EARTH REPAIR CORPS
July 2018 – Native Plant of the Month

Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode

 

Wax Mallow/Turk’s Cap – Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii
Family: Malvaceae (Mallow family)
Wax Mallow is a hardy and productive native perennial mallow that has a long bloom period (late spring until first frost) and can bloom and fruit profusely through the Texas summer heat. This is a wonderful edible plant to include in the backdrop of landscapes and gardens for humans, livestock, and wildlife, and to create dense understory shade for retaining moisture under trees. The flowers, fruits, and leaves are all edible and nutritional; the leaves are a good source of minerals, and the fruits are a good source of vitamin C. ​
Wax Mallow’s large leaves are adapted to the shadier understory of trees and large shrubs, and it will also benefit from deeper soils and extra moisture. It can handle more drought and poorer soils when grown in the shade. It can also grow well in full sun, though it will take on a form that is much more compact, and with smaller leaves, and would still prefer some afternoon/evening shade if it has sun the rest of the day.
This is a very common plant in the nursery trade, and many cultivars and closely-related species are available. There are plenty of remaining wild stands to harvest seeds from as well. It is one of the easiest native plants to grow from seed, and they can spread themselves readily where they are not hampered by deer overbrowsing. Wax Mallow’s abundant seed production and ability to germinate in poor and disturbed soil make it a great and economical plant to utilize in habitat restoration efforts.
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July 2018 – Crop of the Month
Okra – Scientific Name: Abelmoschus esculentus
Family:  Malvaceae (the Mallow family)

If you are still putting annual vegetable seeds into the ground at this time of the year, early summer (June 21 through July 21), then okra ought to be on your list.  It is one of the most successful annual vegetables that can still be planted in July, and though it requires a little bit of “dressing up” to be more palatable to eat, it is hardy, nutritious, and does well in our summer’s high temperatures and high humidity.
Okra can be planted by seed after soil temperatures have gotten above 65 degrees (mid to late March), and then be planted by seed through the first part of August.
Like most annual vegetables okra also does really well if the soil has been turned to a depth of 8 to 12 inches.  Soils can also be conditioned with sheet mulching rather than turning, which I do recommend, but sheet mulching requires more lead time.  A late spring, early summer bed needs to have been sheet mulched and kept moist since the previous fall for best results.
Okra seeds should be planted 1″ deep 4″ apart in a row.  The rows should be about 36″ apart.
As we have noted before, it is a good practice to put out at least 2″ of compost over your garden annually, if not biannually.  I would do this in the spring and in the fall.  Organic slow release fertilizers should be put out under your compost, or in and along side each seed in order to help your vegetables along.
I like the organic Bio-tone products.
When you harvest okra, harvest it while it is still small and tender, less than 4″ long or so, while still green and tender.
You should wear long pants, long sleeves, and gloves when harvesting as okra has spicules on its surface that will irritate your skin.  Collect it in a wicker basket or paper bag and then refrigerate it as soon as you can.
Prepare your palates picky eaters and cook your okra wisely.   Okra is mucilaginous (slimy, especially when just boiled) and is easier for me to eat it when it is battered and fried, and or added to a large pot of gumbo.
What a great summer crop, though, to be able to enjoy here in Texas!
Kirby Fry
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June 2018 – Crop of the Month
Watermelon – Scientific Name: Citrullus lanatus
Family:  Cucurbitaceae

Watermelon is the crop of the month because many watermelon gardens that were planted after the last danger of frost, sometime between March 7 and March 21, are ready to harvest right now.  You will see watermelons showing up in roadside vegetable stands in mid to late June.  Texas is one of the largest producers of watermelons in the US.

Planting tips:

Soils should be loose down to 8” deep and be amended with broken down compost, and soft rock phosphorous.  At least 2 or 3 more applications of compost will need to be applied.  Six or seven seeds should be planted in hills 4” high and 12 to 14” wide.  Hills should be 2 to 3’ apart.  Each vine should be allowed to produce 2 to 4 fruit depending on how large you want the fruit to be.  Some varieties that do well here in Texas are Black Diamond, Crimson Sweet, Charleston Gray, Bush Sugar Baby, and Jubilee.

Harvesting tips:

The melons should be ripe when the tendril attached near the fruit is brown or dead, and the ground spot, where the fruit sits on the ground, is a creamy color with streaks in it.

Enjoy cold watermelon this summer to help make the summer’s heat a little more bearable!

