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Online Permaculture Design Certificate Week 1

Snippet of the online permaculture design certificate coursework week 1

If you have been following along with our website then you will know that I (Brianna) have started taking my Online Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) through Oregon State this week.  Boy what a week…  I chose this course because it was accredited through the North American Permaculture Institute and it looked like a thorough Permaculture Design Certificate course.  The instructor was well regarded and the course work went well above the 72 hour minimum.  And Oh. Yes. It. Will. go past that minimum…

Week one started with an overview of the course and structure itself.  They had a unique suggestion for storing all your designs as slides so you have a final presentation when the course is complete.  Then right into the readings, lectures, supplemental readings/lectures, quiz, and homework.  Yeah, all the things just like a regular course.  If you were thinking this was just going to be a gimmee /”fun” course think again.  It is going to take well more than 10 hours a week to finish all the work.

Online Permaculture Design Certificate Week 1

Week one of the online Permaculture Design Certificate covered topics such as, but trust me, not limited to:

  • Permaculture Principals
  • Permaculture History
  • Watershed
  • Deforestation impacts
  • Beavers
  • Site Mapping
  • Topography
  • Core General Model
  • Contour Maps

And much, much more.  The quiz was lengthy and NOT multiple choice :( .  I had to write a paragraph for each question and actually look up some of the answers. However, it WAS open book for anyone panicking when I said quiz.

Snippet of the online permaculture design certificate coursework week 1
This is only the top 1/4 of the list…

After that I set into the real meat of the course introducing my chosen site for my 10 week design.  We will be selecting a single site and working on a complete permaculture design for the rest of the course.  When I am done, I should have an entire presentation, maps, and proposal for my chosen site.

Since, I have already done our home I decided to work on a friends’ property (I am sure I will tweak ours).  They purchased the .41 acre property almost a year ago.  Just a 10 minute drive to Asheville, if feels urban enough, but without the tiny yards and ridiculous prices.  They have graciously allowed me access to the property for the course and agreed to act as my clients.  I am hoping to design something they might implement in the coming years, but if not, that is totally okay too!

On that note, I immediately found that I picked a bitch an unusual site when I started the first part of my homework.  Watershed mapping…  Guess whose property is directly in the center of two watersheds…  This one…  So extra mapping was required.

One of my slides on the watershed area

As a side note: The property you pick needs to be accessible.  Additionally you will be giving the classmates and instructors the address during this online permaculture design course.  There is a good reason for this information as your classmates will be peer reviewing your work, so it is expected they will look up the general location, climate, topography, etc.  So if you are cautious about privacy pick a location that is not your own.

Snippets from my site introduction for my online permaculture design certificate

Sprinkled through this post are some examples of the work I created this week.  On the whole I am very pleased with the quality of the lectures and coursework.  I hope the rest of the class is as thorough, but I am a bit stressed about getting it all done each week!

For those of you following along

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Online Permaculture Course Overview

Example of some of the video content and slides for the course

The time is here! I started my Permaculture Design Certificate online course through Oregon State University last night.  Just a reminder I am not paid or affiliated with this course other than I wanted to take it! If you recall from my intro, I am going to (HOPEFULLY) document my work throughout this online permaculture course so that others can follow along and see if this type of course might be good for you. As a reminder, I am doing this course as this is the first step to becoming a certified permaculture designer and eventual instructor. Bonus though, this course alone will allow me to offer professional permaculture services using the appropriate Permaculture name! Yippy! There are PLENTY of knowledgeable instructors in the field who don’t go the whole certification route, but as a supporter of education I want to work through the official certification over the next few years.

That being said, the loose plan for these posts is as follows:

  • Post an Intro to the Course
  • Give an online permaculture course overview of the coursework (That’s what is happening today!!!)
  • On Monday’s give an overview of the work I did. My assignments are due Monday mornings, so I hope to be able to recap in a post each evening.

So what is the online Permaculture course from Oregon State looking like so far?

