The Death of Planning

We plan things to death, literally. It’s great to get ideas and get an idea on how to initiate it into action; however, it’s can be a destructive pattern. Get an idea, plan on how to initiate the idea, get more ideas on the initiation of the idea and you end up with ideas^3. It never reaches a starting point.

Micro Planning
I’m going to use the analogy of starting a business. Many people save up a fortune to start up something they believe will be desired by the masses or they just dreamed of having that fruit orchard once they retire. The sad truth is that initiating a big idea does take a lot of big planning. It can be done through thoughtful analysis and proper use of time. Unfortunately, most of us have not learned or thought of the processes that it takes to use time effectively or to ask the right questions on how to improve and make our ideas into reality.

Micro-planning takes care of that for us. If you have an idea, get what you need to make it happen and start. That’s all. You have an idea, list the materials and get started. No dilly dallying or frolicking with a boatload of crap ideas. Try something out and learn the steps it takes to made it happen.

In Action
From there you have more to plan around and can generate better ideas on how to improve each step. For example:I want to educate and empower others by making resources and knowledge accessible to them.

TO DO that I’m going to teach them how to make wicking wine bottle gardens and slowly teach them other realms of gardening while they learn areas they are interested in. 

TO MAKE IT HAPPEN, I need wine bottles, something to cut glass, a piece of yarn, soil, some plants, a space to make stuff, and people to educate

After doing it, I’ll evaluate things to make it better.
TO MAKE IT MORE EPIC, I’ll teach them safety and having a clean workspace, give them the opportunity to tell me what they want to learn, provide access to books and other wealth of resources, and find more time to get them creating and learning.

So far, it’s been great. One homeless person has a book learning about bugs and she’s now teaching me things about them. A few others are hyped up on different types of gardens they want to create. In the end, the dream is being fulfilled, it didn’t take a lot of resources to make it happen, and I’m making great use of my time and energy.

Since it’s only a few hours a week, it doesn’t kill my efforts in other areas. I can try different projects while I evaluate what I really want to do and accomplish.

If the project turns out sour, I can always kill it and try something else without too much grief. In the end, I know that I’ve learned valuable lessons in getting started and learning along the way instead of going through the constant and never ending cycle of planning and forever thinking.

Once ideas begin turning into actions, more thoughtful and energy intensive projects are now more accessible. It’s easier to think about the building blocks of a project, determine the essential elements to make it successful, and pushing that idea into reality.

Cultivating a Beneficial Community with Pests

Community dynamics are complicated. They’re constantly changing and evolving with every little variable reacting to every element. A bird eats a seed, poops it out and plants a tree for you and me providing shade and shelter from the too much of the Sun’s rays.

In many instances, the truth of community dynamics are paradoxes. At first glance it looks contradictory but the underlying principles guide a more complex and diverse environment in the long run.

Home for Pests
I believe all gardens need to provide a shelter for the rampant reproduction of aphids. They’re one of the first pests that I’ve observed to infiltrate beginning gardens. The reaction is to spray them all off and eliminate them from the garden immediately; however, ladybugs and other beneficial insects require these pesky bugs to thrive. Without them, the beneficials leave to find a home somewhere else just not in your garden.

A Few Facts about Ladybugs
The famous lady bug is a voracious gorger of aphids. A larva, a baby ladybug, will eat roughly 500 aphids a day. An adult may eat as much as 1000 or twice as many. Without an infestation of aphids, you have no ladybugs. In many instances, people will buy dehydrated ladybugs and release them into the garden. Life is not stupid. If they know there is an insufficient supply of food, they go somewhere else that can provide.

Arguing for Aphids
As people, we enjoy jumping to conclusions that aphids are a pest and provide no benefit to the garden. In my opinion, the need for pests are to restore ecological balance and feedback on whether a garden is resilient or brittle. If a plant within a garden can hold out until the ladybugs and wasps come, it’s a sign of resilience. If the plant withers away and dies, the garden is brittle breaking down from a greater effect that is not as evident.

The true underlying cause is that the plants within the garden are not in a proper habitat to thrive. The elements I’ve observed that provides a thriving space for them are soil, and plant diversity.

The proper soil habitat creates an environment for all types of plants. The right mixture then creates a home for an assortment of animals. Creating soil is simply adding more dead or digested material to the top of the soil and continually feeding the soil biome. Continually disturbing the soil structure kills off the soil life. In fewer words, don’t till every season. For compacted soils, take a fork and loosen up the soil by stabbing it and loosening it without turning it. The soil structure remains intact allowing water and life to begin again with time.

