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Zone and Sector Maps (House)

Here are the maps for the zones and sectors of my house.

Because of how I created these, I can very easily make changes and updates as needed, without having to re-draw any more than is necessary.

Zone Map - Click for larger image

Zone Map – Click for larger image

Thoughts about my zones:

  • I wasn’t sure about mapping Zone 1 in the backyard, because, currently, it extends to the hen yard at the back of the property; however, I didn’t want to draw my zones based on elements that might move. The area by the house is guaranteed.
  • I wasn’t sure how to handle Zone 5 since I’d like to do some improvements throughout the greenbelt along the back of the property. Should I leave just a little piece of it untouched? But then is any of it really Zone 5 enough to even bother leaving alone? Would other, wilder parts of my neighborhood suffice?
  • I included a small Zone 1 area in the front yard, even though currently that’s really probably Zone 3. I hardly ever go out there, but I’m trying to get better about it.
Sector Map - Click for larger image

Sector Map – Click for larger image

Thoughts on the sectors:

  • I’d say waterflow is the major influencing sector. We get a lot of water from the neighbors to the south.
  • Lots of small, urban wildlife (snake, birds, toads, cats, possums, etc.) pass from the drainage greenbelt behind our house, through our property, to the open area just across the cul-de-sac from us.
  • Since the areas of pooling straddle the fenceline, I’ll need to be very careful that anything I do to modify that area, doesn’t negatively affect my neighbors.

Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City

Paradise Lot by Eric Toesnmeier and Jonathan Bates

Paradise Lot by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates

I’m very happy I started my diploma process off by reading Paradise Lot. I had been struggling with forming a vision for my process and this book really helped me clarify that vision. It was spiritual educational more than facts, tips, and theory. Although there was a good amount of that as well.

The main thing that I’ll take away from Eric and Jonathan’s story is how, by living and doing what they love, it just naturally began to support them. By producing items for themselves that they would have had to pay for otherwise, they were also creating value for other people. Instead of throwing away the useful “weeds”, they potted them up and sold them. As people became interested in what they’d created on their lot, they started giving educational tours. That’s permaculture design at its best, in my opinion.

I’m very lucky because, starting this week, I am reducing my day-job hours, voluntarily, in order to focus more on my permaculture education and training. In a moment of anxiety about it, I said to Ed, “Well, at least I can work more hours again, at any time, if we need me to.” His response: “I’d rather you start selling duck eggs to bakers.” And that’s the vision, right there. To start selling ducks eggs…and plants, and mushrooms, and whatever else. But to be able to support myself by creating value, doing the things I enjoy.

Some of My Backyard Buddies

Inspired by the beneficial insect talk I attended at the Natural Gardener, I wanted to learn more about the creatures I have seen in my own yard.

The resident Anole saying hello from atop one of my citrus trees.

The resident Anole saying hello from atop one of my citrus trees.

Below is a list of some of my garden helpers and some reasons why they’re good to have around.


From the Galveston Master Gardeners, “There’s no need to worry about this lizard as it is not harmful to humans or your pets. In fact, if you’ve seen these lizards in your yard or home, it most likely means you’re not using pesticides that could harm it. In fact, these lizards are beneficial, as they do feed on a wide variety of small insects such as crickets, cockroaches, moths, grubs, beetles, flies and grasshoppers.”

Black-and-yellow Argiope

From the Galveston Master Gardeners, “They are carnivorous predators, attacking flying insects that get trapped in its web. Their orb web captures aphids, flies, grasshoppers, mosquitoes, wasps and bees.”

Butterflies (Monarch, Viceroy, Queen)

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed. Adults feed on nectar from numerous wild flowers. The monarch butterflies are distasteful to birds because of chemicals obtained from caterpillar feeding on milkweed leaves.”


From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Nymphs can be found in vegetation and hiding around underwater structures. Adults feed on insects such as mosquitoes, midges, flies and winged ants. They often follow the same path and return to a familiar perch.”