First impressions are that the interface is pretty robust. If you have never taken an online classes before it might be a bit intimidating, but if you just keep clicking around you will eventually find all your modules, course content, discussion forums, and syllabus. Plus there are a number of links and discussion forums for help.

Intro screen for my online permaculture certificate course at Oregon State University
So many links, but really just clicking on Modules will get you where you need to go


I, being an old school student, started with the Syllabus! I am sharing a snippet in the picture below to give you an idea of the content, but I do not want to give the instructor’s course content away in total. I am working on my own poultry raising courses as we speak and it takes an incredible amount of time to generate course content. I want to be respectful of this instructors time and work, so, if you want the whole syllabus then I guess you will need to sign up for the course ;)

Syllabus for the Online Permaculture Certificate course at Oregon State University

Anyway, my initial impressions of the course overview were as follows: excitement then overwhelmed then ‘let’s do this’. It is a large amount of work. Even more so when you start reviewing the homework and details of each week. I have zero concerns I will ‘get my money’s worth’ out of this course. I do have concerns that 10 hours a week will not be sufficient! In which case I’ll just do the usual and buckle up buttercup. I’m not afraid of some hard work! Edit: When I went to the website to link to this article Oregon State had changed the course details from 8-10 hours per week to 10-17 per week.  This makes much more sense than the original estimate.

After reviewing the syllabus I took a tour of all the side menus and figured out there are about 100 students in the course, but that we are broken up into small units (15-25 members) with dedicated Teaching Assistants (TAs). Our TAs have already in introduced themselves and from the looks of the introductions they have all taught Permaculture Design Certificate courses before. So, it is cool to have knowledgable mini-instructors. They sound much more versed in the subject of Permaculture than a lot of my TAs in their chosen subjects in Undergrad.

After doing an overview of the whole course I checked out the rest of the course content to see what would be expected and got into the details of…

Week 1: Site Selection and Watershed Mapping

I’ll go into details of what work I did week one, next Monday, but I noted that the general layout of coursework is similar for each week.

Each week, the instructor supplies video lectures, discussion forums, quizzes, textbook reading, and homework sheets. These are not required to be done in any timeframe other than by the next Monday. However, it is required that you log in and join the forums on at least a couple days. I assume this is to keep everyone from procrastinating until Sunday each week.

Details of the Online Permaculture Course

From the looks of things it appears that each week will break down to something along the lines of this:

  • Video Lectures: 1-2 hours
  • Textbook Reading: 1-2 hours
  • Quizzes: 30 mins
  • Discussion Forums: 1-2 hours
  • Homework: 5-10 hours (This varies by week as the first homework will be much shorter, but I imagine doing actual site drawings and overlays will take quite a bit of time)
Example of some of the video content and slides for the course
Here is an example of some of the video lectures. Complete with slides just like college used to make ;)

The course also provides the following:

  • Special Discussion Forum: to ask the instructor questions and also a
  • Facebook Group: for current and past students to discuss permaculture. I requested access to the FB group but have not gotten in yet.
  • Supplemental Readings/videos: They expect you to have access to the course after you take it and can use this info to further research
  • Logins to other sites: There appears to be some logins to horticulture sites and other info for students to access for free.

It was really important to read the first homework sheet, as well as, the course intro as it talks about the specific maps and write-ups you will need to generate in the first week BUT more importantly put in some notes for the rest of the course. They give you a heads up that you will need PHYSICAL ACCESS to the site you will be designing in the first set of lessons. This is important to know at the beginning because you use the same site throughout the course. I had gleaned that based on my course overview, but this is a super important fact if you are not using your yard. Which spoiler alert: I am not using our yard. I have a couple of friends that have generously allowed me to design their property. It is slightly outside the city and larger than our space. It still has a lot of semi-urban/suburban features, which, is my specific permaculture interest. Plus they have agreed to treat this as a full design and answer site questionnaires etc. (Thanks! Trevor & Justine) I will outline the details in the subsequent weeks.

Homework from my online permaculture course
Oh homework… At least the kids were impressed by the amount of reading I have to do this week.

