EARTH REPAIR CORPS
Native Plant Feature for February: Mexican/Lindheimer’s Silktassel – Garrya ovata ssp. lindheimeri
Family: Garryaceae/Silktassel family
Written by: Guest Contributor Elenore Goode

Lindheimer’s Silktassel is a valuable evergreen plant to enliven the winter landscape and help wildlife through the leaner seasons. Silktassel is often found in robust, shrubby colonies, but can also grow into small, wiry trees. They tend to grow more slender and tall when in the forest understory, and may be more shrub-like when in the full sun. This subspecies of Garrya ovata is endemic to the Edwards Plateau and grows most frequently in association with the limestones there.

Even during droughts in the shallow rocky soils of rough, steep hill country landscapes, this species proves hardy and dependable for producing berries in the fall that benefit a variety of wildlife. It can tolerate both very dry and wet conditions when in its preferred limestone soils, and loves to grow in forests and their margins, but can be found growing anywhere from along creeks, to the hillsides and cliffs above creeks or moist canyons, to dry hilltop forests or savannahs, and seep areas with shallow calcareous soil. 

The berries of Silktassel are a great resource for wildlife in some otherwise stark and eroded landscapes that are often lacking many species of native fruiting shrubs and flowering trees due to historic overbrowsing from livestock, modern vegetation removal, and a lack of decent soils. Silktassel’s slightly fuzzy leaves are a bit more deer-resistant than some native shrubs, leaving more evergreen cover to protect and hide smaller wildlife year-round. Their needs for soil, moisture, and light combine very well in plantings with other native evergreens, such as mountain laurel, yaupon, agarita, and evergreen sumac, which together make some especially beautiful winter cover. 

Silktassel’s soothing light green leaf color also contrasts well with the darker greens of these other species, and they have some lovely and intriguing wind-pollinated blooms in the spring. Species of the Silktassel genus are also regarded as having medicinal value. Lindheimer’s Silktassel is becoming more and more common in nurseries, and is an overall wonderful, hardy, and easy-maintenance understory tree or shrub for the native landscape. 

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We’d like to wish all of you a very happy holiday season & extend a very sincere thank you for your continued support of our mission!

In the new year,  we will be publishing The Dirt on a quarterly basis. We would love your input on which stories you want to see focused on going forward. Please take a moment to respond to this poll and let us know!

Read more below for a few end-of-the-year seasonal tips.  As always, if you wish to make a donation to Earth Repair Corps, it’s tax-deductible. 


  • One of our favorite native plants of the holiday season is the evergreen shrub/small tree Yaupon (ilex vomitoria), also known as Native Holly. 
    • The red berries that yaupon produces in the winter make for great seasonal decorations, and are also welcome winter forage to local wildlife. 
    • Yaupon is the only caffeinated plant native to North America, and its leaves can be used to make a tea by roasting them at a low temperature. Check out some of these recipes so you can roast your own!
    • Yaupon can be found across east Texas, and into the eastern portion of the Hill Country. Read more at Forage Texas
    • Possumhaw (ilex decidua) is very similar to yaupon, but it is not evergreen and loses its leaves in the winter.
  • Winter is always a good time to plant cover crops. Rye, oats, and wheat can still be sown throughout the season. Brassica and other winter greens can also be planted if the seedlings were not hit by hard freezes.
  • There are several ways to reduce your waste during the holiday season. Whether it’s with food scraps, gift wrapping, or discarding of your Christmas tree, don’t forget to apply permaculture principles post-celebration!
  • Local herbs for digestion: the holiday season is typically characterized by an abundance of food, and you may find yourself wanting some digestive aids. Take a look at ChickweedCurled Dock, and Dandelion. And this recipe for an Evergreen Cordial by Traditional Medicinals just for fun. 
Wishing an abundant holiday season to you all!
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October 2019 – Native Plant of the Month

Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode

Plant: Asters/Symphyotrichum genus species

Focusing on a few of the most common species for central Texas: Fall Aster/Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, Drummond’s Aster/Symphyotrichum drummondii var. texanum, Tall Aster/Symphyotrichum praeltum var. praealtum, White Heath Aster/Symphyotrichum ericoides

Family: Asteraceae

Fall flowers are a soothing reprieve after the stifling summer heat, and a vital necessity for many creatures that are preparing for migration or winter.