From the Galveston Master Gardeners, “Earthworms ingest soil and digest the organic matter as they tunnel, producing castings. The castings increase the nutrient level and organic level of the soil. Nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and other nutrients are produced daily for the use of plants. The equivalent of about 1/3 lb. of top grade fertilizer is produced per worm each year.”


From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Immature stages of lightning beetles are predatory on other small insects, earthworms, slugs and snails. Adults of some species are also predatory. Larvae and adults are active at night (they are nocturnal), and immobilize their prey by injecting them with inject toxic digestive enzymes before sucking out the liquefied body contents.”


From the Galveston Master Gardeners, “[T]he Mediterranean gecko helps provide year-round insect pest control in our landscapes and homes by feeding on cockroaches and a wide variety of other insects.”

Green Lacewings

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Adults are poor fliers, active at night and feed on pollen, nectar and honeydew (the exudate of aphids and other sucking insects). Some species are predaceous as adults to a limited extent. The larvae, called “aphid lions”, are extremely carnivorous and predaceous on many soft-bodied insects and mites, including insect eggs, thrips, mealybugs, immature whiteflies and small caterpillars. Larvae have sickle-shaped jaws that contain tubes with which they can inject prey with a paralyzing venom and then suck out the body fluids. They can consume over 200 aphids or other prey per week.”

Ground Beetles

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Ground beetles are commonly encountered under stones, bark, logs and other debris laying on the ground. When disturbed, they run rapidly. At night they seek prey and some species are attracted to lights. Larvae are also encountered under objects or in burrows in the soil or under bark of trees. They feed on other insects both as larvae and adults. One group of species feeds on snails.”


From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Mostly considered beneficial because they pollinate many fruits, vegetables and ornamental flowers; they produce honey, beeswax, pollen and royal jelly.”

Hover flies

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Adult flies can be found hovering around flowers, feeding on nectar and pollen. They are often attracted to honeydew covered leaves characteristic of infestations of sucking insects such as aphids. Legless larvae of these (Syrphinae) species are slug-like, adhering to leaf surfaces of infested plants while searching for aphids and other suitable prey (small caterpillars, thrips, etc.). Each larva can consume up to 400 aphids during development. Larvae of other species feed in the nests of ants, termites or bees, and others live in decaying vegetation and wood.”

Lady Beetles

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Larvae and adults feed primarily on aphids, but they will also feed on scales, eggs of caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects and mites. Adults occasionally feed on nectar, pollen and honeydew (exudate of aphids and other sucking insects).”

Paper Wasps

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Paper wasps prey on insects such as caterpillars, flies and beetle larvae which they feed to larvae. They actively forage during the day and all colony members rest on the nest at night.”

Praying mantis

From Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, “Wingless nymphs and adults feed actively on many pest and beneficial insects, including each other! Older mantids can feed on flies, honey bees, crickets and moths. They are not effective for the control of aphids, mites or caterpillars.”

Texas Toads

From, “Bufo speciosus is nocturnal and burrows in the loose soil. It feeds on insects and other invertebrates.”

Okra for October

Okra season is wrapping up so I chose it as my ingredient for October. I made two recipes: goulash and pickles.

Okra Dishes

Okra Dishes

I’ve found okra easy to grow but tricky to harvest in bulk unless you have a large number of plants. I didn’t have enough for these recipes so I got it from the Farmer’s Market.

I made the okra goulash because it was something Ed’s grandmother used to make. No one in his family had the exact recipe though so I just found one through a quick Google search. It turned out great and I ended up wishing I had made twice as much of it.

I chose pickles because I wanted to try canning and I love pickles! The pickles turned out really tasty but I think they could be crisper. They’re much better chilled because of that.

The canning process was quite the adventure though. I almost didn’t go through with it because I became very confused about high acid versus low acid foods and whether I needed a pressure canner or a boiling water canner. It took me way too long to realize that, although okra is naturally low acid, adding vinegar makes it high acid so a boiling water canner was just fine.

Another thing, I don’t think I packed enough of them into each jar. There ended up being a lot more headspace once the okra had been processed. I was told to try hot-packing them next time. Another factor may have been that the recipe said to pack all of the okra stem up but I think alternating between stem up and stem down might have helped as well.

