and beneficial to the roots of most plants.
  5. Drip Irrigation.  Fruit trees in Texas need supplemental water if they are going to flourish and be productive, even when they are perched on a berm just below a swale.  The most efficient way to deliver this supplemental water is with drip irrigation.  I have become a huge fan of Ewing Irrigation here in Central Texas.  Each fruit tree needs about 4 gallons of supplemental water delivered to it every other day from May through early October, or for about 5 months.
  6. Mulch.  At the base of each tree a heavy mulch should be applied annually.  Wood chips from trees seems to be what is most readily available for us here in Texas, though if you look around to the north of Austin, from late spring through the summer, wheat straw is available.  A good mulch cover will help to keep soil temperatures cooler than the ambient air temperature, suppress weeds, and slow down the evaporation of soil moisture which can be significant under the Texas sun and winds.

Photos from our September 2018 Permablitz at Proffitt Ranch in Marble Falls, TX

The costs for a permablitz can range anywhere from $700 to $4,000 and is usually paid for by the host site.  A commitment from the host site is also needed to finish up any tasks that were not completed during the permablitz – finishing up the irrigation system seems to commonly be one of these tasks.  The host site is also expected to provide volunteers with lunch during the work days.

Participating in a permablitz is a great way to meet like-minded people, learn more about sustainable design, and (after attending 3 permablitzes) have a permablitz at your home.

The permablitz schedule is announced on our calendar.  

Explosive abundance!

 

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April 2019 – Crop of the Month
Peach – Scientific Name: Prunus persica
Family: Rosaceae
Written by: Kirby Fry

The peach is arguably the sweetest and tastiest fruit that can be grown here in Central Texas.

I have fond memories of preserving peaches with my cousins and aunts.  We would blanche the peaches in boiling water for a minute or so, peel the skin off of the fruit, cut the peaches in half, remove the seed or pit, and then store the peach halves in quart sized Ball jars.  Wonderful tasting peaches were on the menu for the rest of the year. At a birthday party, my favorite dessert is still peach cobbler.

The peach tree here in Central Texas, however, needs a little bit of extra care.

My first suggestion when cultivating peach trees is to not plant too many.  It’s better to have half a dozen well-tended peach trees than it is to have a dozen poorly-tended trees.  When we purchase and plant peach trees, we should keep in mind that this tree crop needs the attention that we give to annual vegetable gardens, not pecan groves.

My second suggestion is to be ready to replace and replant varieties that did not thrive.  Peaches are a relatively short lived tree crop. We can expect 7 to 14 years of production from them.  We can also expect quite a bit of pruning, and limb loss. Be prepared to replace some of the peach trees you originally planted with better varieties for your region that you later discover and learn about.

With a moderate amount of annual upkeep, though, peach trees can have high yields and are exceptionally rewarding.  Some of the best peaches in North America are grown right here in Central Texas just west of the Balcones Escarpment in places like Fredericksburg and Stonewall.

Variety Selection

Peach trees are available mid-winter in plant nurseries as bare root stock.  The earlier they are planted the better – aim for late December to early January, as that gives them some extra time to establish their root systems.  After purchase, they should be planted within 1 day or so upon arriving at your homestead. Avoid exposing the roots to air and sunlight by keeping them moist and wrapped in paper, or submerged in moist sand, and soak the roots in a bucket of water for at least an hour right before planting them.

Choosing the right variety of peach tree for your region is very important.  Specific varieties of peach trees require a different number of chill hours in order for them to break their winter dormancy.  Chill hours, are the number of hours per winter that the tree spends below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the Dallas / Fort Worth area, there are between 900 to 1,000 chill hours, at the latitude of Austin there are around 600 chill hours, San Antonio may have 400 chill hours, and the Gulf Coast may have as few as 200 chill hours.  So make sure that when you buy peach trees at your local nursery, the variety you are buying corresponds to the number of chill hours where you will be planting them. Texas A & M recommends Junegold, Juneprince and Southern Pearl for medium chill hour regions – 450 to 700 chill hours.

Planting Tips

Select a site for your peach trees that is on sandy or loamy soils at least 18” deep, that is well drained, and which has good air circulation in order to reduce molds and fungi.  The trees should be planted about 18 feet apart, and the rows they are planted in should be 24 feet apart from one another.

When planting a peach tree, dig your hole a few inches deeper than the root ball of the tree, and twice as wide.  Add a slow release organic fertilizer with a mycorrhizal inoculant into the hole, and mix the same fertilizer into the soil that you will be using to back fill the hole with.  Flood the hole with water before it is completely full of soil and make sure to get rid of all air pockets around the roots of the trees.