The many Symphyotrichum, or Aster species that grow in Texas delight every possible landscape – from deep woods to open prairies, and wetlands to rocky hillsides. Their great diversity of physical forms and growing preferences makes this genus especially reliable for enlivening late season gardens. These hardy perennials typically begin the year as small rosettes, growing stalks throughout summer for their fall blooms, and then crumpling down to the ground again in winter. Many of these species will also briefly bloom in late spring/early summer if it is cool and rainy.
 
These are just a few of the local asters I enjoy greeting in the “second spring” that refreshes us after the diminished growth of summer – Tall Aster thrives in deeper prairie soils and slightly wetter conditions with full sun to part shade, though can be easily grown in quite a range of different garden conditions. It will send its roots out to form large colonies, sending up stalks usually to 3-4 feet, topped with bunches of purple-white flowers. Tall Aster is one of the easiest asters to transplant, and any root dug from the ground will happily grow in a new home, and cutting the top of the stalk off will help it along. It does best in large colonies and with other plants that can provide extra support for the long stalks, like Goldenrod, Maximilian Sunflower, or Indiangrass.
 
White Aster
White Heath Aster can grow in a range of soil and moisture conditions, proving to be very hardy growing in anything from steep cliffs and caliche seeps to deep soils in open prairies. It is also fond of the part-shade made by north-facing slopes. The misty white blooms of this species catch the morning sun in a charming way; their white petals themselves are reminiscent of the cold and often dewey air of fall cool fronts that soon dots these same flowers after they open. 
 
Drummond’s, or Texas Aster, is a common woodland aster that is a staple amongst the forest floor herbs of steep hills with shallow soils. Though they may be easy to overlook while they are growing, a forest dotted with these will take on a mystical character when the purple fairy flowers announce their presence
 
Drummond’s or Texas Aster

Fall Aster is perhaps the most well-known and ubiquitous of this genus in central TX, and with it’s manageable and small woody shrub-like form and happy demeanor, it is an essential garden plant for the hardy native landscape. Fall Asters spread well through their roots to form wide colonies, though not as vigorous a spreader as Tall Aster, and a bit hardier. Their habits, needs, and their radiant bunches of little purple flowers compliment very well with other fall blooming native plants. Their roots are also easy to transplant to make a whole new patch, and their above-ground structure is often better able to infiltrate rainfall into the soil than some asters – some of the other species are really meant to grow in a prairie-like matrix with the surface structures and roots of many other species filling in the gaps for the other, as well as providing physical support. Every species has its strong points, and by combining as many plants of complimentary growing habit together as possible, we can allow for stronger roots systems that soak in more rainfall, feed a more diverse group of soil micro-organisms, and create a more resilient and complex layer of nutrient-rich humus comprised from the various qualities of all the different types of leaves.  

Fall Aster
 
Symphyotrichum is another overall dependable genus of much-needed native perennials that can be utilized anywhere from prominent stars of fall display gardens, to background support plants for garden edges and wildlife habitat. All of these different species in their myriad of forms are all nonetheless recognizable as Asters by their flowers, and provide a consistent friendly presence for pollinators on long journeys, as their adaptability and diversity allows them to shine in so many places.
 
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Featured Woodlot Tree – October 2019

Common Name: Southern Live Oak – Species: Quercus virginiana – Family: Fagaceae

Written by: Kirby Fry – Photo by: Elenore Goode

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.” Chinese proverb.

Live oak trees are iconic trees here in Central Texas, they are evergreen, extremely strong, and make beautiful and effective shade trees.  The first tree house I built was in a live oak tree in our backyard. The tree house was three stories tall with operable doors and windows, carpeting, and electricity.  It took three of my friends to wrap our arms around its trunk.

If you could plant a tree and see it thrive, which one (or ones) would it be?  I would plant a live oak, a magnolia tree, and a bald cypress. We should continue on with our plans to plant forests and woodlots that we can build houses with, that function as windbreaks and erosion control, and that enrich natural regions.