Overall, I am pretty impressed and a bit intimidated by the course. I believe I have a pretty good grasp of the permaculture principals and design concepts from a lot of self study and Andrew Millison’s free Introduction to Permaculture course, but it looks as though this course will make me practice (a LOT) and flesh out my understanding to a much higher level. I am really looking forward to the coursework and the online format seems to be created in a thoughtful way to really help facilitate your learning. I was very concerned that I wouldn’t get as much from an online environment, but I think the instructor access and thoughtful course layout has put those concerns to rest. Now to get cracking on all this homework!

For those of you following along

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Online Permaculture Design Course

Happy polish and brahma chickens

Because full time out of the house job, full garden, chickens, and four kids is not enough I finally did it! I signed up for a permaculture design course accredited by Permaculture Institute of North America. I have always wanted to take a permaculture design course (PDC) but lacked the resources to make it happen. Resources being time, location, and money. I was very excited to find an this online PDC (also sometimes called a permaculture design certificate) through Oregon State University. After hemming and hawing because it still costs a lot of money… and still costs a lot of time, but flexible time… I signed up with Adam’s encouragement. The online nature of the course will allow me to do it on the evenings and weekends when the kids are in bed. FYI- this is not an ad, I haven’t even taken the course yet!

Happy polish and brahma chickens
Why not insert some happy permaculture chickens. Who doesn’t want to see that?!

Oregon State University has a free certificate program as an intro to permaculture I took this spring. From that course I was able to finish a first plan for our Urban Permaculture lot you can see here. I enjoyed the instructor and introduction to permaculture enough that I THINK I’ll get good value from the course. If nothing else finishing a permaculture design course is the first (in a lot of) steps to being certified as a designer or eventual permaculture instructor.

So why am I talking about my course? I rarely document personal stuffs on Craft Thyme, but I thought that a follow along as I go through this ten week course would probably be pretty interesting to those looking at potentially doing a permaculture design course. Especially, if you are looking at an online version. Plus 10 WEEEEEEKKKKSSSSS. I need something to keep me accountable for all the time it is going to take to work through the course material.

Can anyone be sad when looking at a sunflower?
Just a happy sunflower to also brighten your day! This is just one of the many volunteer plants I have growing in my urban permaculture microfarm.

Oregan State’s Online Permaculture Design Course

Let’s start with the course information:

  • Course Dates: 9/24/2018 – 12/7/2018
  • Time Needed: 9 to 10 hours a week. It is recommended you do not take a PDC less than 72 hours worth of instruction and time. So at 90-100 hours this more than meets the minimum.
  • Weeks: 10 Weeks. A lot of permaculture design courses happen in intesive 2-3 week blocks. I am hoping the longer time witll give me more time to digest the topics and practice techniques since I will lose a bit on the personal instruction a face to face might cover.
  • Instructor: Andrew Millison
  • Topics Covered:
    • Observation and analysis of the natural processes of a site
    • Design principles and methods
    • Dynamics of water systems, soils, gardens and trees
    • Urban permaculture
    • Apply an ethically based whole-systems design approach
    • Use concepts, principles, and methods derived from ecosystems, indigenous peoples, and other time-tested practices
    • Learn about regional planning, ecology, animal husbandry, appropriate technology, architecture, and international development
  • Textbook (affiliate link): Practical Permaculture for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and the Whole Earth. Oddly enough Adam had purchased this book for me this spring. I took it as a sign ;)

Sounds pretty excellent to me! Plus you are guaranteed to have a completed site plan by the end of the course with lots of one-on-one instructor and peer interaction. The timing is great as I don’t have a large fall garden planted or a lot of plans to build anything major. Summer is winding down and the kids are back in school, which leads to a much tighter routine. So now I just have to wait 3 more weeks to get going!!!! Check back on the 25th and I will update each week as we go with the links below:

For those of you following along

Follow along as I work through a fully online Permaculture Design Course (PDC) held by Oregon State University.

