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How to deal with permaculture overwhelm?

 
pollinator
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I don't know if this is "a thing", but I suspect I'm not the only to experience this.  In fact, i'm guessing many of you reading this may have been here and overcome it, which is why I am fishing for advice.

Right now I'm currently bogged down in the "analysis paralysis" stage of things.  I've read all this cool stuff on permies, and watched all these videoas, and there are so many different things under the "permaculture" umbrella, that I come away with my head reeling.

For instance, I look out the window right now and I go... I really should plant something.  Of course it makes sense I should probably do companion planting.  Well, a tree guild would be cool!  But which one?  No wait!  A full-on food forest!  But hold on, I'd want to put in swales first...  Or would hugelkultur be better...

Next thing I know I haven't planted anything at all because I've spent all day online and added even more to mishmash of ideas swirling around in my brain.

My question is:  How does one rein in the enthusiasm enough to even function?  How does one calm down and make a clear-headed decision what the logical next step is which they should take?
Bonus question: And then how does one not get distracted long enough to actually get it done?

 
pollinator
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All the permaculture "things" are meaningless if you never start.

Step 1, decide what you want. Not what you want to do, or how you want to do it, but what you want. Do you want a relaxation space? Do you want to feed yourself? Do you want an experiment space where you can try out all the "things"?
Step 2, create a design that fits where you currently are for that goal. Making plans for the space you plan to have someday is meaningless at this point.

Now, what is the first step toward that goal and that design? Once you get started I'm guessing you'll be able to fit most of the "things" in your design.
 
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You are certainly describing a well known phenomenon :)

It helps if you can use some of Permaculture's tools to help you focus and prioritize. For example, pull up Yeoman's scale of permanence, grab a notebook and put one item on each page. Take the notebook outside, walk your site and make notes of your observations about each item on the scale. These observations will help you prioritize what you will need to do and in what order.

Map your site, just a hand made drawing is fine for this. On the map, mark your sun paths, show where you get sun, and when. Map both by the day (hour by hour), and by season (how does the path vary seasonally?) Again, observations that will help you with making choices and decisions later.

Map the flow of water on your site, and the characteristics of different areas. Wet here in the SE corner, where the water flows off of the site, dry here in the NW corner, highest point, water runs off.

When you've done these exercises, then you can use them to help you choose a spot to start a first garden bed that you know won't be in the way of your access paths, that you know what kind of sun it gets, how wet or dry it is and how water moves across it. That information will help narrow down your choices and guide your decision making.

The Fundamental Key for beginning Permaculture action on a site, the first action, is Observation. Use tools like the scale of permanence to help you focus your observations toward the relevant information ;)

And - don't worry that you will "do it wrong". If something doesn't work, you'll learn from that and hopefully your next mistake will be a different one :)
 
gardener
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K Eilander wrote:

I've read all this cool stuff on permies, and watched all these videos, and there are so many different things under the "permaculture" umbrella, that I come away with my head reeling.  

I've totally felt like that in the past, and sometimes even now!

The experts will say to start with water - if you're going to have ponds, swales or hugels, planning those locations up front is genuinely important. But even that is just not always possible depending on the scope of the project.

One thing that would have helped me early on would have been to find an author who lived in an ecosystem closer to my own. It's one thing to say that the the permaculture principles can be applied to any piece of land, or even a large pot, and another to try to relate to examples based on a very different climate.

Another thing that has helped is making a list - if nothing else, it has helped me focus on a single project, or part of a project, long enough to finish it. It also helps me see the "little picture" as well as the "big picture". The little picture was I *really* wanted an Italian Prune plum. The big picture is that it had to go in an area with too much cedar hedge, too many rocks in the crappy soil, and my pathetic attempt at "companions" (a baby Sea Buckthorn, iris, and walking onion) weren't enough. That led to a major pruning on the hedge which happened in fits and starts, and then adding of comfrey and expanding of the mulched area around the tree. The tree is *much* happier, but it happened over a 5 year period as I tried to steal a little time for the poor tree from other demands on my time.

