Permaculture Design Certificate Final Presentation – Table Rock Ranch

My mother and father-in-laws, Win and Mike, live on a beautiful and rugged piece of land on Colorado’s Front Range known as Table Rock Ranch.  For over 25 years, Win and Mike have raised a small herd of Scottish Highland beef cattle on the 85-acre property using a largely pastured, grass-fed approach.  The ranch lies on the high plains about 15 miles as the crow flies from the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains and at about 7,300 feet elevation.  The ranch is named for a mesa on part of the property called Table Rock, which is an easily-recognizable landmark in the area and which is an important Native American site.  There is an authentic Native American medicine wheel on top of the mesa, which is still visited occasionally by members of the Ute nation.  Table Rock was previously the resting place of a Native American holy man (who was exhumed in the 20th century), and may still be home to some as-yet unconfirmed Native American grave sites.

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Capturing and Storing Energy with Homemade Chokecherry Wine

This post is made by one of our students as part of their PDC Completion Home Correspondence Course.

David Holmgren’s second principle of permaculture is “Catch and store energy” (Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Holmgren Design Services, 2002), often described with the proverb, “Make hay while the sun shines.”  The idea of this principle is that we should be alert for and take advantage of opportunities to capture energy and slow down its flow through the landscape around us, thus ensuring a steady flow of energy through the system rather than an ebb and flow.  One illustration of this principle is the pattern of any water drainage – for example, when the mountains above a river remain forested, the river flows at a more constant and predictable level year-round.  But when the forests are clear-cut, the river floods extensively during the rainy season and can run dry during the dry season or a drought – both situations devastating for human settlements and for the local ecology.  The saga of the Loess Plateau in China (denuded and desertified after centuries of overgrazing and deforestation) illustrates this phenomenon well, with the upshot being that the people living in some parts of the Loess Plateau are now working to reforest their high places, improving the vegetation, soil and water in the entire watershed in a domino effect begun simply by capturing and storing water (energy) higher on the landscape and slowing down its movement.

Chokecherries as harvested from the bush:


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The Ecology of the Aquarium – And How It Led Me to Permaculture

“…my fish tanks were essentially wastelands!”

I have had an aquarium (or two) in continuous operation since 2004 – a large goldfish tank and a small betta tank. However, between 2004 and 2010, my aquariums were really “fish tanks” by advanced aquarium hobbyists’ standards – meaning that they were focused on fish, with an artificial, decorative environment. Plastic and silk plants, plastic gravel substrate, and heavy mechanical and chemical (activated carbon) filtration were all in play in my tanks, even if I did use the occasional decorative natural stone or gravel. The “artificial, decorative environment” is a very common setup that is condoned by pet stores, aquarium stores, common knowledge and popular culture.

Goldfish aquarium

About the closest I got to an “ecology” in my fish tanks was to utilize – as all aquariums and fish tanks do – biological filtration via nitrogen-cycling bacteria as part of my filtration system (converting harmful ammonia from the fish’s waste to less-harmful nitrate). Also, various volunteer species of algae would spontaneously appear over the years, which I usually scrubbed off the glass and fake plants in order to keep the tank “clean.” These fish tanks were fairly high-maintenance, in that they required weekly water changes, monthly algae eradication, and frequent cleaning of the filter media and moving parts – all standard recommendations for aquarium maintenance. But from an ecological and biodiversity standpoint, my fish tanks were essentially wastelands!    Continue reading “The Ecology of the Aquarium – And How It Led Me to Permaculture”

Plant ID Walk: Table Rock (mesa)

My husband and I took a walk one day in early summer up to the top of a mesa on his parents’ land near Colorado Springs, Colorado called Table Rock.  The environment on top of the mesa is very dry, very rocky, and very windy, and as a result much of the flora hugs the ground closely.  It is the first place on the ~80-acre parcel of land to dry out in the summer.  There are small caves and splits in the rock at the top that create wildlife habitat and microclimates.  A lot of wildlife calls Table Rock home, including mountain lions, bats, deer, foxes, raccoons, hawks, and falcons.  In a permaculture design, the marginal land on top of Table Rock and its steep sides would be best left to nature as Zone 5.

Here is a sampling of some of the plants found on Table Rock:

Stonecrop (Sedum stenopetalum):

Stonecrop (Sedum stenopetalum)

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What Edibles Do People Grow in Colorado?

Garden plot on the high plains of Colorado
One of the best ways to gather information about what grows in your area is to speak with longtime residents who know the whims of the climate and who have gardened in your area for many years.  My father-in-law, Mike, has lived and gardened at 7,300’ elevation near Colorado Springs, Colorado for over 25 years.  As we toured his annual garden plot on the summer solstice, he shared some of his observations and notes on growing vegetables on the high plains of eastern Colorado.

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Plant ID Walk: Around the Pasture

My husband’s parents raise Scottish Highland cattle on the high plains of Colorado.  Besides the grasses that the cattle eat, there are many interesting “weeds” and other plants growing in the pastures.  In this hot and dry year, as spring officially became summer in June, the pasture grasses had already gotten too sparse for the Highlands to be able to feed themselves, they are now being fed with hay and off the pasture so that it can recover.  Meanwhile, most of the native (and non-native) “weeds” in the pasture, more drought-tolerant than the grasses, are still thriving.

Here is a sampling of some of the plants found in an example pastureland on the high plains of Colorado:

Miner’s candle (Cryptantha virgata):

Miner's candle (Cryptantha virgata)

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Internet Resources for Identifying Plants

This post is made by one of our students as part of her PDC Home Correspondence Course.

Here is a list of Internet databases and other resources that I’ve found helpful in identifying plants and their potential uses in permaculture designs.


North American native plants

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Identifying and Using Pineapple Weed

Sarah is a Midwest Permaculture PDC Graduate.

Recently my mother-in-law, curious about a low-growing wild plant that she had observed around her horse barn, picked one of the small, petal-less flower heads and crushed it between her fingers to see what it smelled like.  Fascinated that it gave off a very sweet and distinctive fragrance, she brought the flower to me and we put our heads together to identify the plant.  I recognized this plant by sight, having seen it a lot growing up in Southern and Central California, but I didn’t know what it was or anything about it.

My first thought was that our little flower head reminded me of dried flower heads in loose chamomile tea, and that the fragrance – though far too sweet – was vaguely reminiscent of chamomile.  My second thought (or hope, rather) was that our sweet, fragrant flower might make a good wildcrafted tea itself.

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