Welcome to my permaculture "explorer's notebook," so to speak. Some of these entries may be quite raw, as they may literally be my notes from watching a YouTube video or a thought captured as it was dancing through my head. Other posts might be more elaborate as I take an idea and explore it in more detail or transcribe or polish a lengthy observation from my field book. Either way, I hope to capture some permaculture ideas and methods here as a recollection for myself and a resource for others. Thank you for stopping by. - Karla

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Permaculture Journal

So excited to finally be done with the First Edition of The Permaculture Journal!  Over 5,000 pages.  More than 60 hours of work.  Turned out much better than I hoped for.  And it's for sale at my Etsy store - and some people actually bought it!  So many thanks to the 2014 Geoff Lawton PDC students for their encouragement and support!
One of many printable title pages
My first sale.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Project Management for Permaculture Practioners - Part 3 - Introduction to Process Groups

 << Part 1  < Part 2
Thank you to those of you who have graciously commented about this series in the various permaulture forums that I inhabit.  Your feedback and kindness are greatly appreciated! As a result of some of this feedback, I'm going to break this down into smaller bites and also add a third example - that of building a hugel bed.  

So what are process groups?  And why can't we get into the meat & potatoes of managing a project, yet?

Meat & potatoes - almost there; however, jumping in and beginning to work prior to planning is the number one reason projects fail.  So before we get to the meat & potatoes, we're going to continue on a little longer with defining the processes and expanding our project management vocabulary. 

A process group is simply a project management element.  Like a permaculture element, it has inputs, outputs, and innate characteristics. And, the outputs of one element provides the inputs into another.  Project management has five mainframe elements: the process groups of Initiation, Planning, Monitoring and Controlling, Executing, and Closing.

Five Elements of Project Management (officially called "Process Groups" by the Project Management Institute)
  • Initiating Process Group
  • Planning Process Group
  • Monitoring & Controlling Process Group
  • Executing Process Group
  • Closing Process Group

You will note that Monitoring & Controlling and Executing are closely related in an iterative cycle of "do work, check work, adjust, do more work, check work, adjust...." 

I'll write about each of these "elements" in the next several blog posts, including their inputs, outputs, innate characteristics, and how they apply to our three examples.

Thanks so much for stopping by!  Karla

Karla Upton is a PMP® Certified Project Manager. Certification number 2310531.
 << Part 1  < Part 2

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Project Management for Permaculture Practioners - Part 2 - Project Life Cycle

<< Part 1 - Intro | Next >>

"A project life cycle is the series of phases that a project passes through from its initiation to its closure." - Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBoK) (Fifth Ed.)

There are generally four main phases for any given project:
  • Starting
  • Organizing & Preparing
  • Doing the Work
  • Closing 
The curve should be smoother in the graphic below; however, I'm not so good with the drawing tool, and it's late.  Still, one can clearly see that starting and finishing are cheap, and "doing work" is expensive and labor intensive.

Based on a table in the PMBoK 5th Ed.

Let's see how this might play out with our two examples.

Example 1 - Creation of a Design
  • In the beginning, there's just an idea; a twinkle in the eye.  Maybe a phone call, a meeting with the land owners, a walk around the property.  Not much time.  Not too many person hours logged.  Lots of thinking, not so much doing.  You might do this for free.  You might not even log these hours as "billable."
  • Then a period of organizing and prepping.  Not a whole lot of people involved in numbers here, but your time spent on the project starts going up as you find maps, research climate, return to the property one or more times to observe & take notes & photos, think about what elements you might use in your design, choose (and maybe purchase) what tools you will use - pens, pencils, rulers, paper, fancy software, modeling clay, etc.  Costs and time are rising.  If you aren't logging these as "billable hours," you might not really be profitable, or you may end up with an overall pay rate of coins per hour.
  • And then, the time approaches to actually create the design.  A draft? or two? Double checking details.  Re-reading notes.  Putting pen to paper or mouse to mouse pad - the work is getting done.  Maybe you are inspired or driven, but for sure there is a deadline and you are working like crazy.  Confer with client - show them drafts, discuss the element, create the final Thing. This is the meat and potatoes of Design Time.  And then, suddenly, you're done.  Well, maybe there's still a few small touches to add, but, yes, your done.
  • Winding down time.  Meet with the client one last time. Put the finishing touches.  Write the invoice.  Deliver the design documents.  Get paid.  Write a Thank You note.  Take a break.
Example 2 - Implementing a Design
  • Meet the client. Walk the property. Review the client's design.  Not much time.  Not too many person hours logged.  Lots of thinking, not so much doing.  You might do this for free.  You might not even log these hours as "billable."
  • Then a period of organizing and prepping. On a project that includes the addition of many elements - swales and their trees, chicken tractors, roof water catchment, zone one garden, etc. - there will be an extra long organizing and prepping.  Do items have time dependencies or sequences that have to be followed.  When will money be available? Is it the busy season for heavy equipment? When is a good time to plant trees? Is August too late to put in a garden - or has winter just ended, and the weather looks lovely?  What could happen that could throw our plans off?  What if there is sand under the ground where we are planning the pong? Redoing the schedule and what has to happen to make each element appear is cheap and easy on paper.  Use a lot of paper.
  • And the work goes on.  And in large projects, this is where unexpected things create the horrid thing called "going over budget."  The equipment operator is legitimately ill, and you scramble to find another one a your backhoe is being delivered.  Equipment rental company is going to charge you, even if the equipment just sits.  Swale placement perfect, right there - except, bedrock, right there. But, move the swale to a different contour line, and it's beautiful! And, saved some money because found some great materials for a chicken tractor at the local swap meet for way under budget.  Life is crazy.  The money is draining.  People are working, working, working - and the land is transforming, and what could be is becoming.
  • In a large project, "shutting down" may also come in phases.  Equipment operator finishes up and gets paid.  Chicken tractor team finishes up.  One by one, the elements are completed.  And then one day all the accounts are settled, including your own, and it's time to let the land stewards begin to really get to know and nurture the land for the long haul.
Super simplified, of course.  And this is just the "doing" cycle.  There is also a "risk" cycle.  And the "cost of change."  We'll touch on that another day... or night.

