Our Permaculture Design 2.0

These new drawings incorporate the changes I’ve made to the design over the course of the last year. (News of our progress, and pics coming soon!)

DDESIGN wtitles


The new, simplified Zone Map that fits our small 1.25 acre site much better.


New Water Harvesting Map. (New swales have been added, and some have been removed).

(P.S. I am switching to the more commonly used north-up orientation with my maps. I do love them facing sun-side up, but imagine it will cause too much confusion here in the northern hemisphere.)

from conservation to obtaining a yield

yesterday i read my sister-in-law’s great article about desert homesteading and it reminded me that i have some desert homesteading projects i’ve been meaning to write about. i signed into wordpress and what do you know, it’s been three months since i wrote anything at all, and i haven’t written anything permaculture related since may! oops. it’s been a busy summer and fall… we’ve been digging swales, planting trees, starting a desert plants nursery, doing permaculture design work for neighbors, going on apple and acorn harvesting missions, experimenting with palo verde flour, fermenting stuff, and oh yeah, working at our jobs that pay money. (check out the instagram feed in the side bar for pics of the wicking bed, baby mesquite trees and new swales.)

thus far our permaculture endeavors have mostly cost money, but permaculture principles state “obtain a yield” and “share the surplus” so you could argue that we are not yet successfully doing permaculture. we are ready to change that. we’re brainstorming about value added crops, refreshing our chicken system (the hens we got 9 years ago have quit laying), and aquaponics.

focusing on systems that minimize the stupid use of water and fossil fuels is a good starting place, but now we want to move beyond conservation and see just how abundant we can get this piece of earth.

a letter to my 3-year-old

dear oliver,

i’ll just tell you right now, this is a love letter. there’s no denying it. i am head over heals in love with you. it’s that crazy kind of love that i want to shout from the mountain top. this love is irrational and all-consuming. i can’t help it. i just think you are the very greatest. when you turned one, i published your birth story. when you were two, i wrote you a somewhat desperate letter. but today, my ollie, today, you are three, and i have nothing but praise. sure, you struggle plenty as you develop that pre-frontal cortex. and i reach the end of my rope often. i loose it sometimes… but more and more you are an utter pleasure to be with. you speak kindly and impress people with your “thank you so much!” and your “excuse me, mama…” people often comment on how verbal you are and we all get such joy out of conversing with you these days. you are full of great ideas like sharing fruit with our neighbors, or mesquite bunny crackers. i love how you pronounce festival, “festibal” and tell your papa to “send me a text.” you give great kisses and hugs, and randomly exclaim that you love us. recently you commented that something was “stress-able.” i asked you what you meant and you said, “you know, like, yelling.” i think you are really smart. you like to riff on words and rhythms. “crack an egg, crocodile.”

i love your physicality and how you move your growing body. you can ride FAST on your balance bike and aren’t afraid to try new challenges at the skate park. you know yourself, though and don’t try anything outright dangerous. generally, when you want to go somewhere, you don’t walk or run, you gallop. -a modified skip that i better get on video before it’s too late.

your focus and patience is increasing every day and you are a joy to work with on projects like paper mache, or even vacuuming or doing the dishes (sometimes). i love how you are using your imagination more and you can tell us stories. you are figuring out so much all the time. you want to know the what-where-why about everything and your questions are getting more complex.

you are starting to learn what is pleasing and displeasing to the people in your life and often choose actions that will please. we are very charmed when you do this! the other day a friend of yours was crying because he wanted a toy that another kid was playing with. once you understood the situation you marched over to the kid and emphatically explained why they should give up the toy “to make jonah feel happy and not cry).

oliver lee, we are so glad that you are here with us!




