Earthworks Seminar Nov. 21-23 at the Spirko Homestead – Open to MSB Members First

Our Urban Garden Design workshop was an awesome success and it led us to a basic plan for the area that was the focus of the design seminar.  That basic design led us strait into a major component of a zone 4 food forest.  For those that understand permaculture yes we are saying a single element (a swale) will become part of both zone one and zone four and the two will transition seamlessly.  It won’t seem radical once you see it!

As many of your also know that have been here, we have very good but very shallow soils.  The area for these earth works has a foot at best, then some chunk rock then slab limestone.  Yep tough to work with.  However we now have the plan, we are going to be running three major swales, we would call them mid sized.  In the range of 4 feet wide by about 8-10 inches deep depending on the hard pan when we begin to dig.

The awesome part is that two of the three swales will allow us to exploit a major roof run off on a building catching over 44,000 gallons of rain per year.   All in all we will be installing about 360 feet of swale.  Additionally there are some unique challenges with these shallow soils.  Given the swales can only be about 8-10 inches deep the down grade side of them will have fairly small mounds, so we will be trucking in additional mounding material from a local source.

Again the top swale will actually find its genesis right in the middle of a planned zone one urban style permaculture garden and take half of our roof run off to our outer pasture on an initial swale of about 80 – 90 feet in length.  At that area we are installing a 2500 gallon poly tank, which will act much like a small dam as it will capture water until it reaches overflow when it will spill into the top swale.

We will be digging the swales with an excavator but once dug we will be shaping the berms and swale bottoms largely by hand.  This is again to deal with the unique situation.  I learned this manual shaping approach from Ben Falk at Whole Systems Design and it is actually really easy to do with a large group like we will have.  The berms will be topped off with the high quality soil we are trucking in, they will then be cover cropped with a winter mix and mulched with a large amount of hay.  We will be doing some improvement to the areas between the swales as well (interswale) which will also be cover cropped for use in rotational grazing.

While this workshop won’t include planting trees, it will include planning the eventual tree plantings down to the species and spacings with a ratio of 7 support trees to every one long term productive tree.  This planning alone for many will be worth the entire cost of the event.

This course is ideally suited to students that want to perform earth works for food forest establishment on mid sized land tracts of 1-5 acres.  Our entire property is about 3 acres and this area we are working is just under one full acre.  It is also ideal in that it will teach you massive amounts about function stacking and adaptation to tough environments.  Once you learn to work in this environment swaling any location afterwords should be a walk in the park.

The cost of this course will be 425 dollars which covers meals, instruction and if you choose to camp on site, camping.  The course requires a 200 dollar deposit via PayPal.  You can use a credit card for this with Paypal even if you don’t have a PayPal account by the way.  The other 225 is due upon arrival.  The basic schedule will be as follows…

  • Wednesday night – you can arrive early to set up camp but nothing official is happening
  • Thursday – Saturday We will begin working about 930 AM, breakfast is not included on day one but we will have coffee, fruit and breakfast bars available.  Lunch and Dinner are included on day one and will be awesome as always.  On Friday and Saturday we are providing breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Sunday – While the event technically ends Saturday at dinner many students stay over Saturday night to hang out and have fun.  Sunday in the morning we serve a light Breakfast about 930 and do a final Q&A with everyone who is still there, everyone to leave the property by 11 AM so we can get back to our normal routine and frankly take a long nap!

These workshops are like nothing else available that I know of in the permaculture world.  Our dinners consist of things like pork shoulder and brisket, awesome smoked sausage and if you leave hungry it is your fault.  We have a barter blanket exchange that was a massive hit last time.  We provide a selection of “adult beverages” for consumption after hours and have a blast in general.  We do a seed exchange and I just open up much of my personal seed supply as well on a take what you need basis.  Attendees almost become part of a “club” so to speak with relationships that extend beyond the event.

In the words of several attendees now, “If TSP did a seminar on paint drying, I would attend for the experience alone”.

I am also starting something new with this seminar.  MSB Members get a week to sign up before I open it up to all.  These events have sold out very quickly in the past with no real promotion.  To sign up for this event, just log in to your MSB account.  On the first page there will be a link right at the top for you to sign up.

The last event was a bit much with a headcount of 30 so we are scaling back to a head count of 24 on this one.  Deposits are refundable IF and only IF I am able to fill your slot if you cancel.