Thanks for hanging in there.  Hope this is helpful.  Feedback appreciated!

Karla Upton is a PMP® Certified Project Manager. Certification number 2310531.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Project Management for Permaculture Practitioners - Part 1 - Introduction

"A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result." - Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBoK) (Fifth Ed.)

As designers, we might not always be involved in the actual implementation of a design or parts of a design.  As practitioners on our own property or as consultants for someone else' property, a solid understanding of the Project Life Cycle of a property could be as useful as understanding its Forest Succession Cycle or its Water Life Cycle.  This series will attempt to familiarize you with the Project Life Cycle as expressed in by the Project Management Institute® (PMI.org).  While we won't be able to cover everything that is presented in the nearly 800 page Project Management Book of Knowledge, I hope that this overview will help you to manage your projects and time-scale niches and opportunities.  In addition, while I usually apply these principles to business projects, I will frame them here with a permaculture viewpoint.

For the purpose of this series, we will use two examples for our projects:
  • The creation of a design
  • The implementation of a design as a project
The second example can be clearly seen as a project; however, the creation of the design can be a project in and of itself.  This would be especially so for the creation of a large and/or very detailed design.

Projects, Programs, and Portfolios
As stated above, a project is temporary, and it produces something - a unique something. In our first example, the design itself is the product: a drawing, some printouts, a computer file, some lists and other documentation.  In our second example, the product would be a sustainable ecosystem.  The first project might take hours, days, weeks, depending on the size and complexity of the design.  The second might take decades before it is fully realized, and while the ecosystem my exist in perpetuity, the project to create it will have been completed at some point in time.

But what happens if you have a bunch of related projects?  These become known as a program. In a program, the projects are related, and thought is put into the managing of the projects together, as a whole to take advantage of their relationships to each other.

Example 1: Perhaps the client does not have time or resources to pay for a whole property design.  In such a program, you might have a project to do a sector analysis and zone 1, and another project to design zones 2 & 3, and a third project to design zones 4 & 5.  One could manage these as totally independent projects; however, if managed together, one might incorporate observations of all of the zones while working on the zone 1 design.  With these additional observations in hand, one might be able to plan things for zone 1 that can later take advantage of elements that are already in place in one of the other zones.  These various projects might take place sequentially, or they may happen in parallel or they may overlap - depending on budget, time constraints, and what makes sense to capitalize on various opportunities.

Example 2 : Your client has a lovely and complex design in hand, and is chomping at the bit to get started; however, time and budget means that everything cannot happen at once.  In this case, the various elements that need to be implemented might each become a project in the program to create the ecosystem.  A dam, a few swales, a fire break along a fence line, roof water catchment, zone 1 herb spiral, zone 2 orchards, zone 3 animal rotations, zone 4 food forest, and etc.  Sometimes it seems that the list is never ending.  With program management, however, one can sequence the various projects to take advantage of the season, or that use the same equipment, or the purchase of something in bulk that can be purchased at a cheaper price, and that can be used for one of the projects and stored on site for a future one.

Example 2 A : Your client has multiple properties - you might be able to run them as one program.  One day you are completing the "swale project" on one property, and the next day you are working on the "swale project" for the other.  This may provide an advantage in costs for the equipment, having a lower cost per day, and may provide an advantage for being able to work with the same operator on both projects, especially if you plan to build during the peak season.

Your portfolio would include both the individual projects that you may be working on, and any programs and program projects that you are working on. The items in your portfolio might only be related by their strategic ability to forward your business.

