Author Archives: Natasha

How to Use USGS to Create a Base Map

There was a time when I had no clue where to get started with making a base map. I taped together six to eight sheets of paper, trying to get something big enough to work with. I quickly got irritated, because I like precision, and I could not seem to get my sketch adequately accurate.

After much trial-and-error and many google-searches later I finally stumbled upon the United States Geological Survey website. At you will see this page:


Once you click on the Map Locator & Downloader, enter your address or keep double-clicking (PC) on the general location you want to see until it zooms in as far as the map will go.


Once there, you will want to select MARK POINTS, and add a marker to the specific location you want.


Next, click on the marker (1), and a list of map choices will pop up. For the longest time, their wording escaped me, and I thought I would be “buying” one of these downloads or buying a physical map. I did not go past this point and only used the map I could see for visual reference. No, it’s much simpler, and it’s free. You just click on the download size for the map you think might work for you (2) (you can check the preview first if you want), and it will download to your computer.


Once you locate the download on your computer, open the PDF. Find the location for which you want to create a base map and zoom in until it is mostly those property boundaries filling the screen. This large map does not lose quality, so you can zoom in very far.

Press and hold Alt and PrtSc [Print Screen]. This will create an image of the portion of the map that is on your screen. You will then want to paste this image into the program of your choice. I use Fireworks, because that is what I have, but Photoshop or possibly some drawing programs or PowerPoint would work. When you open a new document in Fireworks or Photoshop it should be automatically sized to the dimensions of your saved image. Once the new document is open, just Ctrl + P [paste], and your map section should appear.

From there, crop off all the messy edges. I will save the rest of the details for another post, because from here it gets a little ugly, at least for me, working out the legends to be sure that any overlays you have or elements you add are to scale.

Worm Check-Up

Dumped our second simplehuman bin-full of waste today into the 5-gallon bucket vermicompost system. The bucket is full. That’s what I thought would happen.

The worms are still alive. That’s good. I wasn’t sure they would be.

Last year I experimented with our 5-gallon bucket humanure with worms. I thought, Hey, why not? I’ll toss in a handful of worms into the full bucket and see what happens. They died. I assumed it was from lack of oxygen.

Maybe it wasn’t lack of oxygen after all, since theses worms are still alive. Could it have gotten too hot, and they had nowhere to escape? There was no odor, so there was a good balance of carbon to nitrogen. Hmmmm . . .

I have been lifting the lid once a day to freshen the oxygen. I also wonder about there not being a tap at the bottom to drain the worm juice, but possibly the little sticks mixed in with the leaves will do a fine job of creating a drain grill there. I may have to add a lot more worms if these ones don’t hurry up their activity, because at this rate the whole laundry room will be full of 5-gallon buckets in a few weeks!

Worms and Composting

The 55-gallon worm bin I made a couple months ago is now full to overflowing. Moving should be interesting. I didn’t bother putting it on casters, because I knew we would need to lift it up into a truck anyway. When I originally transported them from Pike Valley Farm a few months ago they were in a spa bathtub system we had rigged up from a bunch of discarded tubs the previous owner had collected.

The kids and I just went to the farm with 5-gallon buckets and emptied the tub out. Thankfully, everything was mostly composted at that time. However, I know for sure there is a good bit of not-as-yet composted, um, “resource” material at the top of this bin. It could get ugly . . . As a band-aid measure, today I implemented a super-simple system I read about but have a hard time believing it will be sufficient for our family. Experience will tell us.

simplehumanIt’s a two 5-gallon bucket method. One bucket serves as the reserve for when the first bucket fills. In my first bucket I placed about 2/3 of a bucket of rotting leaves, since they will settle. On that I placed our latest simplehuman trashcan-full of food/paper scraps. Then, I grabbed a handful of worms from the worm bin, along with a few sheets of damp newspaper and set them over the food. Over it all I put a little blanket of more rotting leaves.

Voila! Today’s compost is taken care of. I hope it lasts.

I love my small simplehuman step trashcan, by the way, and I get no money for saying so. (Many thanks to the woman on permies who first recommended it). Why do I love it for compost?