There are always more projects than I have time and energy to accomplish. I admit I have to be pretty severe with myself to choose small bits and simply hope that eventually, all those small bits will connect together to a bigger end product. In the meantime, we've got more birds, bees and wildlife visiting, which I consider a sign that at least "I'm doing no harm".
 
pollinator
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In some ways this is a feature of permaculture. We are suppose to do nothing for a while and just observe, gather information.
Right now you are in the gather information stage, embrace it.

To me permaculture is about production at home, using less plastic. So for me permaculture is making my own soap, with simple/natural ingredient.
1part lye + 3 part oil + 8part water.
I could also add a bit of hydrogen peroxide if I wanted to make it a wonderful stain remover, in addition to some washing soda.
All that to say, that you don't have to limit permaculture and your actions to just 'digging and planting trees'. You can do other things will you observe and gather information.

For now I think that just planting some vegetables and herbs, is a great idea, as you figure out some more, what your long term plans are.  Also iterations are fine you don't have to be perfect, to me improvements are a much better metrics.
 
gardener
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Hi K,

You are certainly not the only one to have this issue.  My thoughts are something like this:  Permaculture, and gardening in general, is pretty forgiving.  My suggestion is simply to pick something that sounds interesting and is relatively simple and do that task.  Probably it will be done quickly when you can build on it if you so choose.

If you are an over-planer, somewhat like myself (I get lost in ideas and get analysis paralysis myself), I have found that a great way to break the analysis paralysis is to make a To Do list.  Personally, I am not a terribly organized person and I never used to make To Do lists, preferring to simply remember my ideas.  At one job I had (retail management--YUCK!  6 miserable months, but another story) we were basically required to make To Do lists and I have to say, it really helped me keep track of things I needed to get done.  When I became a teacher, I carried these ideas over and they really helped me through my 1st year and even into my 2nd and 3rd year as I was still finding my footing.  I still make To Do lists just to keep me on track.

I hope this helps.  I really find that having a list right in my face makes me finish a task rather than think about it and procrastinate.  Again, I have been there too (and I am still kinda in it now).  Another nice thing about Permaculture is that it does not all have to be done now and really, the job never completely finishes--you just get to do more!

Eric
 
steward
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Hey K, I can relate to the difficulty in deciding what to choose to do. So fellow Permie Trace Oswald wrote, (if memory serves me correct I searched and couldn't find it, so forgive me if it was written by someone else here), a really great post about how just doing a little something each day, every day, will add up to getting a whole lot done over time. It could mean starting one project, like a hugel and working 30 minutes or an hour each day til it's done, or perhaps it could be bouncing around an hour on this, an hour on that, and after so many days of that several projects could be completed. I believe there's no prescription for how to do permaculture- it's different for everybody for so many reason which may include but not be limited to where we live (urban or rural, woodland or open land, long winter north or long summer south etc.), what we like to eat, our age and level of energy, whether one is challenged by a physical disability of some kind, etc. My suggestion is to pick something, like planting a fruit/nut tree this fall for example, and just plant them, or perhaps build a hugel this fall of any size that works for you and it will be ready to plant next spring. Hope this helps!
 
pollinator
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I think one way is to discount things. so first take water management, do you need swales? do you need a pond? Or maybe you need ditches/field drains. decide which you need (which will take at least a year of observation) and forget all about the ones you don't need. Look at why people say to build a hugel/herb spiral before you blindly go and build all the key words. For example in market gardening raised beds are all the rage, but digging deeper into them you find they are for warming soil earlier and drying it out. so if you live in a warm dry area they would be counter productive and you should forget them.
You need a framework for your plot so a sketch map I find it helps to draw a base map and have bits of paper to scale for all the things I want and see how they fit in, that way I can move them around easily. Then make a list of things that should be done first, so any earth moving be it for ponds, swales or ditches should come first, or at the very least you should leave access routes and places to drop the spoil. then things that take a long time to get established like trees, don't worry about their companion plants right now, get the trees in you can fill in round them later.