Which trees and timber products do we need the most?  Let’s take a stroll down the lumber aisles of any Home Depot, Lowe’s, or McCoy’s.  There we find framing lumber milled from spruce, pine, and fir. The next aisle over we find sheets of plywood made from pine, oak, birch, and maple.  The next aisle over we find trim boards made from oak, cedar, pine, and poplar. Visit a specialty lumber store and you find oak, cypress, ash, maple, and mesquite among many others for furniture, cabinetry, and countertop production.  Not all of these species of trees can be grown here in Texas but many of them can.

In a sustainable human settlement, one management objective would be to plant enough trees to replace the lumber used to build your home.  A 1,000 square foot home requires approximately 6,300 board feet to complete. A mature pine tree at a height of 80 feet and width 2 feet will yield 754 board feet, so 8 or 9 mature pine trees are what we need to build a 1,000 square foot home. 

Each tree species grows into a different form and will vary on how many board feet it yields when mature, so a woodlot consists of a variety of different trees – oak, pine, cypress, ash, maple, and hickory, and those trees are used for a variety of different functions in the house – framing, planks, trim, and doors and windows.

The southern live oak tree has historically been used for ship building (because its trunk and mature branches are curved), and tool handles.  It can also be milled into posts and beams, and lumber for trim.

Propagation

The acorns from live oak trees should be collected in late October as they begin to fall from the tree, and then be planted directly into the ground.  The best acorns for germinating will still be on the tree. The larger the acorn, the more likely successful germination will be. Remove the acorn caps and any other debris, put the acorns in a bowl of water and discard the ones that float because the shell has been breached and air has gotten inside of it.

Sow the acorns in good, well-drained mineral / sandy soil with a 1 inch layer of compost on top.  The acorns will not need cold treatment or stratification. Partial shade on the west side is helpful, and moderate, consistent watering is essential.  Squirrel proof caging or exclosure for the seedlings is recommended.

Transplant your live oaks in the early spring.  Prune the roots of the tree to make transplanting easier and encourage a flush of new root growth closer to the root ball.  A wide shallow hole is best for live oaks. Water moderately and consistently for the first year, and do not add soil amendments or fertilizers.  Keep the top of the root crown 1 to 2 inches above the surface of the ground.  

Pruning & Maintenance

As your live oak grows, moderate branch pruning is recommended, removing just the lower branches to ensure a knot free trunk up to about 8 or 10 feet in height.  Proper wound care is required by minimizing the number of branches pruned back each year – 3 to 9, keeping the pruning cuts to the smallest diameter possible, and spraying a pruning tar on open cuts and wounds to prevent fungal infection.

The live oak tree will be mature in 50 years, however in a woodlot your cultivated trees are harvested at earlier stages in their life cycle for fence posts, tool handles, and smaller posts and beams.

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September 2019 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode
Goldenrod/Solidago spp., Solidago canadensis/Tall Goldenrod
Family: Asteraceae

Late summer in Texas is a tough time for a plant to begin to flower, and the many perennial species of Solidago that grow across the state are some of the most dependable plants for wildlife to find blooms on at this time, despite any heat and drought. Growing everywhere from wetlands and prairies to drylands and cliff faces, Goldenrods are a very adaptable and diverse genus of plants that have much to offer humans and wildlife. The different species also have a variety of growth habits, from small clumping species, to some that will spread quickly through their roots, and go as far as they can reach. 

All photos © Elenore Goode 2019

Their bright yellow hues are a welcome sight for pollinators at the end of a tough summer. Goldenrods can be counted on to tough out the worst and still show their best colors. Solidago blooms are often super loaded with a great variety of pollinator species buzzing around them, since they provide a vital surge of rich pollinator forage at a time when many insects and other plants may be trying to recover from a harsh summer before winter.  

Goldenrod’s flowers and leaves have also long been recognized as having useful medicinal qualities, and remain popular as a hardy wild remedy plant in many pollinator gardens. 


The drought endurance, ability to grow in poor conditions, and rapid-spreading habit of some species may also make them too vigorous for companion planting in vegetable and herb gardens. However, these same qualities make those species ideal for re-vegetating ecologically-degraded areas with beneficial plants for wildlife, and are a great choice for areas with poor soils and low species density. Even in gardens, they can be carefully introduced (especially in more depleted soils that need organic matter) and used to suppress other plants like Bermuda grass, or to provide just enough shade for herbs and veggies in late summer, when not allowed to smother them.