Cover a 2-foot radius area around your trees with 4 to 6 inches of mulch after planting them.  Six weeks after planting the trees fertilize them with a 10-10-10 organic fertilizer.

Drip irrigation will be necessary from April through October depending on seasonal rainfall. Expect your peach trees to start making fruit around their 4th year.

Pruning Tips

Peaches make fruit on second year woody growth, so if you never prune a peach tree eventually the fruit will bear beyond your reach.  It is recommended to initially prune the newly planted tree back to a single trunk, 2 to 3-feet above the ground.

The next winter prune the tree again, leaving only 3 to 5 of the healthiest branches that are evenly spaced out around its trunk.  

Each year after that, 40 to 60 percent of new growth should be pruned back, leaving the center of the tree open.  The tree should be sculpted it into the shape of a wine glass for good air circulation and exposure to sunlight.

Fruit buds need to also be removed in the early spring, establishing a spacing of 6 to 8-inches between fruit.  A mature peach tree might put on 5,000 flowers and buds, when we actually want 500 or less fruiting buds.

Pest Management

There are a lot of insects and vermin out there that will want to eat your peaches.  Deer-proof and rabbit-proof fencing are a good start for any orchard. Proper spacing and pruning will also go a long way towards keeping your peaches mold and fungus free.

Garden hygiene is always important as well.  Manage weeds beneath your peach trees, keep a 2 to 4-foot radius around the trees mulched, and remove any fallen peaches quickly and compost them or feed them to livestock well away from your orchard.

The simplest treatment that I’ve come across for fighting insect infestation is the spraying of dormant oil on the peaches in mid to late January.  It’s very important to completely cover the surface of each bud. Dormant oil is a horticultural oil with baking soda and dish soap in it that suppresses insect eggs from hatching by either smothering them or dissolving the waxy surface of the insect eggs.  Once insects have begun hatching and sucking on the peaches the fruit becomes much more susceptible to fungal infection which can be spread from wound to wound by the insects. It’s an uphill battle after that.

Finally, late freezes may be what kills the most of your peaches.  You can expect this at least every 6 or 7 years, and in some cases a late freeze might damage your peach crop 2 or 3 years in a row.

Be patient and observant.  Buy a farmer’s almanac and start learning more about the chill hours in your region and what to expect each winter.

All of that said, I look forward to the late spring and summer harvest of peaches which is coming up in the next couple of months.  I remember well my daughters and I stopping at the peach stands in Elgin where they were selling peaches from Fredericksburg, such sweet memories.

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March 2019 – Crop of the Month
Apple – Scientific Name: Malus pumila
Family: Rosaceae
Written by: Kirby Fry

A favorite fruit for many people is the apple.  It is a firm, crisp fruit that is delicious when eaten raw, it stores well, and it can be cooked into many of our favorite deserts.  Not only are apples tasty but they are also good for us.  I remember my grandmother repeating the common phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”  Apples are high in vitamin C and fiber, and low in calories and sodium.  Eating an apple before going to bed is also a good way to clean your teeth.

Apple trees should be purchased in January or February as 1-year-old bare root whips that are 2 to 3 feet tall.  They should be planted in late winter or early spring.  Buying a younger tree with a healthier root system is a much safer bet for growing a healthy tree than buying a 2 or 3-year-old tree with a poorly developed root system. 

Apple trees, like other fruit trees in the Rosaceae family (peaches and plums in particular), require a higher degree of feeding, pruning, and plague prevention.  So, if you want a healthy productive apple tree then be prepared to do more pruning, bud thinning, fertilizing, and plague prevention than you would otherwise need to perform for fig, loquat, and mulberry.

Planting Requirements

Choose an area for your apple trees that has well drained soil, has some protection from strong winds, and gets at least a half day of full sunshine as the fruit needs sunshine to ripen – afternoon shade is best if the tree is not in full sun.  Apples are cold hardy and need different amounts of chilling hours to produce their fruit.  The more chilling hours a region has the greater variety of apples we can choose from.

Choose the proper varieties for your region.  The further south we are in Texas, the fewer chilling hours we have and so the number of apple varieties that do well in these low chill areas are few – the Dorsett Gold and Anna varieties are recommended for the Gulf Coast and Rio Grande Valley areas.  Apples need at least 2 varieties to be planted close together for cross pollination, so at least one Dorsett Gold and one Anna should be planted together.

Varieties that do well in Central Texas are Jersey Mac, Adina, Gala, Mollie’s Delicious, Starkrimson Red Delicious, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Anna, and Dorsett Gold.  Harvest fruit early to mid-June.