Example: If you are an "earth works specialist," you might only take on projects where you are designing and implementing dams, swales, and perhaps food forests, and you might not take on designing much of anything for zone 1.

Example: If you are a designer who prefers working in an urban and suburban environment, your portfolio might include projects for homeowners, schools, restaurants, and parks; however, you might not often design properties over one acre.

In both cases, you have made a strategic decision on what types of projects and portfolios that you wish to manage.

I hope to help you improve your permaculture and design projects by helping you to understand the Project Management Life Cycle and some of their key elements.  For Part 1, the key points to remember are that:
  • Projects are tactical - they have a distinct start and stop, and they create something
  • Programs are where tactics and strategy intersect - where a group of projects are managed together for a strategic advantage
  • Portfolios are strategic - where projects and programs are selected and managed for the strategic benefit of the business
<<Part 1 | Part 2 >>

Karla Upton is a PMP® Certified Project Manager. Certification number 2310531.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

As if I didn't have enough to do...

I have also signed up for the PermaEthos Founders' PDC.  As they say, "Sleep is highly overrated." Oh, and I am also continuing to read Ben Falk's book.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Compost C:N Ratios

Did I mention I have been both super busy at work and also taking Geoff Lawton's Online PDC? So many notes, so little time.  One gem from the PDC, however,  is a list of the relative amounts of Carbon that a compost element had compared to its Nitrogen content.  Good to know, while keeping in mind that the goal is to build a compost heap with about 25 to 30 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen.
  • 500 C:1 N : Sawdust
  •   25 C:1 N : Green weeds & grass clippings
  •   20 C:1 N : Horse Manure
  •   18 C:1 N : Cow Manure
  •   12 C:1 N : Chicken Manure
  •   10 C:1 N : Pigeon (Squab) Manure
  •     8 C:1 N : Rabbit Manure
  •     7 C:1 N : Fish (the dead fish or fish parts themselves)
  •     1 C:1 N : Human Urine
Looks like mixing sawdust with pretty much anything will help balance out that C:N ratio!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dreaming of planting a food forest...

I would dearly love to have 10 or 20 acres; however, the reality (and it is not a bad reality!) is that we will only be able to afford 4 - 6 acres.  I was thinking that I might have to really work to have space for a full blown food forest.  University of Georgia (USA) to the rescue with a chart of how many trees one can plant per acre.  True, this is not how many from a permaculture perspective, but it does give one some ideas.  For example, full sized apple trees at maturity 30 feet apart = 48 per acre.  Dwarf apples planted 15 feet apart - 194.  I've seen how many apples a 3 year old dwarf apple tree can set.  Even if only 10% of the total tree count was set to dwarf apples, that is way more than a single family could possibly eat.  Even if they are fattening hogs and chickens on the gleanings.  So, feeling much better now.  Food forest on one acre - bring it on!

One idea - zone3
Can inter-plant many other trees between the immature fruit/nut trees that will be harvested as the primary trees need the space.  For example, if I were to plant 3 pecan trees, maybe I would really plant 6 and cut down or coppice the three less vigorous ones.  Also, can run chicken tractors and can grow garden vegetables and flowers around each tree.  As many nitrogen fixing trees as there are "permanent residents."  Also, maybe I would put the trees that will eventually be much larger towards the North so they won't later shade the dwarf trees?  Not so sure about placement, yet, but getting ideas.
  • 1/4 acre planted to full sized fruit trees that won't really be entering into their production years for 7-10 years - 12 at 30 foot spacing
  • 1/4 acre planted to full sized nut trees - 12 at 30 foot spacing
  • 1/4 acre planted to full sized sugar maple trees - 12 at 30 foot spacing
  • 1/4 acre planted to dwarf/semi dwarf fruit trees -  48 at 15 foot spacing
And then, of course, there are the many, many types of berries and flowers and herbs and other yummies I could plant amongst the trees.  Most importantly, I plan to plant a picnic bench, a hammock, and a small tree house in there, too!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

PDC Keeping Me Busy!

Autumn Leaves

Between my Day Job, Tornado Warnings, and taking Geoff Lawton's Online PDC, I've been, well, rather busy!

My copy of Permaculture: A Designers' Manual by Bill Mollison came last week.  Packed full of info, but dry as a college science course reference book - which it actually is!  So glad to have Geoff Lawton teaching the class.  So far as I can see, he is following the manual very closely.  And, the Q&A videos where he answers students questions (each and every single one of them!) is almost worth the cost of the course itself!