And of course a lack of money helps?! in this situation by limiting options, I really want to fence the field so I can have animals but I don't have the funds, so that's one job I can discount right now, I can only buy a couple of trees a year, so although I have the spots planned out only half are filled right now. I really would like a large pond say 2000m2 but again no money for it so it waits even though the spot is basically already dug (old gravel pit) since I am limited I decide what I really want, I started with annual vegetables and some perennials like Rhubarb, horseradish and strawberries, all of which can be propagated to make more and fill in other areas as they get developed, then I planted some fruit trees that I am really passionate about, a brambly apple and a Victoria plum. Yes I get distracted, I spotted a couple of openings against the house wall that probably once had roses in them, so I just had to get a fig and put it there, but I try not to waste time clearing fencelines or cutting scrub in the "pond" area as I know I can't do anything with those ideas just yet.

So in summary make your plan of where things go. then treat yourself to a tree and plant it, sit back and bask in the glow. then go inside and see what goes with your tree. A food forest is planted one tree at a time after all.
 
master steward
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Everyone has given such great comments!

To me, planning is the key to success.  I write my plans down so that I don't forget.

Permies has a Project forum where you could post your plans: https://permies.com/f/69/projects

Then I like having a to-do list where I can scratch things off as they get done.

I like the paper lists since things done on the computer are easily overlooked.

Lists were a life saver when we were building our house. From supplies needed to what project was next.

Now that the house has been built for several years, my to-do list is on a cheap 11' x 13' calendar that sits on my desk that way I can see the whole month in advance.

I even use this calendar to plan months in advance since it has a space at the bottom that says "Notes - Appointments - To Do - Phone Number"
 
pollinator
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When we started a little over 6 years ago, we got advise from a seasoned permaculture designer telling us to "do nothing irreversible yet!!"... We thought that wasn't helpful because we needed to at least do something. So we did, we started all kinds of projects on several places. We got some results and a bunch of failures.

For the big things: water, access and buildings we started with water: a test swale here and there and some ponds on the keypoint where the mountain slope changes from steep to flatter (which is obvious stuff according to the theory). We dug a road almost on contour to improve our access across the land and we refrained from building anything else than pig pens. Most of all we learned to observe a lot and to do little things and then observe what effect they had.

From the obvious stuff we slowly went to improve water retention and access more and more. Until we finally figured out where we wanted which structure for what reason. That whole process took 5 years, but we do have a very solid plan now. It just took a lot of trials to improve understanding. So my advice would be to try and observe and try and observe; always on a small scale until something becomes obvious to you. What becomes obvious can then be planned to make it happen.

Never rush things, but never stop interacting either. Be patient, look at what happens. Try to understand the patterns. Water is always paramount. Access always leads to options. And structures are simply needed to solidify a site design. In the mean time whatever you do or try, always try to gain a yield...
 
author & gardener
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Such great advice here; it's hard to think of anything to add. Goals and a plan are an important first step. While my husband and I discussed these, we drew a map of our homestead, a "master plan" if you will. It helped us visualize what we wanted our homestead to eventually look like. Eleven years later, it's still invaluable for discussion and decision making.

We also tried to state an overall prime directive (main goal), and then prioritize all other goals under that. That helped give us a big picture. What those goals are may be different for different folks. For us, the primary goal is reaching the greatest degree of self-reliance we are able. Our subgoals include food, water, energy, and resources. Then under food, for example, we have food for us, food for the critters, garden, orchard, food forests, herb garden, etc. Any new idea my husband and I encounter and want to try, needs to support our primary goal. The ideas have to fit into our master plan and support our primary goals.

Getting started is hard, because everything seems so important. As others have pointed out, water is obviously important, but you may feel you need to address something else first. As you've pointed out, there are lots of good ideas out there, but not all of them are feasible for one's goals, location, climate, landscape, etc. Keeping primary goals in mind really helps in deciding where to start and what to do next. Many goals are long-term, so for those, we write out what steps we think it will take, and then sometimes work on something else in between steps. Consider what season you're going into as well. Some projects are better suited to particular seasons than others.