Victims to our Own Actions: We are Our Own Pest
I was having a deep conversation with some friends the other night about victims and if they were necessary. In my eyes, yes we do. Victims are usually people harmed by their own ideas, words, or actions. It happens to all of us. We are our greatest enemy just as aphids are to a weak brittle garden. However, if we come to terms that we are often harmed by our ignorance then we can take this feedback loop and turn it into a negative feedback loop where we observe a destructive pattern, stop it, and change it to one that eliminates the symptoms of being victimized.

I’ve seen it time and time again with myself. For example, I witnessed how my father chose to work for long hours for many days supporting his family and our futures. Once he established his foundation enough, he continued to work to develop a stronger foundation and neglected the responsibility of enforcing discipline, responsibility, and bonds between all of us. Today, I’ve become the image of my father. I work long hours and I’m working to create a foundation that supports the future. As much as I tried not to be like him. I am him.

The same is true for many relationships; people to people, people to nature, an individual and themselves, people to technology. Once we can identify the pest within us, it’s only a matter of unleashing the beneficial cycles and patterns that resolve the underlying issues. In my opinion once we can learn to do that with ourselves developing a community with other people gets much easier. We are open to discussing the brittle areas and the resilient ones. In this way, we all become resilient to the aphids within us, which is really just food for a higher order of thinking and living.

In permaculture, this can be summed up with the principle that the problem is the solution. That’s all.

Observations and Random Thoughts

Birds chirping in the background, paw prints in the moist clay, and yellow eggs under a leaf are signals from nature of the present state and possible future of an ecosystem. It’s looking into the details and patterns that develop the storyline.

Signs of Regeneration
It’s been over a year now at East Fort Worth Montessori Academy and ecological resilience is starting to take hold. In August of 2011, the soil was dry and baked to a crisp from the long drought and exposed soil horizons to the unrelenting heat. It took some time and effort to wheelbarrow all the mulch to cover the soil and in one year the environment was entirely transformed.

August 2011

August 2011

August 2012

August 2012

Today is Sunday, April 21, 2013. Sunflowers are re-emerging from last years harvest, and sorghum is beginning to come out of the ground as well. The end goal is a garden that is low maintenance and mostly self-regulating. I hope that next year, some of the cherry tomatoes will self-seed all over the garden so we don’t have to buy or propagate from seed or cuttings. Dill is germinating in locations planted last year as well, and cilantro has done a great job at re-establishing itself. The one surprise is the okra in the front yard.

Permanent Home for Life
The amount of change occurring is too much for me to process, a good thing in this case. Our parsley plants are swamped with swallowtail butterflies and we found enough lady bug eggs to supply all the classes with a ladybug life cycle kit. All the classes were able to see the egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages over a few weeks. It barely made a dent on the ladybug population outside. They’re still voraciously waging war on the aphids, mealybugs, and mites in the garden.

Predators Dominating the Pests and Parasites
There are a few rats, and small mammals that have found their way into the garden. However, this is attracting larger predators. The other day I found a Black Rat snake near the wicking propagation units. The slithering creature was huge; a good signal that he or she is hard at work. Geckos and other lizards find their way between the brush piles, and I need to learn more about them. I’m assuming most of them are good eating mostly bugs and insects.

I’ve seen a few cucumber beetles but only one so far. I’m not too worried about them this year since I’ve seen brown adult aphids under the leaves of the brussel sprouts in the garden. Brown aphids are literally mummified aphids. If you look closely enough, you may see a small hole going through the exoskeleton. This is a sign of a parasitic wasp emerging out of the aphid. The adult form of the parasitic wasp will perform surgery on a number of bugs and lay their eggs inside of them. The eggs will hatch into a larva which will eat the bug inside out and emerge as an adult that busts through the skeleton and repeats the cycle. These parasitic wasps also target other bugs like cucumber beetles so no worries there in the future.

Under Construction
There are a lot of projects still under development. The animals require a lot of attention and daily chores, changing their water, filling their water, feeding them and providing a healthy habitat for them. The major project is to create a cool environment for the rabbits. Constantly freezing bottles in the summer time is a hassle and waste of electricity. I’m hoping the underground hutch will create an environment that is cool enough for them to survive the summer heat.