Know Your Allies: Beneficial Insects with Jeff Ferris

A couple of weeks ago, I went to an hour-long beneficial insect lecture at the Natural Gardener. The talk was given by staff horticulturist, Jeff Ferris (who I found out afterwards is also a permaculturist). I really enjoyed Jeff’s presentation style, he repeatedly reminded us that most horror movie plots come from the insect world.

Green Lacewing's lifecycle

Jeff Ferris explains the Green Lacewing’s lifecycle

I went into this not really knowing anything about the beneficial insects of Texas so it was definitely time well spent. Here’s some of what I took away from this talk:

  • The juvenile (teenager) beneficial insects are what you want in your garden, they eat most of the harmful insects. You want the adults around mainly to reproduce.
  • Harmful insects tend to be in groups, beneficials are often alone.
  • Beneficials are omnivores for the most part so pollen and nectar sources will attract them as well.
  • If the plant looks good, don’t worry about the bug on it. If the plant looks bad, worry about the bug.
  • Of the 980 species of spiders recorded in Texas, there are only two groups to worry about: the recluse and widow spiders.
  • To control Root Knot nematodes he recommended growing Elbon cereal rye as a “trap-crop” over the winter and turning it in one month prior to Spring planting. He also recommended spreading peel-and-eat shrimp shells. The introduction of the chitinous shells stimulates soil-dwelling fungi that feed on chitin. The fungi then feeds upon the chitin in the nematode eggs, killing them before they hatch.
  • I need to get a handheld blacklight. In addition to scorpions, tomato hornworms will also glow.

I plan on covering species specifics in more detail when I write about what I’ve seen in my yard so far and what I hope to attract in the future.

Submitting Soil Samples

Soil Samples: House (left), Farm (right)

Soil Samples — House (left), Farm (right)

I submitted soil samples from the Farm and the House to Texas Plant and Soil Lab yesterday. The process was more complicated than I would have guessed.

The first thing was that I had trouble figuring out if I could just use a Ziploc bag as opposed to one of their for-purchase soil bags. I, by chance, watched their “Soil Sample Bag” video which, despite the ambiguity of being named the same thing as the product they sell, confirmed that I could, indeed, use a Ziploc bag.

Then I followed their instructions for collecting soil samples and the “Soil Sample Bag” video for mailing instructions. I ordered two comprehensive soil tests, and printed my receipt to include with my samples. I also printed the Soil Sample Submittal Form and filled it out to the best of my ability. I put my samples, my order receipt, and my submittal form in a box, as the video instructed, and then left to ship them off to TP&S.

I think, by placing the order at the end of the process, I did it backwards from what they expect, because, unfortunately, an hour and a half later and after I had already shipped my samples, I received additional instructions via email that were different from the instructions on the website. The email specified to write my order number on the submittal form with my name, said to provide three cups of soil instead of two, and gave instructions for sending the samples via USPS, whereas the website doesn’t mention preferred shipping methods (I sent them via UPS).

So, if nothing goes awry, I should get the test results back in a couple of weeks, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear from them and/or need to resubmit something before that happens.

Persimmons Aplenty

I went out to the Farm this weekend to see if there was fruit on any of the American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) trees.

American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) tree in mid-October.

American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) tree in mid-October.

I felt a few of persimmons and they are still rock hard. I found out after I got home that I probably should have harvested some while I was there, since they will ripen off of the tree just fine. Hopefully there will still be plenty next time.

From Wikipedia: “The fruit is high in vitamin C. The unripe fruit is extremely astringent. The ripe fruit may be eaten raw, cooked or dried. Molasses can be made from the fruit pulp. A tea can be made from the leaves and the roasted seed is used as a coffee substitute. Other popular uses include desserts such as persimmon pie, persimmon pudding, or persimmon candy. The fruit is also fermented with hops, cornmeal or wheat bran into a sort of beer or made into brandy. The wood is heavy, strong and very close-grained and used in woodturning.”