These hardy but aggressive species of Goldenrod are great as support plants, and excel in wildflower borders, hedges, and tall grass prairie settings. They do best when they are allowed to grow in dense colonies, or with other tallgrass prairie plants for structural support. 

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September 2019 – Crop of the Month
Pecan – Scientific Name: Carya illinoinensis
Family: Juglandaceae
Written by: Kirby Fry

The pecan tree is iconic.  It is a tall, beautiful and agriculturally productive native tree.  

The pecan tree is also the state tree of Texas.  

Since the 1880’s the United States of America has become a major producer of pecan nuts, which are actually drupes or stone fruits, harvesting 264.2 million pounds of pecans annually as of 2014.  Mexico and the US of A account for 93% ton of the world’s pecan production.  

Growing up in Houston, Texas, my second story bedroom was perched over our neighbor’s single story house which had a metal roof on it. I remember hearing pecans falling from their pecan tree and hitting that roof all throughout the fall.  During those fall and winter months there was also a wooden bowl that sat out in our dining room which was full of pecans. Nearby was an assortment of tools used for cracking open the shells and picking out the delicious fruit inside, we had contests to see who could “shell” the most intact pecans.

Right around the fall equinox, pecans are ripening here in Texas. This is a really good time to start thinking about planting your very own pecan trees.

Planting Tips

The pecan tree can be planted from late December through early March and will do well in every county of Texas.  They are typically sold as bare root stock with a 24” to 32” long intact tap root.  

The roots of a pecan tree should be kept moist from the time of purchase to the time of planting.  

At least 2 or 3 different varieties should be selected and purchased for cross pollination.  

Cultivar pecan trees are grafted and chosen for the sweetness of their fruit, the thinness of their shell, and the alternating years that they produce.  Pecan tree growers are careful to select trees that yield pecans during alternating years, as a pecan tree will produce one year and then possibly skip 1 or 2 years of production.

Several varieties of pecan trees are recommended for Central Texas.  These varieties include – Sioux, Choctaw, Wichita, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Forkert, Cape Fear, Kiowa, and Caddo.  They have all adapted to river and creek bottoms, preferring deep well drained sandy and loamy soils, though I have also seen them do well in clayey soils that have good drainage.

Select a site to plant your pecan trees that is at least 20’ away from your house, and away from driveways where cars will be parked.  Pecans are large trees that tend to start dropping large branches after 20 or 30 years of growth. If planted close to your home, they will need careful pruning later on in their life cycle.

Pecan trees should be planted 35’ apart from one another in order to give their massive root systems plenty of room to develop.  

The hole you dig for them should be as deep as the tap root is long (sometimes 32” to 48” deep), with the objective being to replant the tree as deeply as it was planted at the nursery.  The soil line on bare root trees can be determined by the color of the bark.  

Because the hole you will need to dig for a pecan tree will be deeper and larger than most fruiting trees, the tap root should sit firmly against the bottom of the hole you dig to avoid undesirable settling.  The hole should be carefully back-filled and watered in, in order to prevent branching roots from settling or sinking too much as well.

The tree should be watered in with at least 5 gallons of water per tree immediately after planting.  

The time needed for the tree to begin production takes close to 8 years, after which the tree will begin to yield 10 pounds of pecans per year and up.

Tree Fertilization and Maintenance

A nitrogen fertilizer should be the only soil-applied amendment that your pecans need.  Alfalfa meal, feather meal, bone meal, and/or blood meal should be applied in small amounts throughout the growing season.  These are low or moderate sources of nitrogen and you could easily double the amount applied when compared to high nitrogen fertilizers.

About 1 pound of high nitrogen fertilizer (21-0-0) per inch of trunk diameter should be applied each year.  Keep high nitrogen fertilizers away from the base of the trunk in order to prevent tissue scalding.

As the trees mature into their 7th or 8th years of growth, avoid applying high nitrogen fertilizers after June in order to prevent a flush of new growth getting frozen back in the fall.  

During the first 7 years of growth, a zinc nitrate solution should be applied in a liquid form to the surface of the leaves, 2 to 4 teaspoons per gallon of water or 1 to 2 quarts per 100 gallons of water.  Pecan trees deficient in zinc will have smaller, weaker leaves and leaf stems and in extreme zinc deficiencies the trees will experience a higher rate of die back during harsh summer and winter conditions.  This zinc emulsion should be sprayed on the trees every 2 weeks or so during the growing season.