the very impressive system

just realized you haven’t seen this impressive cooler-washer-tree system that was so impressive to our neighbors. well, here it is, in all it’s glory:


the top barrel collects the water from the output lines of our 2 evaporative coolers. this water has cycled through the jute cooler pads and is slightly higher in minerals because of evaporation, but is otherwise basically clean. when i do a load of laundry i fill up the washer from this barrel for the wash cycle. i just put the hose straight in the washer. i tried hooking it up to the washer line, but there isn’t enough pressure to fill from there. for the rinse cycle i use fresh water that fills automatically from the washer line. both the wash and the rinse water dumps out into the lower blue barrel. from here we have a spigot and hose and can water pretty much anywhere on the property. one wash is about 45 gallons. i move the hose to a new tree every time i do laundry there are 7 trees that only get watered this way. i do laundry about 3 times a week and this is enough for the jujube trees, but the apricots always look bad before i move the hose back to them.


permaculture tour


permaculture tour

yesterday we had about 30 people show up to check out what we’ve done on the property so far. it was very satisfying to see people taking notes on everything damian said. i also liked it when they oohed and ahhed over our evaporative cooler to washer to trees grey water set up.

the art of house-guestery

every time we have house guests or are guests in someone’s home, i learn a little something more about myself and how i want to be as a host and/or guest. we just said goodbye to some dream house guests. the pleasure of having them got me thinking about what the differences are between house guest situations that leave me burnt out, and those that leave me inspired.  i came up with the following advice for myself. i’m not sure how universal this advice is, so don’t blame me if your next visit with your japanese grandparents-in-law doesn’t go well because you followed my advice.
on being a host

  • do what you can do to make things clean, lovely, and welcoming, as long as you are feeling happy and generous while doing it.
  • don’t stress yourself out striving for a level of perfection (or even lack of squalor) in an exhasting cleaning and cooking frenzy. it’s awkward for your guests if they feel like they are making your life difficult.
  • buy/make good food, beer and coffee so it feels abundant and celebratory. (if you can afford to and it feels good.)
  • don’t over extend yourself or think you need to cook every meal, do all the dishes, and be everybody’s mommy.
  • give a little orientation so your guests know the wi-fi password and how you like things done and can make themselves at home.
  • elicit help with cooking, dishes, baby bouncing if your guests haven’t already offered. take them up on the help when they do offer.
  • be clear about what works for you and what doesn’t, don’t expect your guests to read your mind. if you need to go to bed, go to bed. if you need quiet to put the baby down, say so.
  • take a little vacation from everyday life. relax and enjoy your company.

on being a guest

  • give what you got. bring a little something or ask if you can pick anything up on your way. tell stories, give appreciations. if you have a nice camera, take a portrait, if you’re handy, fix a door knob. make it clear that you are glad to be there.
  • keep your phone/computer use at an absolute minimum, especially in common areas. it’s rude to be in your own bubble in someone else’s home.
  • communicate well in advance about your plans and intentions, duration of stay, etc. give a good eta and updates as needed.
  • err on the side of asking permission. “tis better to ask permission than forgiveness” pay close attention to enthusiasm levels if you are asking to stay more than a night or two. a lot of people have deep politeness ingrained in them but will privately feel resentful.
  • except, don’t ask if you can do the dishes. just do them. if you are dealing with overly polite people, they may put up a fuss, but you have to insist on this. do the dishes. they will be so happy.
  • play with the kids. if your hosts are parents and you pay attention to their kids and act like you like their kids… oh, this makes parents so so happy! but do remember you are an adult and it’s your job to de-escalate if you get the kids all crazy rowdy.

case study A: not good
a person I’ve known for quiet a while and i like very much (whom I’ll call Pat since my intention is not to publicly humiliate my friends) contacted me while traveling with their significant other, and asked if they could stay. i said “yes!”
i then proceeded to cook and clean and change sheets and grocery shop in preparation. when pat & co showed up (a couple hours later than they told me they would), they spread out their stuff in my very small living room and asked me for the wi-fi password.  they then both stared at their laptops while i made dinner. we had dinner, i did all the dishes, they went to bed. the next morning i made an elaborate breakfast and they were back in laptop land. we had breakfast and some small talk, i did all the dishes, and they had a conversation with each other. then they left. i felt burnt out and slightly used. if i had it to do over i would say something like, “hey pat, i want to hear about your trip, tell me about it while we clear the dinner dishes.” and i wouldn’t have continued to bend over backwards in hospitality mode for guests who weren’t that excited to be here.

