EARTH REPAIR CORPS
June 2019 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode
Scutellaria ovata/Heartleaf Skullcap and its subspecies
Family:  Lamiaceae/Mint  

The delicate blue flowers of Heartleaf Skullcap provide a refreshing sight in late spring and into summer. Their bloom time compliments well in the landscape with other wildflowers that stop blooming sooner, and this overlap helps to provide food for pollinators throughout the summer.  When happy, these reliable perennial herbs spread quickly into large stands through their rhizomes, like many other species in the mint family. They are easy to propagate by digging and replanting the roots, and though they can spread into large clumps, they are not particularly aggressive when growing with other plants. Heartleaf Skullcap is one of various Scutellari species that grow in Texas, and prefers slightly more moisture, soil, and shade than the average hill country plant to truly thrive.

Yet, they are still very hardy and can survive a drought even in poor/shallow soil once established, though their growth will be reduced in those conditions. In deeper soils, Heartleaf Skullcap can more easily thrive in full sun, and it often prefers well-draining soils over heavy clays. 
This wonderful woodland edge plant follows a cool season life cycle, and in fall it will begin growing out many different stalks from its roots, which then maintain themselves as a low groundcover over the winter. This growing habit is very useful to incorporate with warm season plants that go dormant in the winter, so that both groundcover and photosynthesis/feeding of soil microbes can be maintained over the winter.

Heartleaf Skullcap starts to grow its stalks out in early spring, reaching anywhere from 1-3 feet in height before they bloom, depending on their growing conditions. Depending on latitude, light, and moisture conditions, they usually begin to bloom anywhere from April to May, continuing into summer, and will continue blooming longer with wetter conditions. Heartleaf Skullcap loves the cool weather, and typically goes dormant as the summer heat settles in, unless prolonged by cooler weather and periodic rains, or if growing in a cooler and moist microclimate.

Scutellaria ovata is becoming more common in nurseries thanks to its various beneficial qualities and growing habits. The beautiful silvery-blue-green, fuzzy foliage and soft blue blooms create a pleasant visual contrast in the landscape. Like many other Scutellaria species, Heartleaf Skullcap also possesses useful medicinal compounds, and can be used similarly to Scutellaria lateriflora, though they have their differences.

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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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January 2019 – Crop of the Month
Mulberry – Scientific Name: Morus rubra
Family: Moraceae
Written by: Kirby Fry

Winter is upon us here in Central Texas and most of our favorite nurseries are now getting in their bare root, fruit tree stock.  These trees are cultivated and grown in loose sandy soils on larger farms and then removed from that soil and shipped out to our local plant nurseries with no soil around their roots and no containers.  At the local nurseries they are “banked” in a pile of sand until they are purchased and taken home by customers.  They are usually then wrapped in wet paper and kept out of direct sunlight until they are planted in the ground.

Not having to grow out these fruit trees at the nurseries themselves lowers their cost, usually by half, but the time window of their availability is narrow (from early January to late February) and often you need to order these trees in October to secure them because when they arrive at the nurseries they sell out quickly or in many cases have already been pre-sold.  Many tree farms will direct ship to your home as well.  So get your orders in early, or be ready to act quickly and buy them up as soon as they arrive at a local nursery.

This winter we will be featuring three fruit trees that are available as bare root stock – mulberry, apple, and peach.  Grape, blackberry, and asparagus are also available as root stock this time of year.  So get your gardening game on!

– Planting Tips – 

Let’s begin with the mulberry tree.  It produces a small reddish purple ¾” to 1 ¼” long fruit.  If you enjoy watching birds, mulberries are a real treat.  When the trees are fruiting in the spring there is no need to go out bird watching because all of the local birds will be coming to your mulberry trees.  Every spring I get to observe the latest families of wood pecker and tufted titmouse pass through my small mulberry orchard almost on an hourly basis for several weeks.

There is a variety of mulberry tree, Morus rubra, which is native to the Eastern United States.  Many mulberry varieties can become invasive because birds love them so much and spread their seeds, so in this blog we will stick with a variety that is native.  Mulberries are very fast growing for the first 10 or 15 years of their life and then slow down as they mature.  They may serve as an effective means of erosion control, and wind break.  Most mulberries grow to a height of about 30 feet, but the native red mulberry in the right conditions can get up to 70 feet tall, though I’ve never seen one this tall.

