Sunday, May 10, 2015

Adventures in Sustainable Living with Dr. Deb Tolman

One of the requirements for being a Master Gardener is six hours of continuing education each year.  That is how a friend and I ended up visiting a unique property deep in Texas hill country. 

Clifton, Texas sits southwest of Lake Whitney, in the rolling hills of Bosque County. It's here, on six wooded acres of caliche soil, that Dr. Deb Tolman has created a laboratory dedicated to researching sustainable approaches to landscape design, food production, water conservation and a host of other interesting topics.

Dr. Deb holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences/Resources and Geography from Portland State University, and since she also has the gift of a generous teaching style her workshops sell out very quickly!
Fully dedicated to researching every aspect of sustainable living, Dr. Deb lives on site. 

This building (cute enough to be a gnomes cottage) 
was built to house her composting toilet.

 The walls are cob and the living roof is an old satellite dish she found on the property.  'Recycle and Reuse' isn't just a catchy phrase in this garden!

Surrounding the outhouse is a collection of raised bed gardens, built in the keyhole style. The metal baffles are in place to perplex the armadillos!

The plants are growing in compost. Each of these keyhole gardens (6' diameter) required one ton of old, wet cardboard as the 'brown' component. They are built and planted in a day!
 Dr. Deb has advanced from growing herbs and vegetables in these raised beds, to fruit trees. 

An old gravel quarry on site provides the clay used for cob construction. Cob is clay and straw mixed together.  Cob constructions are strong and waterproof. Building a cob house is similar to constructing a giant sand castle, but requires a stronger back and arms!

This curving cob wall is being constructed for heat-retention. Eventually it will reach eight feet in height. Trees protect its north side, and its radiant south side will provide a mini environment for fruit trees that don't normally tolerate zone 8a conditions. 
Dr. Deb is very selective when it comes to removing any of the existing forest growth, carefully monitoring sun and shade year round before pruning or cutting down a tree. In this way she can grow bumper crops without giving up cooling shade.

She grows a variety of native plants, both shade and sun lovers.

There is an extensive rain water and grey water collection system in place, and a bicycle driven pump to get it flowing.
The tour also included her straw bale green house, rocket stove, Thai rain jar, and cob oven.   

It was interesting to discover how many people on the tour were trying out variations of these  ideas in their own gardens.  Although most of us are not tempted to try and live off the grid as extensively as Dr. Tolman, the tour was very inspiring. I'd love to have a cob oven!  And I do plan to build a keyhole garden one of these days.

I found Dr. Tolman's gardens to be delightful mix of humor and resourcefulness!

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