EARTH REPAIR CORPS
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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Earth Repair Corps will be publishing a series of interviews with Permaculture Design Course graduates who have used the education & resources they gained from the course to further their careers in the world of sustainability.

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

Learn More about the Permaculture Design Course and Register Today for our next class in 2019.

Paul Oveisi, owner of Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden in South Austin, helps us kick off this series. Read more below.

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

My interest was an evolution that likely happened over the course of my entire life but I can think of a few ”tipping point’ moments that led me to take sustainable design more seriously as a way of life. The first was an impromptu, almost accidental, visit to the Earthship Community near Taos, NM. I was awestruck that these experimental, sustainable, whole-system homes could be both so strikingly beautiful and functional. There was connection between design, science, and artful creativity that struck a chord with me that stuck with me for years. Years later, having left my lifelong home of Austin, TX to live in New York City, I couldn’t let go of what became an obsession. I read every book by Michael Reynolds which led me to other forms of sustainable architecture which led me to sustainable agriculture. I stumbled on some old videos of Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison and spent several years reading everything I could on permaculture, regenerative agriculture, and related fields. Working in hospitality I found a little community of like-minded chefs and farmers who were implementing some of these strategies. Moving back to Austin, I decided to drop everything, get my PDC and work on a plan to incorporate sustainable design into a new way of life. 

2)    What were you looking to learn when you signed up for a Permaculture Design Course?

Honestly, everything and anything. Having read dozens of books on the subject I wanted to get some hands on experience and meet like-minded folks. I was also hoping to find some work outside the PDC to further hone my skills and expand my knowledge.  

All Images © Woody Welch 2018

3)    Who taught your Permaculture Design Course and when?  What did you appreciate about that course, and what would you have like to have learned more about? 

My course was taught by Kirby Fry and Caroline Riley in the Fall of 2015. I thought it was a well-designed course, by dynamic and well-rounded instructors who were extremely knowledgeable and engaging.  I would have liked a bit more information on the architectural components but that’s splitting hairs – it was a fantastic course. 

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

I’ve taken a Grow Green course by the City of Austin which was informative. Notably, I enjoyed input from a meteorologist from LCRA and fire-wise design from a Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center representative. Informally, I’ve found particular interest in soil microbiology and have watched countless hours of advanced composting techniques and soil microbiology analysis – most notably by Karl Hammer and Dr. Elaine Ingham, respectively. 

5)    Have you been able to apply what you learned from the Permaculture Design Course to your life and business endeavors?  If so, please elaborate.

A resounding yes. After my PDC I spent a couple of years working in the field doing various landscaping and design related projects for both landscaping companies and non-profits. The knowledge I obtained from my PDC and beyond very much informed my decision to combine my experience in hospitality to create a permaculture inspired business model – but I wanted to spend some time getting my hands dirty first. 

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

Yes, too many to count. We do a formal training/walk-through of all employees of my organization on basic permaculture principles and I’ve had countless conversations turning many people onto the discipline – whether sharing books by Holmgren, Shephard or Fukuoka, or sharing Geoff Lawton videos. Again, too many to count.  

Thank you so much for your involvement and initiative.

It is my pleasure.  

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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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September 2018 – Crop of the Month
Cabbage – Scientific Name: Brassica oleracea
Family: Brassicaceae (the Brassica family)
Written by: Kirby Fry

 

September is one of Central Texas’ main planting windows.  As soon as summer temperatures drop and the rains begin, it is time to get your fall garden into the ground.

A great fall crop is cabbage which is in the Brassica family.  I’ve chosen cabbage out of the Brassica family because it’s not the hardest leafy cole crop to grow like Brussel sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower, but neither is it the easiest like mustard, kale, or collard greens.  It’s right in the middle, and it is very satisfying to grow a nice head of cabbage which stores well, and is an expected staple in many winter soups and stews.

– Planting Tips – 

As I mentioned, cabbage is not the easiest crop to grow, so we need to do several things just right.  It prefers cool weather, so in Texas it does best in the fall. It needs a head start and so should be transplanted as a 5” tall seedling on a cloudy day.  The seedlings should be planted 12 to 18” apart from one another in rows 3’ apart. Savory King and Blue Vantage are a couple of recommended varieties for Central Texas.