Water your pecan trees from March through September for the first couple of years after you plant them.  During the summer time your young pecan trees may need 2” of water per square foot of growing area, one time per week.

Low emerging braches (a.k.a. trashy trunk) should be pruned back each winter, and care should be taken to select and preserve a central leader for the top of the tree.  Try to avoid allowing a “V” to form in the tree’s trunk as pecans grow to be large and somewhat brittle, and a forked trunk will often crack and split.

Maintain the area under your pecan trees and keep it free of brush and tall grasses during the fall so that the fallen pecans can be more easily harvested. Once your pecan trees are established after 8 years or so, fertilize and water only as needed.

Harvesting pecans is a great way to supplement your fall and winter diet. Pecans also have a high market value and can be used to feed pigs during fall and winter months.  

Take a look at your property, and find a good place to plant a few pecan trees.

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August 2019 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode
Escarpment Black Cherry – Prunus serotina var. eximia
Family: Rosaceae

Escarpment Black Cherry is a beautiful and unique regional variety of Prunus serotina that is endemic to the Hill Country and south central Texas. Prunus serotina var. eximia is a great tree for wildlife, and is delightful-looking year round and as it changes through maturity –  from its narrow, tall form as a young tree, to its fragrant early spring blooms that are beloved by bees, the refreshingly lush green foliage, the small and edible cherries (black when ripe, but the pit and wilted leaves are toxic), the crisp yellow fall colors, and the intricate and changing patterns of the bark, which is also traditionally used to make medicine.  


While mostly smaller specimens are left after centuries of deforestation combined with over-browsing of saplings, there are still great 40-50+ foot Escarpment Black Cherry trees here and there. These are remarkably hardy trees that will survive severe drought through dying back to their roots and going dormant. Though very hardy, in order to truly thrive to their potential they need slightly more moisture than the average hill country tree, and can grow into beautiful large trees that make dense shade when they have good soil, ample water, and close to full sun, but with the shade of other trees or a hill.

Almost all large remaining cherries are in a moist canyon or on a north-facing slope with good forest cover around them, creating deep shade, which helps to conserve moisture in the soil when it is most needed! 


Once we’re in the midst of summer, we can fully appreciate the cooling value of the native forests of Texas, and so do all the plants and animals! Creek and rivers here greatly benefit from tall tree shade as well, since it reduces evaporation and keeps water temperatures at livable levels for aquatic wildlife. Historically, most of the Hill Country’s steep slopes and hills were forested in old growth woodland, and the individuals trees were much larger, with a tall expansive canopy that shielded many more sensitive understory plants and the soil from the intense heat. Due to the loss of soil health, depth, and its microorganism connectivity, it is much harder for slightly needier native trees like these to survive across much their historic range, so these cherries are often found as a small understory tree growing in the shade and nicer soils produced by oak trees, due to the lack of remaining suitable habitat. Tiers of canopy shade are a necessary part of the native ecology of the Hill Country, and are how most woody species here grew together, as described by those who saw this region before it was largely deforested by 1860.  Many native trees do not like to spend their youth in the full sun, where the harsh sun rays cause them to spend most of their energy respirating, rather than use the energy to grow. They also do not like their soil and root area exposed to bake in the sun instead of growing in the deep, spongy, humus and moisture-rich forest leaf mulch they should have. 


A common and unfortunate myth in Texas is that native grasses do not grow under trees – which has really only come about from the short-sighted observation that in overgrazed pastures where all the grass was killed and thus woody vegetation begins to fill the created void of life, there often will still be little grass once trees re-vegetate the area – because there wasn’t really much left before… Yet we can’t make such claims and scapegoat trees for centuries of poor land management if we spend enough time with the native grasses in their less-disturbed habitats.

Many great native grasses love to grow in at least partial shade, including eastern gama, bristlegrasses, indiangrass, setaria, inland seaoats, wildryes, etc. It would be beneficial for more ranchers to encourage and utilize shade pastures for summer forage, since the same grass in shade vs sun might still be green and growing vs dry and shriveling in the dryness of late summer. In many upland areas, the remnants of the big native bunch grasses (that are now mostly restricted to riparian areas and lowlands) cling on to life often only by the protection and partial shade of trees – just shielding plants from the later afternoon sun goes a long way in making it possible for them to survive tougher soil and moisture conditions. 