Growing fodder for the animals is another consideration as well. Supplementing their diet through cafeteria leftovers and kitchen scraps is still being developed. The major setbacks have been adequate systems that empower the students so they can do it themselves. This week, I’ll be providing further assistance for the 4th grade and 5th grade students. Letting them know about the opportunity only worked for the over achieving children. The others need more guidance.

The wicking propagators are working beautifully. Sometime this week, I’ll be adding in the goldfish to regulate mosquito infestations. Self-watering barrels are being installed. The major setback has been leaks in the water tower and plastic liner. All is well though. Eighty to 160 plants can be propagated in a 4×4 area. I’ll be making them all week until I run out of space.

Find volunteers is getting easier but continues to be a struggle. Everybody voices an interest in helping but I believe everyone is working on their own projects. I hope that we may all join in the garden to help each other out. At this moment, I’ve devoted a lot of time to creating self-resilient systems and helping passionate individuals to gain a similar foothold. Starting this week, I’ll be educating formerly homeless people on how to make wine bottle planters so they can make additional income.

Last Thoughts
I do feel torn when I give great designs and systems away. Although, I see the benefit in re-creating these elements everywhere. We need more resilient gardens and the designs I give do not include the care and thought that goes with it. The people who have the same ethics and principles will have a platform for new innovation and creative ideas that suit their needs. Those that see a quick way to reach a pinnacle often hit the floor without trying. My torn feelings are unjustified. Furthermore, all of my systems do have flaws that I’m still discovering. Fixes are still needed for the wicking seed starters.

That’s all for now. I can hardly wait to taste the success and the failures.

Ignorance, Thinking and Knowing

That’s the pattern. Another way of saying it is: you dont’ know, you think you know, and you know.

It goes hand in hand with another pattern of ideas, action and results. People who don’t know or are ignorant are, not sure what they are searching for, and are continually trying many things to find out where they belong. It filters through their ideas and the actions they’ve taken to discover the results.

Over time, this develops into a pattern of the groups they hang out with, the thoughts and ideas they have, and the life they live.

Conscious design takes a different approach. It realizes that there are these two patterns in the world around us; not knowing to knowing, and manifesting abstract ideas into reality.

The truth is that the ideas are more concrete than the material. The ideas bring the most amount of change in a persons life than the reality. For example, realizing that life is overly abundant opens infinite opportunities than realizing the scarcity and lack of resources. The free food from dumpsters is food for me, soil to make, and a garden to harvest from. The pallet wood is free lumber to make an infinite number of projects. This is in contrast to the scarce idea of: I have no money to do this, I need more education, and there’s always something in the way of making this happen.

Concrete ideas are more constant than the material. The experiences last forever and will stay with you as a story to translate and share with others. The material is  impermanent and will only last for a short life span. It has a life that will only last a blink within time. These are ideas people need to know and have making the material items that much more precious.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” – Anonymous

Suburban Gardening for the Future

The future of our suburban areas is going to rely on urban gardeners and farmers.

This reliance though is not just a task for the people to undertake. We’re going to need animals to help restore the land to its previous state. Through the use of intensive grazing and holistic management, the reversal of desertification in our blackland prairies will be guaranteed.

The limiting factor that is preventing this from moving forward is our social systems. Having large amounts of cattle roaming along a highway would cause many civilians to get agitated while driving. Attempts to change this paradigm would have to be large scale education and information. Small scale plots could be used to further educate the public on the potential of electric fencing.

In time, the opportunities to test these practices near Fort Worth and Dallas will prove to be the tipping points to enact this type of action. It’s inevitable.

Employ Nature. It Works for Free.

That’s what permaculture does. It eliminates the unnecessary jobs we create for ourselves and gives it back to nature.

Take for example the nuisance of the squirrel. It’s a menace to many nut farmers since they have a habit to collect hard shelled seeds to store for the winter. In many cases the lil guys just hoard more than what they’ll need. At Triple Brook Farm, Steve Bryer developed an ingenious solution.

Squirrels would place his hazelnuts to store in a hollow tree trunk. Instead of harvesting himself, he would go to the hollow trunk and exchange the nuts with sweet corn. As time developed and the squirrels adapted to a better salary, a mutual exchange was developed. Steve gets the best nuts harvested by the squirrels and the squirrels get a better food crop in exchange.

We can employ the same strategies for everything and anything as long as it is mutually beneficial to all parties involved.