Varieties that do well north of Central Texas are Jersey Mac, Adina, Gala, Mollie’s Delicious, Ozark Gold, Starkrimson Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Pink Lady.

The apples requiring fewer chilling hours will ripen first in early to mid-June, and the apples requiring the more chilling hours will ripen as late as late September to early October.

Dig a 3’ wide 3’ deep hole for your apple trees to be planted in.  Plant the tree to a depth just below lowest graft.  Soak the trees in water for at least 1 hour before planting.  Set the tree into your hole and then add alternating 2” layers of soil and compost into the hole.  Before filling the hole completely, flood it with water to eliminate all air pockets.

Fertilization and Maintenance

Spread a 2” layer of compost around the tree after it has been planted, then once a month for 3 months add 1 cup of a high nitrogen organic fertilizer such as alfalfa meal.  The next year add 2 cups of fertilizer once a month for 3 months beginning in the early spring, and during the third year add 3 cups of fertilizer once a month for 3 months.  Once the tree is established add 1 pound of fertilizer for every 1” in diameter of the tree, once in the early spring and then once again in May.

Your apple trees will need 1” of water on them every 4 to 5 days for the first month after they are planted, watering should then occur with frequencies further and further apart until the trees need just one good watering every 2 weeks through the summer.

Pruning an apple tree during its first 4 years of growth is important.  Many planting guides recommend pruning in the middle of winter while a few others recommend pruning mid-summer.  Experiment and observe, and be ready to act if and when you notice a blackening around pruned areas.  When pruning, leave the healthiest looking branches that are spaced out evenly, then trim back those branches to a quarter of their original length.  Do not over prune in any single year as it exposes too much of the vascular system to infection and a loss of sap pressure, be moderate and consistent.

As the tree begins to set buds, remove all but one bud per cluster of buds, with the remaining buds being spaced out about 6” apart.

There are quite a few apple diseases that we need to be on the lookout for including scab, cedar apple rust, fireblight, blotch, and bitter rot.  Possible insect plagues include spider mites, plum curculio, aphids, and coddling moth.

A paragraph about each one of these plagues could be written.  Good garden hygiene is important – like removing fallen apples and infected leaves from under your trees and keeping the tree’s canopy open to air and sunlight.  Maintaining the soil’s health under the tree is also helpful in resisting plagues.  A couple of products that I have heard recommended by organic growers are neem oils that can be sprayed on apple trees to resist fungal blights and kaolin clays that can be sprayed to help resist insect damage.

Harvest your apples as they become fully ripe and they will taste better and store longer.  Share them with friends, take them to market, and brush up on how to preserve and store them.  Explosive 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 Register Today for our next class in 2019.

We’re continuing this series with Mandy Krause of Parker Creek Ranch – read more below.

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

I always wanted to work in the field of natural resource conservation. I love the outdoors, wildlife, and people. I first became interested in sustainable design in college when I was taking ecological restoration courses. Seeing the positive and measurable impact on the land and communities as a result of good design and conservation efforts was exciting and captured my attention.

I come from a long line of farmers but never thought it would be my life. I wanted to spend my life trekking through the wilderness as a wildlife biologist. In 2010 I was working as a conservation education coordinator when I received a phone call from my then boyfriend (now husband) Travis. He had spent a year working in India studying parasitic protozoans and wanted to return to his family land to build a pastured poultry business (thanks to Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits). That one phone call and one book changed our lives forever. I agreed to move to the ranch with him and we started this journey together in 2010.

As I slowly began learning concepts of permaculture and regenerative agriculture, I realized they were the bridge between my dream of a career in nature teaching people about wild things and wild places and my new life as a farmer. I realized they could be one in the same. And that our business could be a model to help our local communities connect with where and how their food is produced and how our decisions as producers and consumers effect the ecosystem. Still apprehensive about leaving my planned and safe path, I was so excited for this challenging new opportunity.

2) What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a permaculture design course?

Travis and I started our pastured poultry business in 2010 with an open canvas and nearly empty pocket book. The little money I had in savings was spent on building a Texas licensed poultry processing facility – that is what I call love! The challenge of working towards our vision kept us motivated to move forward. Those early years of chaos on the farm with my mother in law working by our side were some of my favorite memories and most transformative moments. I grew up as a farm girl in the Rio Grande Valley but didn’t understand the reality until I worked on this ranch. I learned so much about being a woman on the ranch from my mother in law. We lost her almost two years ago to cancer, but I am forever grateful for the lessons she taught me.