Kirby Fry

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June 2018 – Native Plant of the Month

Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode

 

Ironweed species – Vernonia baldwinii and Vernonia lindheimeri are the two species most commonly found in central Texas.
Family: Asteraceae – Aster Family
Ironweeds begin to bloom profusely in the heat at the start of summer in June. Their showy and vibrant flowers can keep blooming all summer and well into fall when they are happy, and they can send out new stalks and blooms if the old ones are cut down in late summer. Ironweeds are beloved by all pollinators, and their shape makes a perfect landing pad for large butterflies. Their relatively small individual flowers produce prolific amounts of little tufted seeds that float away in the wind. They are particularly useful plants for pollinator habitat restoration in areas with high deer pressure, as they are not favored for eating by herbivores.
– The first three photos below are Western Ironweed; The latter five are Woolly Ironweed –
Western Ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii) is a tall and hardy perennial plant that readily spreads into large patches from its seeds and rhizomes. By the time it blooms the stalks are typically anywhere from 3-6 ft tall. It is a wonderful plant for pollinator gardens, and works best where its spreading growth habit won’t become a problem. It grows very well with similarly-spreading plants, such as Goldenrod, Frostweed, American Germander, Artemesia ludoviciana, and Maximilian Sunflower, to create a symbiotic prairie ecosystem and give each other structural support to stay standing straight. This guild of plants will also create a succession of blooms through the summer and into fall, helping bridge the temporal fragmentation of food sources.
Woolly Ironweed (Vernonia lindheimeri) is hardier in rocky and dry soils, much smaller in stature and leaf size, and does not spread as vigorously as Western Ironweed. It is a beautiful plant for well-draining and dry areas and low-growing pollinator gardens, and makes a beautiful display in the heat of summer along with other hardy small perennials like Calylophus, Engelmann and Blackfoot Daisy, Short Goldenrod,  Fall Aster, Wedelia, Mealy Blue Sage, Stillingia sylvatica, Damianita, Lantana, etc.
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Earth Repair Corps, Interview with Pete VanDyck – 2018 06 20
By Kirby Fry

K: Pete, it has been my honor and privilege to work with you.

I believe that we first met during a permablitz maintenance event at Kealing Middle School around July 9, 2014.  Since then, you have stepped up and filled some very essential roles for the sustainable design movement in Central Texas.

My gratitude goes out to you, and to EVERYONE else implementing best design practices.

Please allow me to ask you six or seven questions.

  1. How, and or why, were you drawn to regenerative design systems?

Thanks, Kirby. Yes, we did meet at Kealing Middle School and this is actually a photo from that day,  good documentation there! Wow, I can’t believe how time flies! At first I was just interested in working outside with the land and plants, but I also had concerns about my own health, the health of society, and the health of our environment which made me want to look deeper into natural systems.  It was the same as many other folks who find this path – it usually happens from either a health issue due to poor nutrition, environmental conditions, or being hurt in mainstream society. I was sort of all three. Permaculture Design has opened my eyes to the answers for all of these problems and since then I have been more focused than I had ever been in my life.

2. How did you first learn about permaculture and sustainable design in Central Texas?

After being stationed in San Diego, California for six years I finished my contract with the military and began searching for a new career. During my time there I had developed a skill in finding the right people to help me accomplish my goals. Really all you have to do is find the highest source of knowledge that you can and learn from that person. So I went seeking out Mr. Kirby Fry, who seemed to be that person when I moved to Elgin, Texas.  I think I found out about the maintenance blitz at Kealing Middle School through Facebook. I first learned about Permaculture from Ben Falk’s great book “The Resilient Farm and Homestead”.

3. What are some important site selection criteria for a homestead or a farm that we should know about?

It’s very important to find a place with the capacity for redundant sources of water. That includes good wells and room for ponds and rain tanks. Access is also important – why buy land if half of it is inaccessible? Access can often be an afterthought when buying land, many folks figure that they’ll just be able to figure it out and everything will be fine. This can really throw a wrench in the gears when you are building a house and construction trucks cannot get to the building site, or the poor access keeps washing out, or roads are too muddy to cross, etc. I like a short road that’s high and dry, easy to maintain, and reliable.

The best place to put a road is on a ridge, so when you are looking to buy that property with the long easement that crosses multiple gullies my advice is to find a better one. I also like properties that are 20-50 percent forested. Trees make everything so much more comfortable in Texas, but I never advise buying fully forested properties. We ought to stay out of the brush and help reforest the land that needs the help. It’s also important to have a good solar aspect. Western facing hills can be brutally hot in the summer; I often find the biggest trees on the north side of the hill. Hills facing northeast seem to be the most comfortable in Texas for plants, people, and animals. I provide very reasonable pre-purchase assessments for anyone buying property. I can save people years of heartache with this service and I don’t think anyone should close on a property without getting professional eyes on it.