Cabbage is a heavy feeder, so an organic slow release fertilizer (5-10-10) should be put out when the seedlings are transplanted and watered into sandy loam garden beds.  Apply fertilizer again after 3 weeks. Mulch heavily with an organic wheat straw. To extend your harvest later into the fall, repeat the planting process again 2 weeks later.

Cabbage does well when growing alongside green beans and cucumbers.  Avoid planting cabbage next to other brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower as they are also heavy feeders and attract the same pests.  Plant cabbage in a different area of the garden every year to avoid buildup of soil borne diseases and insect pests. Cole crops are susceptible to quite a few plagues like black rot, cabbage yellows, and black leg.  There are varieties to choose from that are resistant to cabbage yellows, and black leg. The cabbage looper and cabbage worm can also be a problem, so planting dill near your cabbage will attract beneficial wasps that will kill the worms.  Aphids can also be a problem so lady bugs and lacewing might need to be introduced into your garden as well.

Water your cabbage plants well, especially when they are making their heads.  Harvest the heads when they are full and firm after 50 to 60 days, hopefully the heads will be about 6 to 9” wide, and don’t wait too long to harvest as they will get tough.  Cut the head out from the center of the plant leaving the outer leaves and you may get another smaller head a few weeks later. Get the cabbage heads out of the sun immediately and store them in a cool dry place.

Cabbage tastes great whether sautéed or added to soups.  Many of my friends also make sauerkraut and kimchee (fermented forms of cabbage) which can be stored for long periods of time.  This is a great crop to get in the ground this summer, and enjoy for the rest of the upcoming fall and winter.

 

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Earth Repair Corps – Ten Elements of Sustainable Design
Written by: Kirby Fry
2018 09 07

 

Following is a list of 10 design elements that may be found within sustainable human settlements – organized from the lowest amount of maintenance to the highest amount of maintenance.

 

MECHANICAL SYSTEMS (Lowest Maintenance Required)

  • Sustainable Building

As a builder, I believe that a well-built house should pay you to live in it.  So how do we build a home that generates the electricity that it needs for power, the water that it needs for plumbing, and the income that it needs for financing?  Three parts of this question are answered below – solar energy, rainwater collection, and graywater harvesting. However, homes need to first be properly oriented to take advantage of passive solar heating and cooling.  A house should be oriented broad side to the prevailing summer breeze to allow for air circulation through the home. A house should have evergreen tree cover on the west and north sides to shade it from the hot setting summer sun and shelter it from the cold winter winds.  Good insulation, continuous ridge vents, and double hung sash windows are also key design elements for passive solar cooling and heating. A wise home should also orient its occupants to the patterns in nature and the flows of energy through the landscape by having comfortable indoor outdoor living spaces like screened in porches and comfortable patios.  If a home is a duplex, or has a garage apartment next to it, then it can also generate income.

  • Solar Energy

When a home faces its broadest side to the south in Texas it is not only optimized to receive the prevailing summer breeze, but it is also aligned to receive the maximum amount of solar gain for photovoltaic or solar panels on its roof which generate electricity.  A standing seam / hidden fastener metal roof is best for attaching solar panels to because the panels can clamp on to the standing seems of the roof panels and not require that screws be set into and through the roof which might result in leaking. Our friends at Sun Power and Freedom Solar Power  have demonstrated that for a very reasonable cost these days, 15 to 20 340 watt solar panels can be attached on to a home’s roof top and yield 100% of a home’s energy requirements.

  • Rainwater Collection

Collecting rainwater off of your home’s roof and gutters is some of the lowest hanging fruit that there is for any mechanical system.  Rainwater storage systems are quite affordable these days – about 50 cents per gallon of storage, and there is no cleaner source of water, in my opinion, that the rain falling from the sky.  