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How to Build a Hugelkultur Raised Bed and Why You Should

Roma tomatoes that did not crack due to hugelkutlur raised beds

Every fancy gardening website extols the virtues of raised beds. I personally, resisted them for years but a combination of hugelkutlur and raised beds changed my mind! Before, we get into how to build a hugelkutlur raised bed, let’s discuss the why you should build a hugelkultur raised bed.  Also, we can answer the all important question:

What the hell is Hugelkultur and how the hell do you say it?

The easiest definition of Hugelkultur (hoogle – cult – er) is it is a hilled bed where the center of the bed is large trunks of wood and debris covered in dirt.  I added that stab at pronunciation because one time I asked readers how to pronounce diatomaceous… 80+ helpful comments later I decided to edit the article and never ask for help on that score again ;).

But back to hugelkultur; There are a lot of benefits to this traditional style of hugelkultur beds, such as cost, size, soil warmth, etc, but for me the aesthetics just weren’t what I was looking for.

2 year old hugelkultur raised beds full of basil, peppers, kohlrabi, and tomatoes
I just like a nice sharp edge.  Especially when I have neglected my trimming and weeding… This hugelkutlur bed is untidy at the end of the summer but still going strong! No watering needed.

Why Your Raised Beds should be a Hugelkultur Raised Bed

I have always been resistant to raised beds. My vegetable gardens growing up always were in-ground. I can recall the tilling and dirt clod smashing needed to prep a garden from very early years. As a side note, I can’t, to this day, explain why may parents insisted on having a garden growing up. It wasn’t their “thing” and we always spent summers angrily hoeing and yelling at groundhogs. At one point there was an incident where we electrocuted an opossum. Which, while an awesome display of electricity was not exactly the intended result. It did, however, keep the F’ing groundhogs at bay for some time. Till we finally realized the fried opossum had grounded the whole apparatus out. Which resulted in the loss of All. The. Corn.

Also groundhogs can suck it.

However, back to my garden, I was resistant to raised beds due to the added cost of whatever material you use to surround the bed, then the cost of dirt, the labor of construction, and the constant fight to keep the beds from drying out. I know lots of other gardeners who feel the same way.  With all that against raised beds how can building a hugelkultur raised bed change everyone’s minds?

First, there are ways to prep raised beds for less. So much so, we wrote about it right here! Also, let’s be frank: Raised beds look good. As a permaculture enthusiast I shouldn’t give a twit about “looks” and focus on functionality but my artistic background just wants to make beautiful things. Raised beds are easy to edge, weed, fertilize, decorate, etc. But the watering. Oh the watering… Raised beds can be like a terracotta pot and need watering on a daily basis (twice daily?). Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Modified hugelkultur raised beds that need no water but grow herbs, raspberries, and other vegetables
I maaaayyyy have let this hugelkultur raised bed get a little crazy. I have not watered it all summer but it is packed with lemon balm, basil, sage, and fresh fall raspberries.

Hugelkultur raised beds saved me from that fate of standing around with a hose and it can save you too! A lining of spongy wood and chips soaks up the water, then, releases it back to the dirt and plants slowly. Added bonus of a hugelkultur raised bed is the fungal cultures they bring. I attended a soil scientist’s (what a cool job title) class this spring at Organic Growers School and learned so much about how microorganisms and fungus assist the health of your plants. BUT that is a topic that needs its own series of posts. What was most important is that, outside of seedlings and a month of drought I haven’t watered my raised beds. During the drought I didn’t water the established perennials in these beds AT. ALL. I feel like an infomercial but damn… It is kind of amazing.

Have I sold you on having a hugelkultur raised bed? I bet we have! Now what? You got to build those puppies!

How to Build a Hugelkultur Raised Bed

We have detailed articles on building regular raised beds and fancy ones (Linked for your convenience). We even talk about how to fill and prep those raised beds for less. But if you are lazy, like me, here is a quickly tutorial on how to make a hugelkultur raised bed.

Step 1: Build some Raised Beds

Not some of those ridiculous 2 inch raised beds either… We are going to need some deep old boxes to make a good hugelkultur raised bed. I suggest building them at least 6 inches deep and actually follow my own advice. Though it doesn’t always look like it. On the below hugelkultur raised beds we had this brilliant idea to level them in the landscape and then spent an entire day digging only to end up with one of the sides being buried about a foot into the ground.  However, they are damn level.