They prefer rich well drained soil and full sun, but will thrive in partly shaded areas as well.  Mulberry trees should be planted no closer than 15 feet apart.  Choose a location for your mulberries that is well away from sidewalks and driveways, as this fruit tree makes a lot of fruit and attracts many birds and can be quite messy below its canopy.  Like most fruit trees, when we plant them, the hole we dig should be at least twice the size of the root ball.  Since we are talking about bare root stock, there is no container nor any other soil that we need to address.

A slow release organic fertilizer and minerals should be put into the hole before the tree is set down into it.  I like Bio-tone’s plant starter mix that has a mycorrhiza fungal inoculate in it as well as organic fertilizers.  I also like to add ag lime (Ca), pelletized Sulfur (S), green sand (K, Mg), soft rock phosphate (P), and trace minerals.  This mix of fertilizer and minerals should also be added to and stirred into the soil that is going back into the hole, as well as put into the bottom of the hole before planting.

Mulberries require minimal pruning, but pruning should start when the tree is small and the branches are less than 2 inches in diameter.  Pruning is used to establish a set of main lateral branches and prevent the crossing and rubbing of branches, to manage the tree’s height and make harvesting easier.

The mulberry tree is extremely tough and does exceptionally well in our climate requiring very little watering and pest management.  An annual mulching of the ground beneath the tree’s canopy might be all you ever need to do to keep this tree thriving.

Visit your local nursery this week and check out their incoming supply of bare root fruit trees!

 

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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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December 2018 – Crop of the Month
Loquat – Scientific Name: Eriobotrya japonica
Family: Rosaceae
Written by: Kirby Fry

 

Every homestead in Central Texas can and should have something fruiting or ready to harvest year-round.  A fruiting calendar marks a month or time of the year when fruits are ripe in your landscape.  In the fall and winter, a fruiting calendar would mark pomegranate, Asian persimmon, citrus and loquat, pretty much in that order from September through March.  This is handy to know because so many of the fruits we enjoy the most like peaches, plums, and apples fruit in the spring and early summer.

The loquat tree (Japanese plum or Japanese medlar), which we will be discussing here, flowers in the late fall and early winter and bears fruit late in the winter or early spring.  It has fragrant flowers, is evergreen, and is often used as an ornamental tree in landscapes.  It is a frost hardy tree, tolerating freezes as low as 10 degrees, and does well in all of Texas’ soils.

Loquat trees are available in nurseries year-round and should be planted as soon as the fall rains begin.  This is the last of my fall series of 3 trees that can be purchased and planted in containers during the fall – pomegranate, fig, and loquat.  In January we will begin discussing what bare root tree stocks are available to purchase and plant.

 – Planting Tips – 

  • Loquats are easy to germinate from seed for ornamental purposes, but like many other fruit trees started from seed, the seedlings and future trees will not always make fruit or the desired quality of fruit, so it is recommended that for fruit production you vegetatively propagate loquat (with cuttings) from varieties known to bear exceptional fruit.
  • Loquats desired for their fruit production should be planted on the south side of buildings for shelter from winter winds, as a hard freeze will not kill the tree itself, but temperatures below 27 degrees will damage or kill the flowers and fruit.
  • If the tree is purchased in a container with a soilless media, then that media should be gently washed off with a garden hose to expose the roots to the soil around it in its new planting place.
  • Dig a hole twice the size of the container your tree came in, water the soil in as you backfill the hole getting rid of air pockets and making sure the roots have good contact with the soil around them.  Water every 3 or 4 days for the next couple of weeks, eventually reducing the frequency of watering.
  • Fertilize the tree with a slow release, high nitrogen fertilizer once the tree begins to put on new growth.  I like feather meal, bone meal and alfalfa meal.  Mulch heavily around the tree to guard soil moisture and prevent broad leaf plants and grasses from competing with your young tree.
  • The fruit matures in late winter to early spring.  It is about 1.5 inches long and 1 inch wide and has 2 or 3 brown seeds in it.  It is gold or orange in color and has a sweet or tangy flavor to it depending on the variety.
  • Loquat has very few plagues, but as it is in the Rosaceae family, it is sometimes susceptible to fire blight, the same destructive bacterial disease that affects pears and apples.  The treatment is to prune and remove any branches or leaves affected by fire blight and safely dispose of them.

Since the loquat tree is evergreen and quite ornamental, similar to a magnolia tree with its large leaves, it can also be used as a hedge row for privacy, a wind break, or as a back drop for your garden.  Enjoy this beautiful tree by using it to expand your fruit calendar and as an ornamental hedge row!

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November 2018 – Crop of the Month
Fig – Scientific Name: Ficus carica
Family: Moraceae
Written by: Kirby Fry

 

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

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

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

– Planting Tips – 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

– Planting Tips – 

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

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

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

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

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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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