#1) It’s hands free. #2) It holds just about a day or two of our food/paper scraps. The amount that it needs to hold to highly encourage me to empty it as often as I should, thus discouraging any bad smells or possible breeding insects. Just keepin’ it real folks. :-) #3) The most awesome feature: it has an inner plastic bin that easily lifts out for dumping and cleaning!

I’m really not trying to advertise for them, but this has been a huge improvement over my previous composting endeavors. For the sake of a balanced review, I should say that there is a small gap in the lid where the hand lift comes out from the inner bin. Flies and fruit flies can find their way in there, but if you empty daily and put all waste paper in the bin daily, it is not a problem. However, simplehuman if you can hear me, if you ever to decide to branch out into compost bins, leave it almost exactly the same as your mini, minus the open finger gap. Then, it would be perfect.

New Forest Farm and Mark Shepard

We only had a few hours at New Forest Farm, and I quickly realized it would take a lot longer than that to really begin to comprehend everything that is going on. My husband and I were mostly looking for inspiration, and we found it. Starting at the cider room/pole barn, we met Jen, Mark’s wife, and Weston Lombard of Solid Ground Farm, in Athens, OH.

Planting on contour

Planting on contour

Family dog cools off in one of many pocket ponds

Family dog cools off in one of many pocket ponds

Thankfully, we had purchased Mark’s book, Restoration Agriculture, and been reading it for a while before the tour. Otherwise, we would have had no idea what we were seeing. Things are so much different on the ground than they are from the air! From the aerial shots in Mark’s book you can really see the pattern layouts, while on the ground you sometimes feel like you’re just walking through any other old forest or pasture. Not so, the elements of the system are purposefully and thoughtfully planned and executed.

Swales incognito

Swales incognito

Another aspect that surprised me was the swales. I have never seen one in person, only on video, so we had walked by dozens, and I didn’t even know it until Mark pointed out and told us the swales were there. On a light slope, they are much smaller and more unobtrusive than I had imagined, especially once planted out with trees, and the pasture has recovered. I honestly couldn’t tell they were there. During a rain event it probably would have been different.

Agro-tourism: Mark has planted several circular formations of trees that he will eventually join into one large tree, Winnie-the-Pooh-style, and shape out a large hollow reading room as a future agro-tourism attraction. There is also a hazelnut maze where middle-schoolers love to run about.

Camping: We could have camped at the farm for a nominal fee but realized we were ill-prepared and off-schedule. The family was surprised we were only staying such a short time and made sure to tell the rest of the group they were welcome to stay longer and camp out; they just needed to forage for food and otherwise be able to fend for themselves. [There was an outhouse for campers’ use.]

Interns working away on their pet project

Interns working away on their pet project

Interns: We didn’t get to spend much time with the interns, but they have been coming and going for years now and several new possibilities were there during the tour. The ones we did meet were very friendly and involved, even making a meal from their own garden and from the farm meat for the large group that had paid for the tour.

Mushroom forest

Mushroom forest

Mushroom Forest: Mark took us through the original woods that had pioneered the abandoned corn field and showed us his mushroom inoculation area. He said he gets about a grocery bag of mushrooms a day for long periods, until his kids beg him not to have mushrooms again. At the end of that area is an interesting piece he has fenced off to grow wild. He showed us the rampant undergrowth of what many consider invasives (i.e. multiflora rose; some might call them opportunists) and told us that the Forestry Department (?) had identified that spot on his farm as the largest source of those invasives in the county. He pointed that out to let us see that a managed piece of forest can be healthier and more productive than a piece left to its own devises.

belt buckleMr. Shepard mentioned a siting of bears recently and liked how people in the area think, Wow, how neat, take a photo, and then leave the bear alone. While in other more northern states they tend to freak out and shoot it before it kills someone, even though it is up in a tree trying to get away from the people. He said there have also been a couple wildcats (mountain lions) in the county but didn’t seem at all concerned about it.

mulberryWe sampled some small species of cherry, some mulberries, some other berries, all of which I had never tasted. He had already harvested most of the chestnuts, and the ones that were left had been out in the weather and were only good enough for the pigs.