Raised beds leveled in a sloped landscape.
This took a whole lot of digging!!!!

Step 2: Wood is Good

Depending on how deep your bed is, you are going to fill the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 with wood matter.  Deeper beds can take more wood matter and still have room for lots of dirt. In our deeper beds we used old logs we found in a wood pile, then branches (some of them fresh), then tiny sticks the kids picked up in the yard.

Modify hugelkultur to make a water-wise raised bed

Step 3: Chips Aren’t Just for Snacking

Even if you have a low raised bed you can follow this step. Our top layer was simple ground wood chips. These break down fast but hold water well. I even use wood chips in the bottoms of large containers so I do not have to water the containers as often.

That’s really it, just add dirt on top. But I make it seem a lot more complex and fancy in this in-depth tutorial about prepping beds for less.

It all sounds so great, amiright? But I bet you are wondering how these hugelkultur raised beds held up in the long run. Well, I’d be happy to say they have held up fabulously! The pictured beds above are two years old and going strong.

I plan to pressure wash the wood in the fall and stain, to help protect them, but as for fertility, water retention, and general upkeep?! I can not complain. Honestly, they still look good and grow like crazy.  I’ve been neglectful in keeping up with the harvest (and weeds) due to the rate of growth, even in the heat of summer.

But if that isn’t enough for you then let’s take a second to check out these tomatoes… Certainly, these are a variety of heirloom Roma’s which are resistant to cracking, but LOOK, like really LOOK, no cracking! Through days of no water and days of deluge every evening I have managed to get tomatoes that aren’t cracked. I have never, in ground, or regular raised beds, managed to make that happen without a lot of TLC.

Roma tomatoes that did not crack due to hugelkutlur raised beds
See Ma?! No cracking!

Tomatoes crack when water isn’t regulated. Guess what regulates the hell out of some water?! A Hugelkultur Raised Bed, That’s what! Anything that keeps me from having to babysit my plants will earn a place in my gardening secrets list.

So if you want to reap the benefits of good soil culture and water retention all while maintaining aesthetics then I think a hugelkutlur raised bed should be in your near future.  If you try this techniques please let me know in the comments how well it works for you!

How to make hugelkultur raised beds and why you should make them

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How to Know When Your Chickens Will Start Laying Eggs

When will your chickens start laying eggs?

If you purchased or hatched chicks for the first time this spring you may be wondering when your chickens will start laying. One of the things that will drive any chicken owner crazy is waiting for your first egg. BUT how do you know when your chicken will start laying? The general rule of thumb is that chickens will start laying around 6 months old (22-28 weeks) is the norm, but there are some precocious breeds that start earlier. Even if your chickens start laying in the normal range that still leaves 1-2 months of uncertainty, *le sigh*. While, we can’t predict with perfect accuracy when your chicken will start laying here are some signs that you may get an egg in a week or two, which, for my inpatient heart is a step in the right direction.

Signs Your Chicken Will Start Laying Her First Egg

When will your chickens start laying eggs?

How Much Time Since Hatch?

Remember below are just estimates of when these different breeds of chickens will start laying. However, it does help to know if you have a late or early egg laying breed.

  • Buff Orpington: 24 Weeks
  • Barred Plymouth Rock: 20 Weeks
  • Easter Eggers: 20 Weeks
  • Cochin: 30 Weeks
  • Brahma: 30 Weeks
  • Favorelle: 23 Weeks
  • Silkie: 32 Weeks
  • Polish: 26 Weeks
  • Sussex: 22 Weeks

Your Chicken Should Be Fully Grown

After knowing about when your chicken breed might start laying, the first way to tell that your chicken might be ready to lay an egg is the way your chicken looks! Most chickens need to be fully grown to lay an egg. Seems like a no-brainer, except with my first flock I wasn’t sure what ‘fully grown’ looked like. Pullets may look as though they are grown with large sizes and lots of beautiful feathers. To tell if a hen is fully grown you will need to inspect the comb and wattles. These should be dark red (or blue, or black, or whatever color your chicken breed has). The comb and wattles need to be fully pigmented and swollen to final size. The chickens will have all their adult feathers and finally lost their terrifying teenage look. Unless you were our speckled Sussex. She started laying waaaay before she was done with wattles and feathers… If I hadn’t seen her laying myself I still wouldn’t believe our pullet was capable of laying while looking so teenagery still.