Lastly I am looking for one person who wants to be hired as a full time helper for this event.  What we have done until now is take a person or two as a helper in exchange for letting them attend.  The problem has been that we then feel bad pulling them out of a part of the class to do work.  So instead this time we are paying a helper.  While you will get the experience of the event you will likely spend at least half your time doing things for the event from cooking to serving and cleaning up.

This job is therefore a job for pay, you will be reporting to my intern Josiah during this time.  The job begins Thursday morning and runs though Saturday night.  It will pay 240 dollars cash, which is 80 dollars a day.  Again I do want to point out whoever does this will likely have a blast but it is a job and your focus will be on helping run the event.    This means you are absolutely going to miss quite a bit of instruction, Q&A, etc.    If you are interested in this position please email me at jack at and put event help in the subject line.  Include anything you think is relevant in us choosing you for this position.

Everyone else if you are MSB and want to sign up go log in now and use the link there to do so.  If and that is a big IF any spots remain on Oct. 31st I will make them available to any who wish to take them.

PS – Full details are given such as our address and directions along with arrival instructions after the class is full and provided to paying students only.

We generally get a group rate at a hotel for those that want to use that option and for those coming from out of state by air, DFW Airport is the best airport, though Love Field in Dallas is an option a well.  While we only provide our address to registered students, we are very close to Azle, Texas so you can use that to see if travel is viable for your needs.

19 Responses to Earthworks Seminar Nov. 21-23 at the Spirko Homestead – Open to MSB Members First

  1. 44k gallons of water is a lot! I wonder if it would be beneficial to do this for a small pond that not spring or creek fed to keep it filled..what say you?

  2. Sounds great. I can’t make this one but sooner or later one of these TSP workshops will fit in the schedule 🙂
    Color me jealous 🙂

  3. That totally sounds awesome and the price is right but I gotta pass this time. Hopefully you’ll keep doing these workshops because I will make it to one sooner or later.

  4. Just finished signing up, I was at the first workshop and I really hated missing out on this last one but the timing for the next one is perfect. I agree that even a seminar on watching paint dry would be worth it due to all the knowledge shared and relationships built!

  5. Find out tomorrow if I have the vacation days to go. I’ve put it off for too long. : D Haven’t had a good road trip in awhile.

  6. beewhispererwyosurvival

    checking dates.

  7. Jack, do you expect that with time, water, and root action of plants in the swales, the underlay of limestone will break up to some degree, allowing you to make your swales deeper (if you want)?

    • Modern Survival

      Yes and no…

      Will the slab be broken up, roots driven down, new edge and niche formed and due to cycling more soil built, absolutely.

      Will this make or let me make bigger swales. No not really, by the time all this happens the system is mature, I wouldn’t go in and disturb deeply a mature and stable system with out a very compelling reason. The slope is only about 3 degrees at best, more like 2, the swales we install will be more then sufficient for what is needed.

  8. Just got back for a trip to Texas to get familiar with areas to relocate. I seem to be in between all the events but I hope to make one (or more) in the future.
    I hope there are videos for members afterwards.

  9. michael jordan"the bee whisperer"

    looking for where I register jack my wife

    • Modern Survival

      Log into the MSB, you can’t miss it.

      • beewhispererwyosurvival

        Do I have to do it twice for me and my wife. will only let me have one spot.

        • Modern Survival

          Just do another form for her, yes sorry many I can’t do a buy one get one for couples on this event. If you start from the beginning it will let you do a second one.

  10. Jack,
    Are you using Silver Creek Materials for the trucked in soil?

  11. Ok, I’m signed up. This will be my first TSP event and, I must admit, I’m itching to get on the plane already!

  12. My husband, Joe, is going. If anyone else is flying into DFW Wed and out Sunday, let us know if you want to split a rental car. No sense everyone renting there own car to sit on Jack’s property all weekend.

    • Modern Survival

      Make sure to get on the yahoo email list for event attendees only. It is in the document with all the event instructions, directions, etc. If you didn’t get it when you signed up I will be sending a copy to all who signed up today after I dig out of this deep ass hole I am in due to so much travel in October. On that list last time tons of people hooked up for airport rides, etc. It is a list only for TSP folks that are attending or have attended past events. You don’t have to sign up for yahoo, all that a person needs to do is send an email to subscribe. Again if you didn’t get redirected at payment to the document it will be sent today.

  13. Scott Nicholson

    ……….. Jack, I signed up with deposit to paypal 10/26 @10:54 am . Did I make the cut? I have not received comfermation of payment. Thanks Scott