Every 100 square feet of rooftop surface area here in Central Texas, where we get an average of 30” to 36” of rainfall per year, warrants 1,000 gallons of cistern for rainwater storage.

So a 1,000 square foot roof would be justified in having 10,000 gallons of rainwater storage connected to it.  To make this water available to us and our family, however, you will also need a pressurization pump and a filtration system that can easily be installed in a garage or mechanical closet.

  • Graywater Harvesting

By collecting the rainwater off of our home’s roof, using that water in our house, and then harvesting the resulting graywater in the landscape we can eliminate the possibility of wasting water.  The easiest graywater to collect is the water coming out of our laundry machines because a pump lifts that water up and out of the laundry machine and can pass it through a wall and deliver it into the landscape to be used for irrigating trees and bushes.  This Old House, and the City of San Francisco made a great video of how to harvest gray water from a laundry machine. 

Sinks are the next easiest graywater to harvest because they are up about 2’ 6” from the level of the floor or slab, and can also be brought through a wall.  Bathtubs and shower stalls might be the most challenging to harvest because the drain is below the floor and can generally only be retroactively harvested from homes that are on pier and beam.  

 

PLANT BASED SYSTEMS (Moderate Maintenance Required)

  • Annual Gardens

I believe that, in Texas, a productive annual garden begins with good fences.  Our garden fences need to at least be deer and rabbit proof, if not squirrel and raccoon proof.  Cultivating soils on contour, relying on efficient irrigation systems, and using cover crops and sheet mulch are also essential for sustaining productive annual vegetable gardens.  Choosing climate specific and plague resistant varieties of non-genetically modified seeds is another important step in the design process.

  • Perennial Gardens

Orchards, trellises for grape vines and berry brambles, and edible beneficial perennial gardens make up the heart and soul of permaculture design.  How do we weave these plant based systems into our local ecosystems and create agriculturally productive ecosystems? Soil conservation strategies, protective caging, cover crops, mulch, and drip irrigation are some good techniques to help us with this objective.  Every homestead should also have culinary herb gardens, medicinal herb gardens, and pollinator gardens. We need to be familiar with what planting zone we are in, how much rainfall our region gets, and what perennial, edible, beneficial plants will do well where we live.  Microclimates, as well, should be created to accommodate other plants that might be doing well in areas just beyond our planting zone.

  • Woodlots

How many acres of land, and how many mature trees does it take to grow your own home?  This is a puzzle, that as a forester, I would like us to solve. Some of our native trees like pine, oak, cedar, and cypress are fantastic trees for home construction, fencing, tool making, and fuel woods. A sustainable homestead should include a woodlot where trees are planted from seed and seedling, and cultivated to grow and replace the wood we use in our day to day lives.  Improvements on portable wood mills make milling your own lumber for timber framing and natural building more possible and easier than ever.

  • Ecological Restoration

In Texas, most of the state was either logged, burned, plowed, developed or overgrazed by 1865.  Today, many of us end up inheriting land or buying land that is secondary or tertiary growth, meaning that it has been cleared and has regrown, again and again.  

The initial diversity of plants and animals that once existed here in Texas is now gone, or hiding out in remote isolated pockets and islands. As stewards of the land, we need to get to know our local natural regions and ecosystems, and reintroduce the plants and trees that once existed here in abundance.

 In our efforts to become better stewards, we often find out that deer populations, more than any other factor, are determining what is allowed to survive in many Texas natural regions. Tree cages and drip irrigation are now necessary tools for reintroducing essential keystone species of flora that have been missing, in some cases for hundreds of years.

 

ANIMAL BASED SYSTEMS (Highest Maintenance Required)

  • Small Animal Systems

Chickens, pigs, and goats can provide food and income for any homestead and farm, and are a great way to make use of thrown away food scraps, to control insect plagues, and to reduce woody vegetation that may pose a fire hazard.  Eliminate the need for composting food scraps by feeding them to your small animals. Chickens can be moved through the landscape eating weeds and insects. Many of our friends in Texas, like at TerraPurezza Farm, who are raising pigs have also diverted massive amounts of food being thrown away to feed their livestock. Goats browsing woody brush may also be one of the best ways to feed people and keep woody brush at bay, reducing fuel loads around our homes and infrastructure.