Full sun is more bearable to plants in Texas when they have deep soils and good moisture – and the loss of these things from the erosion and dehydration of this region means that shade and trees, and the positive feedback loops they create towards a more moist environment, are more important than ever!

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Our PDC Grad Interview Series is back!

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

Learn More about the Permaculture Design Course and check out our upcoming Fall 2019 PDC.

We’re continuing this series with small-business owner Michael Wolfert of Symbiosis Regenerative Systems – read more below.

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

I had a deep feeling of despair in my late teenage years and early twenties. At the time I was mostly seeking ways to reduce my footprint and be an activist for policy change and reform. One day a friend of mine, Joshua Adair, called me up and said that there was a potential scholarship for a permaculture design course. I said, “what the heck is permaculture.” He said “It’s like gardening, natural building, community building and learning to live more sustainably!” and proceeded to give the details of the event. I said I would have to think about it. We hung up. I thought about it for literally 1 minute, called him back and let him know I was really excited to learn about this and incredibly grateful that there was a scholarship because I would not have been able to afford it at the time. I started to do some research and prepare for the PDC, though I still had no idea the rabbit hole I was about to enter. 

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

I didn’t have many expectations, having just stumbled upon the concept with very little time to consider the implications and the impact they could have on my outlook and life. 

All Images © Symbiosis Regenerative Systems 2019

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, Gary Freeborg, Jenny Nazak and Ted Norris.

This course was a real turning point for me. Kirby led the majority of class time and he did a great job introducing me to the idea that we might actually strive to have a positive footprint instead of just trying to eliminate our negative footprint, and that in this practice we could aim to set up positive feedback loops, modeling our designs after ecosystems. 

From that point forward, I knew what my driving focus would be. I would try my best to become a mutually beneficial symbiote with my ecosystem. An agent for making connections between the correlating outputs and needed inputs of the systems around me. Nudging ecological succession forward. Taking more responsibility for my family’s needs, consumption, and outputs. Striving to leave a legacy of regeneration in my wake. It’s a lifelong pursuit that I hope future generations will be able to carry forward. 

“This site is a 7,000 square foot lot in an urban environment. In this picture you can see one of the main swales we installed – using earthworks and rain water catchment we’ve managed to catch about 95% of the water falling onto the site as well as from the 3 neighboring lots up hill.”

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

Working at Morning Glory Farm with Gracie Brousard and Richard Lindley was my first real-world continuing education. These folks were real eco-pioneers and all-around fantastic mentors. I was very lucky to find them and to be allowed to study farming with them. I worked there for nearly 2 years as a farmhand. During this time I lived primarily in a school bus with no running water or power. The meals Gracey would make from the produce they grew and goods they traded other farmers for really opened my eyes to what eating fresh and seasonal produce would be like. they were both extremely patient and kind. I learned a ton about gardening, farming, community building, and being a mentee.

Cypress Valley Farms was my second continuing education course where I worked as a co-farm manager in an attempt to start a profitable regenerative farm. I learned so much from this experience and the property owners that it’s hard to summarize. Some of the main takeaways were to focus equally on the business and marketing of your farm as you do on the growing of produce. Make clear agreements with all decision-makers – 1 hour of energy input here on the front end could easily save 10 + hours of confusion on the back end. Establish a healthy work-life balance and don’t let being a business owner consume and burn you out. 

Hill Country Natives was my third continued education course. Here, I worked with Mitch Mitchamore to cultivate an intensive food forest in Leander, Texas starting with 6 inches of topsoil sitting on hundreds of feet of rock shelf. Mitch runs a fantastic nursery for natives and fruiting adapted plants but often says the main yield of his business is education, conversation, and connection. He takes as much time as needed to work with each client personally. He gave me a lot of freedom and trust to come up with experiments and implement them on the grounds at Hill Country Natives. Some days, we would be working at the potting trailer for many hours having wide-ranging discussions and being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I learned a lot about leadership and problem solving from Mitch and a lot about food forests and native plants from the work we did together.