All Images © Woody Welch 2018

Our vision was and still is to:

  • Create a business where we generated the majority of our income from the land that has been in Travis’ family for generations. This is where we wanted to live and raise a family. Our focus would be quality of life, but we wanted to make a financially viable farm business as well.
  • Work to find creative and effective ways to improve the land – including the soil, water, and habitat – for the benefit of wildlife, livestock, and people.
  • Grow relationships and community. Teach and learn always. Help people love and feel connected to the land.

I had a lot to learn about permaculture and believed a PDC would help me work towards our vision. I was excited to be a student and learn as much as possible from experienced designers and educators.

3) Who taught your permaculture design course and when?  What did you appreciate about that course, and what would you have liked to have learned more about?   

Kirby Fry, Caroline Riley, and Taelor Monroe were our instructors and it began on June 2, 2014. (I will always remember the date because I found out we were expecting our first baby the day before it began. A PDC is a wonderful way to begin a pregnancy!)

Our instructors were extremely knowledgeable, and I love that they each brought unique skills and wisdom to the course. I was so grateful for their hard work preparing such an awesome experience for us. They made the program what it was.

What I appreciated most about the course was the time dedicated for learning – especially now. Two weeks set aside for personal and professional growth and development was such a treasure!

The only thing I wish I could have done differently was spend time creating a design for our operation, so I could have had their feedback during the course. Just not enough time for everything.

“Poultry shelters: The egg-mobiles are a knock-off of the Polyface Farms design with a South Texas twist. They are all steel construction with mostly salvaged materials. The major difference is 1.5” expanded steel floors and the nest boxes are on the outside of the shelter. These shelters are designed for mobility, air flow and low labor. We rotate the hens across about 60 acres throughout the year.”

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

I continue my education in many ways but the only formal course I’ve participated in since the PDC is Holistic Management International’s Financial Planning Course. Participating in that course has totally transformed our business. A strong financial management strategy is key to long term success of sustainable design systems. Designing and implementing design systems are exciting and fun, but the maintenance is the tricky part. It all has to be financially viable or no one will be able to maintain it for the long term. We want to encourage our children to work and love the land if they choose to do so and we certainly won’t be able to do that if our business and farm is a financial burden.

“This daikon radish is one of the plants in our winter cover crop mix and helps to loosen soils and builds organic matter. It also serves as a food source for poultry, cattle, and people.”

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

Yes, I have applied what I learned from the course in many ways. The most valuable was the understanding of systems, stacking functions, and zones. I have created so many designs, but the hard part is compromising on design with my husband! Nothing we do out here happens quickly and we will work the rest of our lives working to improve our system. The opportunity for creative design is so fun! Most of our down time includes discussion about these topics.

“By this spring the 100 acre field that was plowed and planted in annuals for 150 years will be all be planted in a native grass and forb mix. The field on the right is the only 25 acres remaining that is planted in annuals for winter grazing and will be planted in natives in February 2019. We pay for all our restoration projects out of pocket so they happen slowly – careful to not acquire any debt. The field on the left was planted in natives in 2018 (note: plants are dormant). Our goal for planting the native mix is to improve wildlife habitat, create diversity, and improve grazing.”

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

Most definitely! While my niche is research and Travis’ is production (the only way our husband/wife team can stay civil and thrive is to divide and conquer), we both come together as a team on education efforts.  

We offer farm tours, youth and adult education programs, speak at conferences, use the farmers market as an opportunity for education, and use social media to increase awareness about what we do. We demonstrate what has worked and what hasn’t worked for us. Some of the most notable programs we’ve participated in were the “Armed to Farm” training through NCAT, Extension’s “Generative Next” online course, TOFGA, and the Women’s Land Studentship Conference.

We have worked with 6 WWOOFERS and several interns who have moved forward to create their own operations. We hired a new manager this spring who has been an incredible blessing to our operation. He will soon start raising his own herd of goats and sheep on this land.

“Cattle genetics: The cattle are derived from Longhorn cows and Red Devon or South Poll Bulls. The select for 100% Iberico Longhorns, meaning they are direct descendants from the the Spanish Longhorns brought here 400 years ago. Red Devon and South Poll cattle are well-known for their grass-fed genetics. We specifically select for bulls derived from grass-fed breeders. The combination of the two breeds makes for a hardy, thrifty animal that is able to finish on grass in our harsh South Texas environment.”

I had the opportunity to partner with my good friend and colleague Dr. Megan Clayton with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She is the Extension Range Specialist and I value her knowledge and expertise greatly.

We partnered on a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Professional Development Program (PDP) grant called “Farming for the Future”.