  • Rotational Grazing Systems

In Texas, all too often we see improper cattle grazing techniques being used to obtain the 1-d-1 agricultural property tax evaluation.  With better cell grazing and rotational grazing techniques, however, land owners can still maintain their 1-d-1 ag evaluation, and actually restore grassland and savanna ecosystems rather than degrade them.  Improvements over the past couple of decades on portable electric fencing, and movable water troughs have made intensive cell grazing easier and more efficient than ever. Allan Savory presents a wonderful TED talk on this subject and Jaime Braun, who has taught at our Permaculture Design Course, runs some very successful cell grazing systems right here in Texas and in Mexico.

 

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August 2018 – Crop of the Month
Green Bean – Scientific Name: Phaseolus vulgaris
Family:  Fabaceae (the Legume family)

Even though it is hot and dry this time of the year, gardeners are gearing up for their fall gardens – this is actually a really exciting time of the year leading up to the fall, which in my opinion provides the best growing conditions for us here in Central Texas.

One of the most resilient, fastest growing, and highest yielding food crops that can be planted directly by seed in late August and early September is the tried and true green bean, also referred to as the snap bean, or the string bean.  The green bean is native to Central America, and was in use as a food crop in Mexico and North America by the time that the Spanish arrived in the late 1400’s. The Contender variety of the common green bean does exceptionally well here in Central Texas.  The Contender seed variety is available from Willhite Seed, Inc., and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

– Planting Tips –
Direct planting green beans from seed is easy.  It is a large seed which makes it easy to handle, and it has a high germination rate.  Since beans are legumes, they have a symbiotic relationship with the rhizobia bacteria which can be applied to coat the seeds.  The bacteria will help make nitrogen available to the plants growing in your garden beds. To get the bacteria on the seeds, wet the seeds you are about to plant, put them in a paper bag, and sprinkle some of the rhizobia inoculate (a black powder) into the bag.  Shake the bag well. Now you are ready to plant. Then, in a 3-foot-wide garden bed of loose soil with hopefully 3 to 5 percent organic matter in it, make a shallow 1-inch furrow with a garden hoe. Drop the bean seeds in the furrow 2 inches apart, no thinning should be required.  Cover the furrows with an inch of soil. Two rows 1 foot apart can be planted along a 3-foot-wide garden bed. Repeat this process again after 14 days in order to increase and extend your harvest.

Keep the soil moist to encourage germination and establish your seedlings.  When the bean plants are 6 inches tall, add 2 inches of fine mulch. Once it gets cooler and starts raining in mid late September very little if any irrigation should be required.  Your green beans ought to be ready to begin harvesting in about 45 days. Harvest them while they are green, plump, and tender.

Keep an eye out for spider mites and damping off (a fungus), which are a couple of the main pests that plague beans.  A soap and water spray should be applied to the underside of the bean plants’ leaves if spider mites are present, and well drained beds and drip irrigation, rather that overhead irrigation, will reduce damping off and rust (another fungus).

This is a crop that you will want to involve children with.  Beans are often used in biology class projects to show kids how a seed germinates and transforms into a plant that we can eat.  Planting bean seeds with children is fun and easy, and so is looking for the bean pods to harvest when they are ready. I remember well removing the strings and snapping green beans with my great grandmother when I was very young, then my grandmother would put them on to cook with some bacon drippings in them before we left for church service.

Kirby Fry

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Building a DIY Power Plant
Written by: Woody Welch
Photo Captions by Kirby Fry
All Images © Woody Welch 2018

Stacking Functions is a term used in Permaculture to describe the process of getting several functions out of any one structure or project as opposed to only building for one function or use. For example – you could build a roof just for protection from the elements, or you could build a roof that is designed to protect, capture rain water, heat water, grow food, create a space to sunbathe, or  a small green space in an otherwise urban void.