case study B: adrian dolan and his friend, bear. best house guests EVER

i’m using real names because i want to publicly celebrate these gentlemen*

adrian is an old pal from my teenage years in BC. he let me know a week in advance that he’d be in our area with a friend and would like to get together. i said “come stay with us!” he gave me a date and updated me several times with their whereabouts. i made up the beds but didn’t knock myself out on the cleaning. damian and i showed them around and then ollie and i went with them into the national park where we had a grand time. on the way home we stopped for dinner supplies and they insisted on picking up the tab. adrian helped me cook while bear read oliver stories. we drank beer and ate yummy tacos and then adrian and i visited while we cleaned up and bear and nathen chatted and played with ollie. in the morning i made a yummy breakfast and bear kept me company while drawing with ollie. after we ate, adrian spent more than an hour patiently showing ollie all the gear in his sound engineering case. ollie’s comment; “i REALLY like batteries!” bear did the dishes. we hung out a little more and then they left. oliver’s comment; “i really like those mans! i’m sad that they left. i’m sad that they left with that bag…” i was sad that they left too.

*actually, almost all of our house guests are fantastic. it’s an honor and a pleasure to share our space with our friends and i want to do it more.

Plant Lists

To be clear, this is not a list of what we have planted already, but a list of plants we are interested in and will likely experiment with as we move forward with the project. We will post more information about what we’ve actually planted and how it is doing in the future.


Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)(food, N-fixer)

Screw Bean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescensi)(food, N-fixer)

Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutinai)(food, N-fixer)

Foothills Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphyllum)(food, N-fixer)

Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florid)(food, N-fixer)

Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota)

Smoke Tree (Psorothamnus spinosas)(N-fixer, native)

Littleleaf Leucaena/Wahoo Tree (Leucaena retusa)(fast growing, medium term, N-fixer, coppice and forage)

Leucaena leucocephela

Persian Silktree/Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)(N-fixer)

Lebbeck Tree/Woman’s Tongue Tree (Albizia lebbeck)(Slow growing, large, long term N-fixer)

Sesbania sesban (fast growing, short term N-fixer)

Cat Claw acacia (Acacia greggii)(food, N-fixer, native)

Whitethorn acacia (Acacia constricta)(N-fixer)

Sydney Golden Wattle (Acacia longifolia) (evergreen)(food, N-fixer)

Green Wattle (Acacia decurrens)(evergreen)(N-fixer)

Sweet Acacia/Huisache (Acacia farnesiana)(N-fixer)

Wiry Wattle (Acacia coriacea) (food and N-fixer)

New Mexico Locust (Robinia neomexicana)(N-fixer)

Mescal Bean (Sophora secundiflora)(N-fixer)(poisonous beans)

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)((food, N-fixer)

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)(N-fixer)(poisonous pods)

Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa)(fast growing deciduous tree with big leaves and excellent wood) 

Casuarina torulosa (fast growing N-fixer, good wind break, firewood)

River She-Oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana)(evergreen)(N-fixer, wood, wind block)

She Oak (Casuarina littorals)(N-fixer, wood)

Canyon Live Oak (Quercus chrysolepis)(food, wood) Bur Oak (Quercus microcarpa)

Desert Willow (Chilopsis liners)(medicine, shade, beauty, basketry)


Desert Grape (Vitis girdiana)(food, shade, tolerates heat and flooding)

Anderson’s Boxthorn (Lycium andersonii) (edible berries)

Pale Wolfberry(Lycium pallidum – Miers.)

Desert Thorn (Lycium fremontii)

Nopales (Opuntia ficus-indica)

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis – L.)