4. What are some important skill sets that we should know about in order to design a sustainable homestead?

It’s so important to find the right community. Getting a Permaculture Design Certificate is a really fantastic place to start. That way you learn how to think, instead of what to think. Then each person finds his or her own niche from there. Not everyone has to be a farmer or designer, we still need builders, teachers, medical professionals, and all the other important services. Equally important as the skill sets themselves is the person’s ability to apply their skills within the new paradigm we are creating through regenerative design. Designing a sustainable homestead really takes a vast amount of knowledge, having that community of like-minded individuals makes everything much smoother.

5. Please share with us some of your “hard knocks,” or what to avoid scenarios, that you may have encountered along your path.

Moving towards a regenerative lifestyle is not easier, it’s just different and can often be more difficult, but the rewards are great. Avoid long narrow properties; these usually cannot be sustainable or regenerative. Although long and narrow properties usually provide great return on investment for real estate investors, the shape of the property makes it awkward to properly place elements of a design in a way that is beneficial to the new landowner or the environment. Avoid long narrow access easements. Flash flooding is probably the most destructive force in Texas, stay out of the lowlands and keep dry. Seek professional advice as often as possible to find the cheapest and most effective solutions that will save money in the long term.

6. What are some of your aspirations for regenerative design in Central Texas?

I would like to see the re-hydration of the entire state of Texas so that our springs and rivers always flow year round. I’d like to achieve 100% ground cover 100% of the time on every project I am involved with. I think this great state we live in could become a beautiful work of natural art that is rich, abundant, and secure for generations to come. This is why I created my website, www.droughtprooftx.com.  Other than that I just want to live peacefully and be a good example to others.

 

K: Thank you, Pete for your love of the land, your love of all life, and your love for wanting to do to help create agriculturally productive ecosystems.

Explosive abundance my brother,

Kirby Fry, Earth Repair Corps

 

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May 2018 – Native Plant of the Month

Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode

 

Monarda species – Lemon/Horsemint, Beebalm, Wild Bergamot
Scientific names: Monarda lindheimeriani, Monarda fistulosa, Monarda citriodora, Monarda punctata.
Family: Lamiaceae, Mint family
Species of the Monarda genus are the native plant of the month for May, which is when they begin to bloom, bringing us the next round of showy displays and vibrant colors just in time after many of the earlier native wildflowers have slowed or stopped their blooming. The annual and perennial species of the Monarda genus are reliable and hardy edible and medicinal plants for humans and wildlife, and are easy to grow in abundance from seed or transplants.

These members of the mint family (Lamiaceae) make delicious medicinal teas from fresh or dried leaves and flowers. The flowers are also a beautiful touch in salads, or can be saved in ice cubes. They are especially popular with pollinators and hummingbirds, and make wonderful perimeter plants in our gardens to attract beneficial insects. The perennial species, such as Monarda lindheimeriani and Monarda fistulosa, spread vigorously through their rhizomatous roots, and transplant readily. This quality, combined with their relative deer-resistance, makes them very useful as habitat restoration plants in rougher conditions when we are trying to create food for wildlife, and build biomass and species diversity.

Species in order of pictures: Monarda fistulosa cultivar – perennial
Monarda lindheimerianiv – perennial
Monarda lindheimeriani – perennial
Monarda fistulosa – perennial
Monarda citriodora – annual
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May 2018 – Crop of the Month
Sweet Potato – Scientific Name: Ipomoea Batatas
Family:  Convolvulaceae, commonly known as the bindweed or morning glory family

Sweet potato is the crop of the month because May is when sweet potato slips become available in most plant nurseries.  Bill Mollison spoke highly of the sweet potato.  Its edible leaves and edible tuber are a reliable source of food.  The tuber can be stored in root cellars for months through the winter.

In warmer climates than here in Central Texas it is a perennial food crop.  At our latitude of thirty degrees, however, it dies back in the winter and many of its tubers begin to rot in the ground.

Sweet potato should be planted after the last danger of frost and cold, wet spring weather.

The slips are sold in bundles of 50 or so, for about $10 or $12.  Plant them quickly after you buy them about 24 inches apart.  The sweet potato’s tubers will be ready to harvest in 90 to 120 days.

It’s satisfying to watch the dense leafy coverage of the sweet potato vine do a good job shading out Bermuda grass in and along the edge of your garden beds.  Watch out for rabbits and other rodents, though, because the leaves are very tinder and palatable and once rodents, especially rabbits, find a patch of sweet potatoes they will eat them all.

Good luck growing your sweet potatoes!

Explosive abundance,

Kirby Fry

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After evaluating so many of our gardens, I’m seeing a need to plant a more hardy native perennial understory.

Below are a couple of photographs I took of a highway median between an over pass and the access road in Bastrop, Texas along US Highway 71. Someone in the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has their shit together. Read More

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