Difference between a pullet and laying hen
Can you see the subtle differences between a pullet and laying hen?

Squatting behavior

When your chicken is ready to lay her first egg she will often do a funny little squat when you come up to her. Before our pullets began to lay even the tame ones would kind of sidle away and dart around when we would approach to pet them. Then suddenly, a few of them would stop and drop when we went to pet them. A quick brush of the hand and they’ll fan their rumps in the air. Not to be chicken graphic, but this is what they would also do for a rooster. If you want to be a little less gross think about how a cat will stick its butt in the air when you pet them at the base of their tale… Same concept.

Being in the Nesting Boxes

Another good way to know when your chickens will start laying is to note who suddenly started showing interest in the nesting boxes. We had a new flock this year and made sure to fill up the nesting boxes around 20 weeks with straw. They hens took a look at the boxes and then promptly ignored them.

Side note: If you have a small coop beware, they can get in the habit of hanging out in the nesting boxes due to lack of room. This makes for gross nesting boxes and problems later.

Anyway, a couple of weeks after I filled the nesting boxes with straw, I noticed the Barred Plymouth Rock rooting around in the box. Sure enough, she was the first to lay. Our larger Welsummer was in the coop a lot checking the nesting boxes out recently and I caught her laying this week!

There are a couple other ways that aren’t quite as easy to tell if your chicken is going to start laying. But they still they are generally true for a lot of chickens.

Start Making a Bock-Bock Noise

Don’t you just love my scientific description of chicken noises :)? I’m pretty sure my three year old can do a better impression of a chicken.  That being said, chickens that are about to start laying will often be noisier. They will develop an egg laying bock-bock noise. It is hard to describe for first time chicken owners, but once you get accustomed to the sound you will know when they start practicing that noise. There are some breeds that a quieter than others like our cochins and brahmas but most chickens get pretty verbal around laying time.

Barred Plymouth Rock Pullet
Bock! Bock!

Chickens Become More Tame/Stand Ground

Some chickens are just not going to be squatters as mentioned above, but they all seems to settle down a bit when they are going to start laying eggs.. Generally speaking, chickens will also just lose some of their flightiness around laying time. Unless you are our Polish… That thing is always crazy. Chickens that are about to lay will just start to get more secure in their surroundings. Our layers will hold their ground when I open up the nesting boxes, even when they aren’t actively laying. They will come more when we called and just generally settle down and act like a mature, sensible chicken (again, minus our Polish). I have always assumed it was because they start to cement their adult pecking order and see us as the heads of the flock. Also, think about when you were a teenager (Crazy)… versus when you are an adult (sensible… Okay, less crazy).

All the above are pretty good signs to know when your chicken will start to lay, but also remember each chicken is an individual. We have two Welsummers that hatched at the same time. One had crop issues as a chick (we thought we might lose her at one point) and ended up smaller than the other Welsummer. She still hasn’t started laying and the other has been laying for over a week now.

Crazy polish chicken
Just a crazy, flighty Polish. But isn’t she fantastic?!

Early Laying Breeds

Finally, if you just can’t wait to get some eggs consider raising breeds start young.  Here is a quick list of young egg layers, that also happen to be good egg producing chickens.

  • Plymouth
  • Sussex
  • Easter Eggers
  • Orpingtons (though in our case our Oprington was sloooow to lay)
  • Australorps
  • Leghorns

We would love to hear when your different breeds started egg laying.  If we get enough comments then we can work on honing down our averages!

How to know when your chickens will start laying eggs