There were apples, pears, and blueberries growing, but he said with a sarcastic sternness that we weren’t allowed to test the blueberries if we found any ripe ones, because he’s super-excited to taste and harvest them himself.

He had a lone pawpaw waiting for a mate. The other hundreds or thousands he has tested all couldn’t hack the Wisconsin winters. Very exciting to Mark, one past intern had also thrown caution to the wind and started Asian pear from seed and then grafted the best ones onto hardy pear stock, and those are doing well.

Mark points out the most successful apple varieties

Mark points out the most successful apple varieties

He showed us one apple tree that has several different varieties grafted on, one has no fruit (loser), one has scab (loser), and one looks beautiful (winner).

He had giant ragweed in the garden that he is letting grow as big as possible before it goes to seed when he will “harvest” it and throw it to the chickens for them to turn into compost, saying you might as well get as much biomass out of it as possible before you end its life.

The Arctic Room

The Arctic Room


Mr. Shepard explaining the working details of his house

Mark's off-the-grid house electric

Mark’s off-the-grid house electric

Surplus rainwater catchment is overflowing into the family’s new hot tub system they created. Mr. Shepard believes in involving his family in the work. His sons helped build their house in years past, the oldest at one-and-a-half and all safety-ed up helped size down concrete blocks. Years later, the younger son in middle school helped pour the concrete floor for their arctic room (mud room).

Comfrey and other plants protected the apple trees from being smothered by grass or riddled with pests and fluffed up the soil (though pigs had recently been through and squashed it down a little).

Mark's method for starting nut treesWhen I asked about his method for starting trees Mark recommended I visit Little House on the Urban Prairie for pictures and details. If starting hundreds of trees is too overwhelming for you or just not your thing, he said it can also be very useful to talk to local nursery men, give them your seed and guarantee them you will purchase the healthy stock.

Vehicles: though hazelnuts are excellent for fuel oil, they are more valuable as a food crop, so Mr. Shepard doesn’t press them for vehicle fuel. In the past, he used to grow sunflowers for his own fuel, but he works out deals now with the rest of his “oil cartel” to get fuel for his all vegetable-oil run vehicles, equipment, and his personal car.

Though we left after a few hours, we had the distinct knowledge that we could glean much more useful understanding if we were able to stay for a few weeks, better yet, for an internship. The Shepards seem to be the kind of people that the longer you hang around them with a good attitude, listening ears, and a willingness to work hard, the more secrets of their years of experience would tumble out. When I told Mark we had come to celebrate our wedding anniversary, he quickly suggested a beautiful scenic route we could take home to enjoy our time a little longer.

One of his sons just as quickly piped up, “Dad, they’ve torn that road all up. It’s not there anymore. I just broke down the other day trying to get through there!” So, we didn’t take the scenic route home, but we had lots to discuss as we droned through the endless corn monoculture on our way back to Kentucky.

All credit for the photos goes to my thoughtful husband. Without him, I would have had nothing but text. The only exception is the nut-soaking photo, which was taken by the author of The Little House on the Urban Prairie blog.

Planned Grazing and Holistic Management with Allan Savory

Paul Wheaton

Hey Everyone, I presented this document that Allan Savory and I compiled from all the questions everyone asked him over in the Greening the Desert topic to Paul Wheaton of

Allan Savory

It was a lot of work but very informative, and I hope some of you will find it useful and share it around. It is about 37 pages re-formatted and with some clarifying information from Mr. Savory inserted. If you’re a little confused about what Mr. Savory actually does, or if you still think he instituted rotational or mob grazing or even approves of them, you’ve GOT to read this document. It will shed some surprising light on the subject.


If anyone finds typos, please let me know. I would like to correct them as they come up, so we can keep it high-quality. Also, if you’re running cattle or looking into it, please check out his more detailed information at The Savory Institute.

Permaculturist’s guide to Holistic Management