Between 2014 and 2017 we designed and conducted 4 sustainable agriculture professional development trainings for producers, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agents and Family Consumer Science Specialists, and Natural Resource Conservation Service Personnel. Our first training in 2014 consisted of a 4-day farm tour including a raw milk dairy, pasture raised poultry operation, grass fed beef operation, pastured pork and lamb operation, and bee operation.

We offered a “Farm & Ranch to Table Field Day” in spring 2016 where we highlighted food labeling and terminology, cooking and nutrition, production practices, and sustainable land management. We partnered with Cibolo Nature Center to offer our 3rd training where Mark Shepard led an “Introduction to Restoration Agriculture” in the fall of 2016. We were able to participate in his intensive workshop the following two days.

Our 4th and final training “Business Basics for Alternative Agriculture” took place in spring 2017 at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens where we covered topics such as business planning, financial planning, and marketing. All together we reached approximately 200 educators through the “Farming for the Future” PDP and are confident our reach has been much greater. It was very exciting to reach an audience unfamiliar with these ideas and opportunities.

I believe we have showed naysayers that what we do has real worth and merit by proving it’s economically viable. We know the real value of the ecosystem services this type of farming and ranching provide and we do our best to share that message as often as possible.

Scientific research helps to strengthen that message. I have been blessed with some unique opportunities to fulfill my passion for research. I received Southern SARE’s Producer Grant this spring to conduct research on the effect of sub-soiling (deep soiling ripping) on our landscape. We are measuring infiltration, compaction, vegetation and biomass on an improved pasture and native pasture. We are excited about some of our early data and plan to continue research efforts in the years to come.

7) Are there any other ways your PDC has influenced your life beyond applying the knowledge on your farm/ranch? 

My experience during the PDC reached far beyond the content taught and the experiences we had. It taught me to step out of my comfort zone and see things in a fresh new light. I learned how to find real balance between food production and ecological function and exciting ways to incorporate it in our own lives. I went into the course hoping to find ways to improve our business design and left with a great reminder of how to live simply and be healthy.

Now as parents of two, our priority is our boys. Permaculture concepts and a deep-rooted understanding of natural systems is so important to their upbringing. We want them to be healthy and strong physically, mentally and spiritually. We do our best to raise/grow all our own food and barter what we can’t produce. The best feeling is to hear my 3 year old say “Mom, I’m going outside to eat something!”.  So grateful for that connection and opportunity.

About Mandy Krause

Mandy is co-owner of Parker Creek Ranch and manages the education and research programs. She has over 10 years of experience designing and directing conservation-based programs for youth and adults across the state and works as a consultant for the Welder Wildlife Foundation and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  Mandy is trained as a wildlife biologist and is very involved in the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society which serves and represents wildlife professionals in all areas of conservation and resource management with the goal of promoting excellence in wildlife stewardship through science and education. She loves sharing her passion for nature and the outdoors with others – especially her husband Travis and two boys Jack and Max.

About Parker Creek Ranch

Family owned and operated since 1846, Parker Creek Ranch is a working ranch located 50 miles west of San Antonio. We are committed to regenerative agriculture production and creating healthy habitats for livestock, wildlife, and people. As stewards of the land, our goal is to produce nutritious products for our community while designing and managing systems that will benefit the environment and future generations.

The most effective land management tools we use include holistic management grazing (a mix of frequent rotations and mob grazing between 27 pastures), cover cropping, and sub-soiling (deep ripping). We have planted 75 acres in a native grass/forb mix, fenced off the creek from grazing, and increased soil organic matter substantially across the landscape. We strongly believe that regenerative, holistic agriculture practices have a large-scale impact on the conservation of our natural resources. We have seen our systems and efforts greatly improve the soil and forage quality, water catchment and infiltration, and wildlife habitat.

We focused on producing broilers and laying hens in the early years but have now expanded to turkeys and grass-fed beef.  We are a direct farm-to-market producer committed to the idea that local is better. All of our products are sold within a 150 miles radius to farmers markets, restaurants, and individuals/families. The relationships with the people of our local communities are of great importance to us. We are energized by sustainable agriculture design and love to teach others about what we do. We enjoy harvesting wild game, spend lots of time in our garden, plant an incredible amount of native and edible trees, all the while constantly brainstorming and implementing regenerative practices.

Parker Creek Ranch’s business and production models are always evolving. Our farm has overcome enormous obstacles by staying committed, focusing on our goals and the overall bigger picture. There is nowhere else we would rather be and nothing we want to do more.

© Mandy Krause 2018

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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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