I worked for Paige Hill-Oliverio of Urban Patchwork as I was just getting my business started, doing landscaping installation and maintenance gigs in Austin. I learned about being a contractor, spreadsheets, and integrating art into a functional design. Paige does great work and I still enjoy collaborating with her on projects to this day. 

Teaching a food forest workshop with Caroline Riley-Carberry, Food Forests For All, three years in a row was a powerful learning experience. We taught people the basics of food forest design and the underlying principles, lead them through a design process, and implemented the design over the course of three days. Some of the results are on display at the Whole Life Learning Center, where a field has been transformed into a thriving food forest that is managed by Caroline with help from the whole life-learners. Seeing the iterations and receiving critical feedback from the systems this course worked to design and install furthered my understanding of food forestry and permaculture in general. Caroline taught me a lot about facilitation and design. I believe some of the initial collaborators that started the permablitzes and eventually Earth Repair Corps first began putting heads together at FFFA 1.  I love seeing a ripple effect of positive actions after good people get together and get inspired by a common goal. 

I traveled to Michigan to learn from Mark Shepard with Pete VanDyck. I learned from Mark that the economics of large scale permaculture farming are tricky and that you have to be creative and strategic to make your way in this space. I learned that small farmers can leverage their power as co-ops to compete against big ag and revitalize agricultural communities. I learned about designing systems that can be managed by machines at scale in order to compete against big ag without compromising the regenerative metrics of success we strive to meet. I also hosted Mark to teach a workshop at our homestead when we had just started renovating the place and learned not to host workshops until your infrastructure is in good shape. The workshop was a success and I learned more from Mark about his philosophy, and made wonderful connections with local like-minded folks. 

I was a participant in TexRex with Darren Doherty, where we learned the Regrarians method of property design. This was Darren’s adaptation of the Keyline Scale of Permanence, based on years of experience designing large scale regenerative properties. This method has been a huge help in systematizing my design process and presenting information to my clients in a clear, digestible package. I learned a lot about rotational grazing, mapping, keyline design and much much more. This is one of the best workshops I’ve ever attended in that I took home more practical advice and methodology than any other, had a lot of fun between classes, and the food was delicious! I gained a ton of inspiration from Darren, Lisa, and the other participants.

I’ve learned from the Permablitzes, and seeing the updates from those systems installed has helped me to have more iterative feedback to improve the designs that I create.

I’ve been running my own permaculture/regenerative design and installation business for nearly 6 years now. We have worked on over 100 individual projects, and being able to monitor these systems gives me even more data to draw on for improving the design, installation, and maintenance methods we use for all things regenerative. 

I’ve been living on my own homestead for nearly 4 years and am constantly learning from observing ecosystem succession in outer zones as well as the inner zone experiments and systems we’re running out here. One standard question I have to ask myself when installing a new system is: will I be able to maintain this with my 3 kids in tow or even better get them to help me with it? How can I make this accessible and fun for our family flow? That’s a pretty fun design lense to look through.

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! As you can probably tell from my list above, I dove in headfirst and never looked back. 

I’ve been doing permaculture professionally for nearly 6 years. We have 8 full-time employees including myself and a great network of independent contractors we can call on for collaboration. We’ve continued to gain momentum and improve our methods each year. Although it is a marathon of hard work, I love it. The projects we work on, the team we work with and the clients who have chosen to lead the charge in this effort keep me constantly inspired, learning, and growing. 

For the last 4 years, I’ve been living on a 25-acre homestead with my family. Even though I grew up in cities and suburbs, as I got older I never really felt like I could relax when I lived in the city. The frenetic energy, constant background noise, light pollution, air pollution, the heat island effect, it all just got under my skin and made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to raise my kids in a place where we were so reliant on seemingly fragile systems. I wanted them to grow up with the freedom to roam in the woods, get muddy, grow food and see the magic of nature unfold over many years. I don’t know if they’ll thank me for it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way and the turning point was my PDC. Each year we are more self-sufficient as we find our place within this context and ecosystem. 

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

Yes, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients, taught at least 100 students in workshops, have taught some co-workers, and worn out my mom with my ecovangelism. I’ve also learned a lot from these interactions and continue to meet really cool folks from all walks of life who all agree that sustainable design is a good idea.


Interested in obtaining your certification? Learn more about our upcoming Permaculture Design Course here.

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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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