One thing we've learned that may help, is that now, we consider everything new we try to be an experiment. For my husband, especially, there was a lot of frustration at first when something didn't work out as planned. We've learned that for anything we do, there needs to be some testing and trying out to see what needs to be tweaked. And it always needs to be tweaked! Or, some things simply don't work out. But even when something seems like a failure, it provides valuable knowledge about what doesn't work. And that's important in figuring out what does. Giving ourselves room to learn and make mistakes is key to fending off discouragement and burn-out. So is understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all for this lifestyle. What works for one person may not work for another. And that's okay.

It's a journey, not a race. It's a lifestyle, not a checklist. And no matter what, it's worth it.
 
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Jay
Your comment relating to find someone with similar was a good one, as I am having difficulty on how to help my son as his property is unique.  
About 5 acres of land aside from house with part of property peat (very dark) & water table within 2' deep, other part of property is sand.  Tried to clear a small section to build a greenhouse/barn combo as seen in these threads, but tractor got stuck, so guess will need fill first for this...  Have idea of what want to accomplish based on great articles/videos, but, as mentioned here...How to start with this?  (cannot build greenhouse on sandy side as under power lines & at other end of property near a not so good neighbourhood unfortunately)
Need to get structure up to house the animals they have.
 
Jay Angler
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Leigh Tate wrote:

Or, some things simply don't work out. But even when something seems like a failure, it provides valuable knowledge about what doesn't work. And that's important in figuring out what does.

This is *really* important, and important to post here on permies under the appropriate thread. One doesn't have to sound negative about it - the knowledge of what *doesn't* work, or doesn't work as expected in a given eco-system can be very helpful and supportive.

When I first moved from Ontario to Vancouver Island, I'd heard and read all about the wonderful gardens. GARDENS does NOT equal growing food. When a local said to me - flowers are easy here, vegetables are not - it put things in perspective and I no longer felt like a failure - just a misinformed outsider! I've been trying to adapt permaculture to this eco-system ever since. Most of the people I know who try to grow fruit and veg water it daily. That may give them better production, but it involves a lot of plastic (drip irrigation), doesn't build the soil, and is not sustainable if the power goes out. I'm putting punky wood in pots and raised beds and often water only once a week depending on the exact weather. I've tried a couple of hugels, but it's too easy on my land to end up with too much wood and not enough soil. The soil in many areas is millimeters thick - not inches or feet. It will take a lot more soil building, and "great methods" often have to be adapted to my land, but I'm seeing strong plants and healthy soil where I've done good work. I'm seeing how planting support plants around trees is helping them achieve independence and I try experiments and learn from whatever the outcome is.
 
Jay Angler
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John Dorst wrote:Jay
Your comment relating to find someone with similar was a good one, as I am having difficulty on how to help my son as his property is unique.  
About 5 acres of land aside from house with part of property peat (very dark) & water table within 2' deep, other part of property is sand.  Tried to clear a small section to build a greenhouse/barn combo as seen in these threads, but tractor got stuck, so guess will need fill first for this...  Have idea of what want to accomplish based on great articles/videos, but, as mentioned here...How to start with this?  (cannot build greenhouse on sandy side as under power lines & at other end of property near a not so good neighbourhood unfortunately)
Need to get structure up to house the animals they have.

I hear you John! Vancouver Island has so many ecosystems and the local joke is too generous: "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes or move 5 kilometers." It's not at all uncommon for it to be sunny in our front yard and pouring rain in the backyard and our house is not that wide. Our soil can change equally fast as your son has found.

It sounds like you've got a great opportunity to experiment! Have you read about Chinampas - they might work in the boggy area, but the results may still be pretty acid which will affect your choice of plants. Sandy soil usually benefits from adding wood hugelculture style, but it would likely require sourcing some good dirt to add. We need to swap some of my heavy clay for your sand and vice versa! When soil simply isn't going to cooperate and organic matter in sand seems to evaporate like dew on the car when the sun hits it, you might consider building some raised beds so you can at least eat something yummy and homegrown while you wait to figure it all out. With our dry growing season, I usually try to incorporate some sort of water reservoir in the bottom and some sort of "below the surface" watering system like fake it "olla" pots, although I've been finding slightly leaky olla pots work better for me than ones that simply ooze. This may be due to the difference between how true olla pots are made and the clay pots I have available to work with.