These trees are doing so well on the Farm, I’m curious about grafting Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) varieties onto them.

Learning Plan — The First Six Months

Below is the outline of my goals for the next six months. Visit the About page for more information about me and my design sites.

The Process

I plan to document my process through regular posting to this website. Each accomplishment will get a blog post as proof of completion. The posts will be assigned a designated category and tagged with the related topic(s), allowing quick access to all of the “Observation” exercises, for example, or everything related to “Erosion Control”.


Documentation of my diploma work will fall into one of the below categories:


Documentation of my diploma work will be labeled with one or more of the following keywords. I expect this list to grow as I progress through the program.

  • Animal Systems
  • Erosion Control
  • Edible Perennials
  • Food Production
  • Fungal Fun
  • Harvesting
  • Holistic Range Management
  • Planting
  • Plant Propagating
    • Division
    • Seed Starting
  • Pruning
  • Seasonal Cooking
  • Seed Saving
  • Site Mapping
  • Soil Improvement
  • Water Harvesting
    • Cisterns
    • Earthworks
    • Greywater
    • Surveying
  • Wildfire

The Plan

Diploma Field of Practical Experience

Site Development

Mission Statement

Work to restore habitat, connection, and self-reliance. Provide resources to the community to do the same.

First Six Months’ Goals

Every Month

  • Community: Attend one lecture, class, or other permie event
  • Community: Volunteer twice at the Wildflower Center
  • Implementation: Pick an in-season ingredient – make one fresh, one preserved receipe

October 2013

November 2013

  • Research: Holistic Range Management (HRM)
  • Research: Fire ecology
  • Observation: Visit Lost Pines State Park, note the plants that are coming back
  • Observation: HRM plant diversity test
  • Design: Finish conceptual design (Home)
  • Design: Finish zone, sector and flow maps (Farm)
  • Implementation: Plant grass seed (Farm)
  • Implementation: Install design — S. strip of front yard (Home)
  • Reading: Edible Forest Gardens Volume 1
  • Reading: Rainwater Harvesting Volume 1

December 2013

  • Research: Make a garden planting calendar
  • Research: Frost protection strategies
  • Observation: Winter microclimates — Frost pockets and warm spots (Farm, Home)
  • Design: Start conceptual design (Farm)
  • Implementation: Gutter on shed, rainbarrels next to shed for chicken water (Home)
  • Implementation: Install gutter and cistern (Home)
  • Implementation: Build larger, more permanent chicken yard (Home)
  • Reading: Edible Forest Gardens Volume 2

January 2014

  • Research: Guild-build/desired species list (Home)
  • Observation: Identify unknown plants in the neighborhood (Home)
  • Implementation: Build W. slope earthworks (Farm)
  • Implementation: Build brush weirs from downed branches (Farm)
  • Implementation: Get in-ground cistern inspected (Farm)
  • Implementation: Install above-ground cistern (Farm)
  • Reading: Growing Food in a Hotter Dryer Land

February 2014

  • Research: Plant propagation
  • Research: Space-efficient gardening
  • Observation: Which plants and flowers emerge first from Winter
  • Implementation: Start annuals from seed
  • Implementation: Prune fruit trees (Home and Farm)
  • Implementation: Plant fruit trees (Home and Farm)
  • Implementation: Divide Mexican plum trees (Farm)
  • Reading: The Backyard Beekeeper
  • Reading: How to Grow More Vegetables

March 2014

  • Research: Guild-build/desired species list (Farm)
  • Research: Wildlife habitat requirements
  • Research: Year-round wildlife food sources
  • Observation: Identify some of the creatures at the farm
  • Design: Next 6 months’ learning plan
  • Implementation: Propagate willow trees from cuttings
  • Implementation: Get bees
  • Implementation: Install backyard earthworks (Home)
  • Implementation: Plant annuals (Home)
  • Implementation: Plant perennials (Home and Farm)
  • Reading: The Explorers’ Texas Volume 1: The Lands and Waters
  • Reading: The Explorers’ Texas Volume 2: The Animals They Saw