Desert Hackberry (Celtis pallida) 

Canyon Hackberry/Paloblanco (Celtis reticulata) 

Quail-brush (Atriplex lentiformis)

Fourwing Saltbush (Atriplex canescens)(native) 

Giant Saltbush (Atriplex nummularia)

Nuttall’s Saltbush (Atriplex nuttallii)

Atriplex halimus (great forage)

Spanish Broom (hardy nitrogen fixer)

White Sage (Artemisia ludoviciana) (medicine, food)

Oreganillo (Aloysia wrightii)

Fremont’s Indigo Bush (Psorothamnus freemontii) (N-fixer, native, beautiful purple flowers)

Chiltepine (Capsicum annum)

Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)

Narrow-Leaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) medicinal, and food for monarch butterflies

Desert Senna (Senna armata) (though this beautiful native shrub is in the legume family, it is apparently  not a Nitrogen fixer)

Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)

Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis)

saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)

Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii)

Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmanii)

Century Plant (Agave parry)

Agave sisilana (awesome fiber plant)

Agave deserti

Agave utahensis

Hesperoyucca whipplei

Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)

Yucca filiamentosa

Soap-Tree Yucca (Yucca elata)

Soapweed Yucca (Yucca glauca)

Yucca Schidegera


Olive (Olea europaea) 

Persimmon (Diospyros kaki)

Fig (Ficus carica)

Mulberry (Morus nigra, M. alba, M. rubra)

Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)

Carob (Ceratonia siliqua)

Chinese Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba)

Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera)

Desert Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera)

Grape (Vitis spp.)(Thomson Seedless variety)

Peach (Prunus persica) (Florida Prince Variety)

Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) (Western Schley variety)

Quince (Cydonia oblonga) (Sonoran Membrillo variety)

Sweet Acacia (Acacia smallii)

Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii)(red) (beautiful chop and drop support species) Jujube (Ziziphus jujube)(food)

Pistachio (Pistacia Vera)(food)

Pomegranite (Punica granatum)

Littleleaf Leucaena/Wahoo Tree (Leucaena retusa)(N-fixer)

Persian Silktree/Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)(N-fixer)

Lebbeck Tree/Woman’s Tongue Tree (Albizia lebbeck)(N-fixer)

Drumstick Tree (Moringa oleifera)(food, N-fixer)(frost sensitive-plant as an annual)

New Mexico Locust (Robinia neomexicana)(N-fixer)

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)((food, N-fixer)

Sydney Golden Wattle (Acacia longifolia) (evergreen)(food, N-fixer)

Banana Yucca -Yucca baccata

Aloe vera (Aloe vera)

Trebizond Date (Elaeagnus orientalis)(food, N-Fixer)

Goji Berry/Chinese Wolfberry (Lycium barbarum)



Pueraria montana lobata – (Willd.) Sanjappa & Pradeep.(Kudzu Vine)

Cucurbita foetidissima – Kunth. (Buffalo Gourd)

Humulus lupulus – L. (Hops)

Clematis drummondi (Virgin’s Bower)

Cucurbita digitata A. Gray (fingerleaf gourd)

Passiflora arizonica (Arizona Passionflower


Lathyrus latifolius

Pueraria Montan chinensis–Maesen &S.M. Almeida

GROUND COVERS: Hottentot Fig (Corpobrotus edulis)(tough succulent, edible fruits)


(more to come)


Tepary Beans (Pheseolus acutifolias)

Cow Pea (Vigna unguiculata)

Drumstick Tree (Moringa oleifera)




Jerusalem Artichokes






MAIN CROP POSSIBILITIES:(For Human, Rabbit and Chicken food)

Desert Chia (Salvia columbariae)

White Sage (Artemisia ludoviciana) (medicine, food)

Indian Ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoidesi)

Desert Needle Grass (Achnatherum speciosum)


Fringed Amaranth, (our local native amaranth!) (Amaranthus fimbriatus)

Amaranth (Tampala, Mayo and Red Stripe Leaf varieties)

Sorghum -Sorghum bicolor Millet Teff (A.L. White variety)

Tepary Beans (W.D Hood’s white and brown Sonoran varieties)

Cow Pea (Vigna unguiculata)

black eyed peas Field peas (Six Weeks Browneye variety)

Cucumbers (Dekah)

Mustards (Florida Broad Leaf and Giant Red varieties)

Orach (Red)