Also while things are in flux, building small buildings on skids like they're doing at Wheaton Labs makes a lot of sense to me (and my neighbor's been doing it for decades.) Think outside the box - three 10'x10' greenhouse 'sheds' on skids and you can move them around, or line them up to make one bigger one and extend your season. There are professional greenhouses that are designed to move, but I'm pretty discouraged about the dependence of "conventional" greenhouses on fossil fuels of one sort or another, so I'd use the good parts and find a better way around the not so good parts if possible.
 
John Dorst
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Things that make you go hmmm...

Thank you Jay, will have to look into that further, appreciated your time.
 
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I often find that a helpful way to work through my own problems is to find someone with the same one and give them advice. Hah! (it's true though, it works!)

I currently have multiple Permie tabs open on topics like: Humanure, mowable meadows, what can grow on a drain field, sealing ponds with ducks, and hedgerows. I've been reading up on Permie topics for years, and doing my best to incorporate tiny aspects into borrowed garden space. Later this month I close on a house with 6 acres and my mind is reeling with ideas and I'm a bit overwhelmed at all the possibilities. I'm almost grateful to not be starting with a complete blank slate (we originally wanted raw land and to build a house). With a several features in place already (drive way, house, barn etc) it helps to narrow some of the design possibilities and feels a touch more manageable. I'm equally grateful we're entering the dormant season and I have time to make a plan for all that hay!

There is great advice in the above responses, I even took some notes to keep myself on track going forward. One thing that came to mind while reading your post was advice I received when planning my husband and my wedding. I scrolled Pinterest for weeks. I got so caught up in the mess that it would have taken me years to DIY and pull off. Someone told me, "at some point you just need to turn off the Wedding Porn and make a decision." It was really awkward advice to receive, but they were spot on. I got so wrapped up in other people's visions I lost myself. I never opened Pinterest again and I pulled off a beautiful "perfect for us" wedding that took little planning and cost only a few hundred dollars. It was great advice. I get possibility paralysis often when overwhelmed with options.  I'm finding the same thing is happening with permaculture ideas. At some point, you've just got to take the information you've absorbed and try/do it. There is no replacement for experience. Keep the forums here at Permies a tool rather than a hindrance. Decide what your end goal looks like and break it down into more manageable sized projects (3 or 4 for example) and then choose one of those and break it down again into 3 or 4 smaller steps. Repeat until you're facing a stupidly easy task it's no problem to accomplish. I did this recently with my upcoming move from an apartment in town to 6 acres on the edge of a nearby smaller town. I haven't moved in over 10 years, I've never owned a home or land of my own for that matter. The task is a bit daunting. My manageable bites I'm taking are to shred old papers that I'd be disappointed if I found stashed in a box a couple years down the road, and every time I do the dishes, grab an outdated canned good or rancid jar of medicinal oil/salve back stock and empty it.

Ideas I've been having of where to start on my own property (can I call it that yet?) are to
- create makeshift pallet compost pile and source sawdust for humanure system
- re-read the glass bowl technique of dealing with Yellowjackets. Decide if it's late enough in the season to just let them be (they are at the entrance to the green house and I'm allergic). Brush up on identification of stinging things because I've apparently forgotten what I knew.

- read about pros and cons of leaving dropped fruit to rot in place, I won't have the opportunity to preserve much of the grapes and apples this year. Connect with my local Buy Nothing group to begin forming community and find neighbors with animals to feed, invite to glean

- transplant apartment plants:
 * create back door herb garden among already planted/landscaped areas with rosemary, chives, oregano, violets, purnella, hosta
 * plant coltsfoot near dried up pond
 * plant oak, walnut, and hazelnut sapplings the neighborhood squirrels brought me
 * plant comfrey near existing fruit tree
 * plant daffodil (thanks squirrels!) and crocosmia lucifer near front door for some welcome home future cheer

- walk the property a few times a week in observation
- create a site base map
- survey land and create a topo map
- read about grape pruning and tame Mt. Grape (reclaim apple tree it has devoured)
- watch/study Paul's PDC/ATC


Good luck to you. You've helped me and I hope I've helped you too!