Building a stacked functions structure out of repurposed wood, which costs 20 cents on the dollar, that produces more power than one can use is extremely rewarding. By intentionally designing a structure to serve more than one function you can get more out of your time and investment, as well as the opportunity to harness the natural elements and energy that mother nature provides. I wanted to redesign my carport as a structure that was going to protect my vehicle from the elements, create shade and provide a cool space in the summer, collect rain water and look good while producing plenty of power for my 1800 square foot home and 400 square foot shop on a half acre homestead.

I have been designing and building repurposed wood structures for over 20 years. They always pose challenges but I would argue that the rewards are well worth it. I am also a professional photographer and artist by trade working almost exclusively in the sustainability field. I have always dreamed of having my very own power plant. When  I looked around my 1950’s era homestead in New Braunfels, Texas and asked “What is the worst thing on my property and how can I turn it in to the best thing?”, I looked to my cheaply built 1970’s era aluminum and styrofoam low hanging carport. At only 7 ft. tall, it swayed in the wind, looked like a sore thumb and provided shade but leaked heavily through the styrofoam seams during storms. Turning this liability into an asset while stacking as many functions as possible was an obvious choice.

Having been in the field and spending many hours in a helicopter, documenting solar power plants around the globe, I knew well that the technology had not only come of age but that the price per kilowatt had become competitive enough to directly compete with even the cheapest of fossil fuels. In 2016, the cost per kilowatt to produce solar power vs. natural gas met parity and solar is only getting cheaper as Moore’s Law and Economies of Scale kick in. After doing some calculations and adding the fact that we are collectively not paying for the pollution of burning fossil fuels (effectively avoiding true cost accounting) I looked to solar power as one solution to these growing challenges and unintended consequences of so-called “cheap fuels”.

Combing through craigslist for materials, I found a listing for “big wood” with many photos of large stacks of dimensional lumber. I set out immediately to Buie Lumber company in Boerne Texas, where to my surprise, I found mounds of returned overstock and weathered (just like I like it) lumber for the picking. After several trips, many photos, and back and forth conversations shared with my architect I made the leap to purchase about $18,000 worth of wood for just $4000, delivery included. And although we had to “field mill” some of the larger timbers in my driveway and wrestle with making sense of non-matching, far from perfect wood, my master carpenter Kirby Fry and I finally started making sense of how we would get this done.

Hiring a carpenter that is flexible, open-minded, and creative is paramount for a project like this and makes working through the challenges fun and even invigorating. Kirby Fry of Southern Exposure was the perfect choice.

When we finished with the structure, or “mount” as it is called in the solar industry, we capped it with a high quality standing seam metal roof installed by the experts at Varni Roofing. The “standing” seams are perfect for mounting solar brackets and the surface is preferred for rainwater collection. The material is known to last for over a hundred years, which is backed up by a recent University of Texas study.  

We woke up to three inches of snow on the day scheduled for installation, but Freedom Solar was not deterred! They promptly swept and sprayed the snow off the roof and within 6 hours I had 15/345 watt SunPower panels installed on my Tesla Port and wired into the grid. Working around some upgrades to my old electrical riser, we were still able to get the system installed in what seemed to me like record time.

Six months later the system is producing 127% of my energy needs. That extra 27 percent is going to my neighbors to help with peak use times. I have a $2100 rebate/credit on my utility bill that will pay for my trash/recycle/water/sewage for the next 6 years and I am awaiting the arrival of a Tesla Model 3 so I will literally have sun-powered transportation very soon. We estimated and designed the system to be perfectly tailored for my particular needs and hit the proverbial nail on the head.  

After $7500 federal tax credit and an additional “friends and family” cash rebate my total out of pocket for the system is under $4000. The carport itself cost around $10,000 to build but I estimate it added $20,000 of value to my home.

It’s hard to quantify how it feels to be part of the solution to what I consider being some of the larger challenges we face as a species but I can tell you this – I do sleep a little better at night knowing I have invested wisely in a system that is smart, valuable, redundantly capable, durable and more powerful than I ever really imagined.

I highly recommend imagining a solar power plant of your very own.

 

SunPowerise!  

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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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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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