Squash/Pumpkin (Lebanese Light Green, White Bush Marrow varieties

Volga Wild Rye (Leymus racemosus)

Red Spiderling (Boerhaavia coccinea)


Desert Plantain/Blond Psillium (Plantago ovata)

Six-Weeks Gramma Grass (Bouteloua barbata)

Winter Fat (Krascheninikovia lanata)

Clover species

Yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus)

Summer Savory (Satureja hortensis)

Spanish Broom (hardy nitrogen fixer)

Hottentot Fig (Corpobrotus edulis)(hardy succulent ground cover)


FIRE RETARDANT SPECIES: Figs, Oaks, Mulberries, Apricots.

figuring out holidays

something i struggle with a bit as a parent is how to handle holidays & traditions. when to keep up the family or cultural tradition, and when to change the tradition to reflect my values and needs better. growing up, my mom and oma were really good at making festivities grand. there was much preparation and many components to every holiday or birthday. the women who raised me were both “super-mom” types who would stay up late into the night to finish a surprise project and make things perfect. i am not that kind of mom. sometimes i wish i was but, my super-mom mom also taught me to take good care of myself, that stressing over perfection is really not worth it. i learned that the people i love would rather have me happy and relaxed than have a pinterest-worthy birthday party. for me at this stage of my parenting career, that means not staying up late. it means not single-handedly cooking a meal for 10 people. it often means not buying gifts. last year it meant completely forgetting my husband’s birthday. oops. stressing over holidays and birthdays doesn’t feel good, but ignoring (or forgetting) them doesn’t feel good either. so i’m trying to find that middle path. doing simple but meaningful celebrations. for easter i had about 50 different egg decorating craft ideas pinned on my pinterest board. i started stressing about where i could find white eggs that we could use that came from non-CAFO chickens, and then i realized. i already have eggs. most of my chickens lay pretty brown eggs and my auracanas lay green ones. so ollie and i broke out the water colors and crayons and decorated a few eggs. i sprouted some wheat berries for easter grass, and acquired a few edible and non edible easter treats (small chocolate bunny, a few chocolate eggs, yogurt covered raisins, bubbles, marbles, and a rubber ducky) i did buy some plastic eggs, because hand felting easter eggs is just not something that’s gonna happen this year. i was planning to make the easter cake my oma always did, but it may not happen.


the big hyper-arid permaculture plan


i think i mentioned that damian got his permaculture design certificate last year. since then he’s been working non stop (often by the light of his headlamp or the moon) on a permaculture design for our property. he’s put this design up on his new blog, and he’s  updating on the process of putting it all into place too. go on over and check it out! welcome to the world of blogging, honey!

chicken thoughts

WARNING: this post refers to the killing and eating of animals.
I’m hatching a plan for a regenerative chicken flock (chicken pun!). Twice a day when I put Ollie to sleep, I’m on my phone scouring chicken forums and permaculture texts* for info and advice.
We want eggs and meat and birds that will hatch and raise their own young. We want heat tolerance, winter laying, and friendly disposition. It’s a tall order, but from what I can tell, Buff Orphington fits the bill. Buffs have been part of our flock since the beginning and we’ve found them to be docile, most likely to go broody, good layers, and beautiful to boot. They aren’t very meaty compared to the jumbo cornish meat birds we are used to, but one bird will provide a nice meal for our family of three with a little left over.
The idea is we’ll get about 50 “straight run” (male & female) day-old chicks and start harvesting the roosters at 12 weeks. We’ll process one or two a week (putting some in the freezer) until they are about 20 weeks,  at which point we may decide to process all but one to prevent fighting and optimize meat texture. Then we’ll have a bunch of hens and one rooster. Hopefully a couple hens will go broody and hatch us some chicks. Once the chicks are growing we can harvest a few of the first generation hens to make room for the new birds. I don’t know if we can hatch 50 chicks a year, but if we can get close, then I won’t need to buy chicken or eggs ever again.

*I just finished Peter Bain’s Permaculture Handbook, it was excellent. I just started Mark Shepherd’s restoration agriculture, it’s revolutionary.