282389_449496831756267_1915809490_n.jpg
Our "perfect for us" makeshift wedding
Our "perfect for us" wedding
Jen-and-Ben-wedding.jpg
Our "perfect for us" makeshift wedding
Our "perfect for us" wedding
8791.jpeg
Cartwheels in the rolling hill hay field of our new property
Cartwheels in the rolling hill hay field of our new property
IMG_20200826_144134796.jpg
Taking a break from packing to pick blackberries from the northern boundary of our new property
Taking a break from packing to pick blackberries from the northern boundary of our new property
 
John Dorst
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Arrghh...just reading your to do list made me tired... LOL

Wish you well in your new endeavor, an awesome opportunity to make it your own (well, both of you)...take your sweet time smell the coffee, I mean roses during your observations regarding winds, sun, etc... TAKE DAILY NOTES!!! Even just the word rain or sunny.  But then again, it's me who forgets what did I do three days ago... sigh...
 
Skandi Rogers
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John Dorst wrote:Jay
Your comment relating to find someone with similar was a good one, as I am having difficulty on how to help my son as his property is unique.  
About 5 acres of land aside from house with part of property peat (very dark) & water table within 2' deep, other part of property is sand.  Tried to clear a small section to build a greenhouse/barn combo as seen in these threads, but tractor got stuck, so guess will need fill first for this...  Have idea of what want to accomplish based on great articles/videos, but, as mentioned here...How to start with this?  (cannot build greenhouse on sandy side as under power lines & at other end of property near a not so good neighbourhood unfortunately)
Need to get structure up to house the animals they have.




A greenhouse can be built on piles sunk into the peat, so could the barn but it would need a wood floor to keep the animals out of the mud.  I've had land that cannot be accessed by machinery and it's a pest, mine could be driven on in late summer but that was the only point in the year. I would be more concerned with what animals will do to land that wet. (unless it's just poultry).
 
John Dorst
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For the most part Skandi the barn aspect will be for winter, so not much out for the goats.  With on skid idea, they could be put on the harder ground for winter, & like you mentioned, then put on the peat part in summer as Timothy like hay was planted on it we found, so foraging aspect there.  Or, we may scrape off some peat & then place fill in greenhouse/barn area only to build on & man make some pasture around pens to take care of wet feet aspect.  
 
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Location: Málaga, Spain
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I have the opposite problem. I want to implement a way for a shared space, but since it is shared, there are three philosophies combined. One wants to keep growing things as they were, not because they like it, but because it is much easier. Several trees are already grown depending on irrigation and frequent pruning and some grating, so if we want them to survive and yield fruit we have to irrigate, prune and sometimes grate. The other wants it more permaculture, a la Jeff Lawton, with water catchment, compost making, but still making rotating crops in rows. Both visions need a manpower and a money for investing that we don't have. I feel that the way of Paul Wheaton is far more realistic to our means: more yields with less work. If a plant is not thriving, that wasn't its place, so leave the space for another one.

It breaks my nerves when I see that we expend the very few week hours we have for working on the garden just trying to save a few trees that simply didn't adapt well, or fighting against gramma grass just after we set the perfect conditions for it to grow, in a battle we cannot win with our resources. Or accepting seedlings from who knows who, that seeded the seed of a fruit she loves in a pot, and now she doesn't know what to do with the seedling so why not plant it in the garden, maybe it happens not to be a hybrid.

About the order, I started composting my kitchen scraps, then looking for somewhere to drop them. Next, I realized the place I was allowed to drop my kitchen scraps was in dire need of some water catchment techniques. And I'm still working it out.
 
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