EARTH REPAIR CORPS
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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March 2 and 3, 2019
Written by: Kirby Fry

All Images © Woody Welch 2019

Earth Repair Corps Teams Up with Goodwater Montessori Public Charter School

During the spring of 2017, I ran into Randie Piscitello at the TerraPurezza Permablitz.  She had learned online about the work Earth Repair Corps (ERC) was doing with the permablitzes and wanted to find out how ERC could help Goodwater Montessori install a terraced orchard and annual vegetable garden on the school’s campus. Goodwater Montessori Public Charter School is in Georgetown, Texas, and was still under construction at the time of the TerraPurezza Permablitz. I believe that the school opened and began its operations during the fall of 2017.

Aerial view of the orchard terraces at Goodwater Montessori.

The Goodwater Permablitz took 2 years of planning and fundraising to implement.  This story is a testament of how planning and persistence pays off. Randie and her associate, Heather Pencil, worked together to raise $15,000 for the installation of the garden at Goodwater Montessori.  Parents and community members individually donated up to $1,000, and had plaques with their family’s names on them dedicated to the trees we planted and to the picnic benches we assembled during the Goodwater Permablitz.

The end result of this team effort and permablitz might just be that we have created a model farm and garden for all Montessori schools in the United States of America. 

ERC and Goodwater Montessori are also planning to have a summer intensive permaculture design course (PDC) on the Goodwater campus oriented towards educators and how to replicate what ERC and Goodwater accomplished during this permablitz.  We are filing the paperwork that will enable educators to get Continued Education Units for taking the PDC.

The Design Process

The land that Goodwater sits on is a long and narrow property and is in Texas’ Blackland Prairie. Below the school’s driveway and parking area, a hundred yards or more from Stadium Drive where the entrance is, is a large field that is mostly undeveloped.  We were given permission from the school to install a terraced orchard in that field.

I made several site visits to the school before the permablitz in 2019 and that’s when Randie, Heather and I began identifying the “known knowns”What objectives will be achieved from this garden? What are the measurable outcomes for the school and students? Where is the water supply line? Where is the access?  What existing infrastructure would we need to avoid? What is the soil like? Are deer and other animals present that could affect the garden?

Once those questions were answered, we started with a process of elimination, asking where can’t we install an orchard? There is a large engineered detention basin just below the parking lot where the storm water from the campus drains into, so we couldn’t install a terraced orchard there.  There is the buried sewer line on the east side of the field where we could also not install an orchard. At the very bottom of the field is a low lying marshy area that was also not suitable for an orchard, so that left us with the middle and west side of the field.

The next issue to consider was how to fence in the garden and keep it safe from animals and other unpredictable elements, the “known unknowns”.  Pete VanDyck advised Randie and Heather to look into Critter Fence deer netting, which they promptly did and purchased over 900 linear feet of fencing, materials for 2 pedestrian gates and one vehicle gate.  Now that we knew how much fencing we had, we could set the dimension of the garden / orchard. The garden would be 150 feet wide by 300 feet long.

Some other known elements that would be included in the garden were a garden shed, a deck to be used as a stage, 8 picnic tables, and a large area set aside for composting school food scraps and annual vegetable gardening.  All of these elements would be at the top of the fenced in area (the north side) leaving everything downhill from there available for the terraced orchard.

I then created several renditions of the design on Google Earth Pro, and finally laid it all out on the ground during the winter of 2019.

Terrace Installation

Laying out these terraces was pretty straight forward.  The 150 foot by 300 foot garden area was relatively flat with only a 2 or 3 foot drop in elevation over 300 feet, which meant that we could lay out the terraces in a way that made the most sense for maintenance and access.  Five, 100 foot long terraces were laid out perpendicular to the east and west fence lines. Two 140 foot long terraces were laid out close to and parallel to the west fence line, which would serve as an evergreen privacy hedgerow between the school’s property and the church next door.