Well, even though this is barely a post, I did add some links.  Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, March 28, 2014

On Observing

So I was thinking about yesterday's post, and while I won't retract it, I realized that while useful, recounting other people's observations did not actually help one make their own observations.  So, the theme for today will be to explore how to improve one's powers of observation.  Some ideas to think about during this exploration:
  • More than your eyes
  • Practice
  • Recording one's observations
  • Asking why
In one of the videos on Ben Falk's Whole Systems Design site, he mentions that he can tell what type of tree that his wood was from just by smelling it.  This got me to thinking that observation is more than just seeing. It is using all of our senses to really connect to the world around us.  So this morning, I did not just watch the birds at my feeder - I closed my eyes and listened.  And then I opened my eyes and listened some more while I looked for the owner of the particular calls.  I was pretty overwhelmed with number of different bird sounds with their sunrise symphony, so instead, I decided to concentrate on one particularly clear chirp.  And there it was, the sound of a male cardinal and his lady.  I tried to listen to just that pair for a while.  I am pretty sure I will be able to recognize that sound from now on.  On a more tactile note, I was thinking how, if I observe with my fingertips, I can tell if a tomato is ripe, regardless of its color. And my nose would help me with that one, too!

It is easy to just go about one's day and not really observe with all of one's senses.  Meals to cook, email to answer, laundry to wash - but with slowing down just a bit, I think we can create the habit of observing on a daily bases.  An then one can begin to apply those powers of observation to one's home, one's land, one's whole way of living.  I am thinking even 10 minutes twice a day would improve our awareness.  Add to that being purposefully aware while engaging in or observing something unique, and I think we could significantly improve our ability to observe.

Memory is a fickle thing.  Especially if one is trying for year over year observations, or if one is observing something that may be a rare or even once in a lifetime event.  So, even though not the same as the original observation, I think there is a lot of value to recording ones observations.  For me, the camera and a journal have been my two tools of choice.  Nothing like having a series of photos over time to tell me what birds visit my feeder, and what type of turnips I harvested in a given year.  After watching the lovely videos on Ben Falk's site, I am beginning to think that video might also be a good tool - especially in that it captures sound and movement, in addition to "just pictures."  As for the journal, there is nothing to compete with having a year over year record of not just what was done, but what was observed.  For example, I always think the geese are returning extra early - but then my journal will say, no, they are always in this 3 week window.  I find a year over year journal indispensable for all kinds of things; however, I won't go into that here. (I am working on putting all of my garden journals online here.  As I learn more about permaculture, my journal is increasingly becoming more than "just a garden journal.")

So now we have sharpened our observation skills, and perhaps recorded some of the more interesting or unusual ones.  Now what?  What use are they? Everything in permaculture should serve more than one purpose, right?  Well the journal could provide important information on how well different parts of the system are working, and what it might need during different times of the year.  The photos and videos might be beautiful in their own right, and a trigger for fond memories.  Knowing that a pair of cardinals might hang out near a bird feeder might help you with determining the types and locations for where to place a bird house.  But what is the real value of observation and recording those observations?  In my mind, is it so that one can reflect on the observation and ask why? for what purpose? how can I improve?  Nature is one giant source of feedback, and she will tell you what is going on if you listen.  

I used to wonder why there were no snails or slugs in our yard,
until I observed the morning Breakfast Club in their bright red vests.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Other People's Observations

Observations from Ben Falk. (Ben Falk lives in a cold climate in N. America)
  • A food gap occurs for him in late winter, early spring
    • Lucky that can still get food at the store - means he has time to close this gap
    • Planting carrots and arugula in the fall so they get a head start in the early spring
  • If you let things go to seed, you will be able to just harvest food "everywhere"
    • His example is turnips that reseed themselves and grow by his wood pile
  • Soil Building
    • Lets grass get tall and then composts it
    • Plant turnips and daikon to break up soil and become a fast carbon path
    • (I'm not a turnip fan - would carrots work as well?)
  • Store wood for optimal burn
    • Dry one year
    • Keep rain off of it
    • Let air circulate
    • 2 years of wood stored and available at any given time
    • Wood doesn't go bad if stored well
    • Wood that wants to split well, make kindling out of it
    • He observes the smell of the wood
  • Food storage
    • Keep 2 years of food at any given time

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


It makes sense that at the beginning of my Permaculture Journey that we begin with the Permaculture Principles. These principles are beautifully articulated at Permaculture Principles and are listed here as a reference. In the coming weeks, I'll be expanding on them and how I am using them.
  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Geoff Lawton's PDC Starts This Weekend

I have saved my pennies and my dollars and my many dollars, and I hope to be one of the lucky ones to get a seat at his online Permaculture Design Certificate course.  Assuming I do, at least for the next several months, a large part of this blog will be to chronicle my thoughts during the PDC course, and to also post the results of any "homework" that I might undertake as a result of the course.  And, of course, I will post my final design for my certificate, here, too.  So if you don't know who Geoff Lawton is, check out his videos at http://www.GeoffLawton.com - the videos themselves will tell you a lot about Geoff.  And they will give you a good grounding in the things that permaculture can accomplish.