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Spring 2014 Learning Plan Goals

Two months into the next three month period of my Learning Plan and I’m finally getting my goals posted. Thankfully the delayed posting doesn’t mean that I haven’t been getting things done.

My goals for the first six months were far too ambitious, and in hindsight, read more like goals for the next year or two. This list feels much more realistic to me — plenty of things to do, but plenty of room for unexpected opportunities as well. Also, planning for only three months, rather than six, worked much better for me. Season by season.

April

  • Build water garden.
  • Install beehive.
  • Learn to use the dehydrator.

May

  • Get bees.
  • Finish Master Naturalist Training.
  • Install washing machine greywater system.
  • Build new chicken coop.
  • Install chicken coop rainbarrel.
  • Harvest and dehydrate herbs.
  • Spread warm season cover crop seeds on Cosmo’s garden.

June

  • Install rainbarrel on garden shed.
  • Dehydrate backpacking food.
  • Build greywater basins.
  • Can fruit.
  • Get a chest freezer.
  • Experiment with rotating chicken ‘paddocks’.
  • Start a plant specimen book with pressed plants from the house and farm.
  • Hands-on Top Bar beekeeping class.
  • Cistern install workshop.
  • Read Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land.

Goals and Accomplishments

I can’t believe that it’s already time to develop the next part of my Learning Plan. Did I get everything done that I wanted to get done over the last six months? Nope! But I got a lot more done than I would have if I hadn’t written down that list of goals in the first place.

With my lap hen, Bach.

With my lap hen, Bach.

Along with innumerable, subtle internal shifts that could never really be captured in writing, here’s a quick list of the things I did these past few months that I am proud of:

  • I removed my above-ground pool. No more chemicals in the soil or excess water usage.
  • I built a chicken tractor. I needed a place to quarantine new and sick hens.
  • I built Cosmo’s memorial garden.
  • At home, I planted two peach trees, a fig, a seedless che, blackberries, a raspberry, swiss chard, French sorrel and strawberries.
  • I cared for all of my plants through a pretty rough Texas winter.
  • I started seeds and then learned an important lesson about snails.
  • I grew and dried catnip. I drank it as a tea and refilled the cats’ homemade toys with it.
  • I made some progress towards breaking my terrible food buying habits. I’ve started cooking a lot more and we’re eating out or ordering food much less often. I’m learning to eat more seasonally via my weekly CSA box and I’m buying meat from the Farmer’s Market. Preferably from the ladies at Indian Hills Farms in Smithville.
  • I learned how to can food.
  • I’ve dealt with non-stop chicken drama — one of them has a bad leg, two of them were eaten by a possum, one was put down due to egg yolk peritonitis, I treated two of them for bumblefoot and then learned how to give penicillin shots to treat their resulting staph infections, and lastly one had vent gleet so I learned to give them vinegar and yogurt to manage their gut bacteria.
  • I trapped a couple of feral neighborhood cats and had them spayed and neutered, my form of urban wildlife management.
  • I met with a Bastrop County wildlife biologist and learned more about how to plan our wildlife management transition at the Farm.
  • I immersed myself in learning about bees: I went to an Austin Urban Beekeeping Meetup, I attended a “Keeping Chemical Free Bees” class and a “Spring Hive Maintenance” class, I read Les Crowder’s Top Bar Beekeeping book and watched the video of the same name. I also read The Backyard Beekeeper and The Thinking Beekeeper. I joined the Central Texas and Top Bar Beekeeping groups on Facebook and I ordered my top bar hive from a local apiarist.
  • I started the Texas Master Naturalist (Lost Pines Chapter) training program in February, something that has been a goal of mine for a few years. This has been a very intense course with classes every Monday night from 6:30pm-9pm, 4 hour long Saturday field trips twice a month, and sometimes up to 100 pages of reading in between.
  • I went to a prescribed burn workshop and connected with the South Central Texas Prescribed Burn Association. I get notifications when they do burns and can go out and help them. Unfortunately, I joined up towards the end of the burn season so I haven’t been able to go to one yet.
  • I got 90% of my design maps done for the house. I did the Zones and Sector maps digitally but I hand-drew the concept map, which is ever-morphing as I learn more.

Going forward, instead of trying to learn a little about a lot, I need to focus on specific topics and strive to really understand them. That’ll be the biggest difference in how I’ll structure my future goals.

At this point, I’m not too worried about the things I didn’t get done. They’ll keep moving along in the Learning Plan and I’ll get them done eventually. And if I don’t ever get them done, maybe they weren’t appropriate goals in the first place.

Life is What Happens to You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

This seems like a good time to pause and reflect on how my diploma process is going thus far. What’s going well, what went wonky, that kind of thing.

Overall I think it’s going really well. I enjoy having a goal to motivate me and the structure and accountability to keep me focused.

That said, I’m not going to lie, the first three months were rather stressful. I knew going into this that my biggest hurdle would be an emotional one. I’d be fighting my internal, perfectionist critic the whole way. Because of that, I had a really hard time dealing with the fact that my actual day-to-day work was developing differently from the plan I had committed to. Originally I ran myself ragged, doing twice as much work as I had time for, and I forgot to enjoy myself and what I was doing.

In the last couple of weeks though, I’ve finally accepted that some things just aren’t going to happen when I planned, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t happen eventually. Seasonal activities are getting the highest priority and the other stuff will happen when it happens. The value in making a long term plan comes from getting the ideas and goals written down so that as life happens and other opportunities arise, those goals aren’t forgotten. But, in the end, they are just goals I’ve set for myself, not hard deadlines that warrant stress.

All of that aside, here are some other thoughts that might be helpful to someone else starting this process:

  • I padded my Learning Plan with too many ‘shoulds’. My internal dialogue, when creating it, was something like, “A good permaculture diplomat would study [X]“. One of the patterns I observed was how I threw myself into every animal-related task I had while dragging my feet on other, less interesting-to-me tasks. Noticing this will help me focus going forward. I want to sell eggs, meat, and other by-products from heritage breeds on rotationally grazed pastures that are being guarded by livestock guardian dogs I’ve trained and provide these resources to the community to do the same. That’s the vision I need to stay true to when the siren songs of ‘should’ become too tempting.
  • Because of the generalist, should-driven approach I took to planning, I didn’t allot enough time for certain topics. I would become really interested in something and want to spend more time with it, but feel unable to because I needed to move onto the next thing in order to stay on track. These are huge subjects and I only allowed enough time to scratch the surface in many cases.
  • I tried to plan an even amount of design, observation, community, etc. assignments in each month and I started to become anxious as I noticed more and more observation posts going up. In hindsight, I should have expected that — the beginning of this process should be about observation and discovery. I didn’t accomplish any of my January goals for the Farm because I realized that I need more time to observe and get to know the land out there. I need to connect with it first and my aggressive planning didn’t allow for that.
  • Three months seems to be the horizon upon which I can actually plan with any certainty. Looking at January, February, and March makes me laugh because I didn’t do most of the stuff I planned for January, but I’ve accomplished a lot of my February and March goals already.
  • A pattern has developed in my documentation process, I’ve been consistently a month behind. I find it works better for me to document the past month’s work while actually working through my next set of goals. I often gain new insight into my work when I let myself think on it for awhile before I write about it.

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”.

Categories

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

Tags

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