Once the wet weather broke and the site dried up, Pete VanDyck with VanDyck Earthworks and Design showed up for a week with a mini excavator to begin installing the terraces.  The soil was still somewhat wet, and the earth excavated from the swales came out in large clumps. He did a great job though, and the terraces ended up being quite gentle and smooth. The bottom 4 terraces had a slight grade to them, less than 1.0 percent, and had a check dam and a level sill spillway installed in each one of them to hold the water back but then to also allow the water to exit the swales during significant rain events.  As it turns out, almost half of the uphill surface water runoff from the church’s lot to the west drains directly into the highest orchard terrace and subsequently cascades into the terraces below. The swales are 7.5 feet wide, 1 foot deep and ended up spanning 500 feet in all. They will hold 2,250 cubic feet of water below grade, or 16,875 gallons. A 2 or 3 inch rain will fill them up. The berms are 9 feet wide and 1 foot tall and yield very beneficial raised beds for the trees.

The two terraces that we had planned which were parallel to the west fence did not get installed because the fence line was so overgrown with brush (mainly gum bumelia, hackberry, and juniper) that we did not have time to clear it before installation.  Instead, after the fence line was cleaned up, we ended up planting the evergreen hedgerow trees on grade.

Another task that Pete and I took care of that week was excavating 1,000 linear feet of trenches and setting a 1 inch water supply line.  The water line was connected and set, and the trenches were backfilled before the March 2019 permablitz took place.

Tree Selection

I sent Randie a list of trees that I thought would be suitable for the site.  She looked over the list and pretty much took it from there. There is a little bit of everything in this garden – citrus, loquat, mulberry, apple, plum, peach, pear, chickasaw plum, fig, pomegranate, and pineapple guava.

The trees were laid out in a fruiting calendar configuration – that is they were grouped together and planted based on when they would bear fruit, with the earliest fruiting trees planted at the top of the orchard and the later fruiting trees planted at the bottom of the orchard.

The lowest terrace was used as a native woodlot demonstration plot where we selected oak, ash, maple, elm, hickory, and more.

The evergreen hedgerow along the west fence line is where chose to plant the evergreen loquat and citrus (meyer lemon, Satsuma orange, and kaffir lime).

The Weekend of the Permablitz

There was a huge amount of planning and preparation that went into getting this permablitz ready, and even though a colossal amount of work was done prior to the permablitz, there was still even more work to be done during the permablitz.

Thirty cubic yards of chipped tree mulch had to be moved by wheelbarrow 100 to 200 linear yards down the field to the orchard.  The west fence line still needed to be cleared and cleaned up, and all of that brush had to be moved out of the fenced in orchard.  An 8 foot wide by 16 foot long stage was built on Saturday by Chris, the father of one of the students, and 8 picnic tables were assembled.  Several raised beds with wooden 2” x 10” borders around them and trellis between them were also built.  

It seemed like planting the trees was actually one of the easier tasks.

Perhaps, at least for me and a few others, the biggest chore was setting and installing the Critter Fence.  Scores of “ground sleeves” had to be pounded 2 feet deep into the ground, 15 feet apart, in which the the vertical fence posts would be inserted.  We got all of the ground sleeves set, as well we built the 2 pedestrian gates, but it wasn’t until after the permablitz that Randie and Heather got the actual deer netting up and built the vehicle gate.

Thank goodness for Mason Dillard, a licensed irrigator and recent permaculture design course graduate, who showed up before, during, and after the permablitz to help install the irrigation system.  He installed 12 zones of irrigation, providing bubblers for each tree, and drip lines for the annual garden beds.

Heather managed to have all of the meals, breakfast and lunch on both days donated.  She was also instrumental in getting many other materials donated including all of the lumber supplies from McCoy’s, and garden supplies from Lowe’s. The local retail community really came through for this event! All we had to do was ask them in a professional and nice way to help out.

This permablitz required a lot of planning, fundraising, and hard work, however, I believe that the yields will be exponential symbiosis and abundance.

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June 2019 – Crop of the Month

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

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

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

Variety Selection

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

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

Planting Tips

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

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

Pruning Tips

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

Pest Management

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

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January 25 and 26, 2019
Written by: Kirby Fry

All Images © Woody Welch 2019

Earth Repair Corps Teams Up with the Multicultural Refugee Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

Aerial view of the terraces at New Leaf Farm.

The Design Process

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

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

Terrace Installation

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

Volunteers digging irrigation ditches.

Tree Selection

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

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

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

The Weekend of the Permablitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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