Don’t Be Afraid to:


The saying usually goes Trial and Error but if you don’t even try you’ve already failed.
I hear so many people talk about great ideas and dreams to manifest into reality. The sad truth is the mental blocks that prevent that from happening. I’m not sure if it’s a fear of lost or failure, but the common factor is fear.

The realities of a dream are worth infinitely more than a lifetime of failures and they are definitely worth infinitely more than we can perceive. Fear of trying always leads to failure. So why not fail a little bit more?

Everybody needs to fail a little bit more by trying. .

Brown Thumbs > Green Thumbs

The successful gardener is often related to the green thumb, a person who can grow anything. The brown thumb is associated with a person who is best at killing things. The color brown depicts the idea of death and decay. The idea of a green thumb is crap. Every great gardener starts out with the brown. Here’s why.

Survival Thinking
A person can survive approximately 3 minutes without air, 3 hours in a harsh environment without proper shelter (the exception is in freezing water), 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. This is the Rule of 3’s in Survival Training.

These Rules are worth knowing because they relate to animals and plants. How? Soil and climate are the shelter of plants.

Soil and Climate
Plants don’t get the luxury of having mobility. A proper shelter though can be created by having the right soil conditions and the appropriate season to plant them. Seasons come in time and you can find planting information from your local agricultural extension, use it and find the planting info for DFW here. Soil is a different story.

Living soil comes with a right combo of clay, silt and sand. However, the most important feature is not in the soil chemistry, but the biology. The life in the soil is a much more complex aspect to grasp and it’s the most essential. In one teaspoon of rich soil is a combo of more than a billion different types of organisms swarming, feasting, having sex and dying all at the same time. With all this activity, nutrients are being exchanged, created, absorbed, and recycled. At the same time, various microbes find shelter around plant roots and create a beneficial relationship with plants known as mutualistic symbiosis. Mutualism is beneficial to both organisms and as a side note not all symbiosis is good.

What does the bacteria get? It gets shelter and essential starches made by the plant. The plant in exchange obtains all the nutrients that the bacteria and soil life are crapping or in some cases regurgitating. Life is beautiful.

Brown to Green Thumb
With all of that said, I’m going to stop on the soil life rant. It’s vital and key to successful gardening. If you’re going to start growing things, grow your soil first and then proceed to planting. Cheers to all of you brown thumbs.

Slow and Small Solutions in a Fast Paced World

One Week in Chow’s Life

It’s Monday morning, and there are plenty of things to accomplish during the week at work. Mulch needs to be spread, lessons need to be prepared, materials arranged for the lessons, plants watered, meetings to attend, and everything else that pops up in life. It’s becomes easy to get stressed and overwhelmed just thinking of the daunting tasks in one single day.

On the other side of the coin, big dreams and ambitions are lofty and somehow seem more attainable than all the small things that occur in the daily and weekly commotion. Leaving a suburban area to live on a farm out in the middle of no where, building community living centers, creating large aquaponics systems, and growing a food forest overnight.

The problem for me arises when the big dream is automatically pursued without conscientiously thinking about the tasks and steps to reach it. It’s the drive for the instant gratification of reaching the goal and the ignorance that makes it attractive. In a short amount of time, all of the small tasks begin to accumulate and overwhelm me and burn out my passion, energy, and time.

The issue percolates to other realms in society and not just in my own life. The pattern is emergent within teaching, parenting, and in all people who desire to live a better life and in a better world. The truth then lies in the details that connect these disciplines together.

Non-Cognitive Skills
It was about a month ago that I heard the episode of This American Life on Back to School. The episode focused on the concepts and ideas that should be taught in school and at home to ensure future success. The show begins with an economist, James Heckman, who took the task of looking at GED and high school graduates. The initial drive was from the idea that people who obtained a GED saved enormous amounts of time, energy and money.

Heckman began to question though whether the GED graduates were as successful in life as the high school graduates. In a long term study across the board, high school graduates had better paying jobs, were married for longer periods of time, had less divorces, were better in the military, and the GEDs virtually dropped out of everything they started.

This raises the next question, what is it that divides GED students from high school graduates. The test the GED graduates take is supposed to challenge people on the same level as people in high school. The answer is a very elusive one, non-cognitive skills. Heckman defines it as character, social skills, conduct, and skills that are empiracly difficult to measure.

The study continues for another 10 years, and the economist begin to isolate the non-cognitive skills that are the most significant. One that was found to be highly significant is self-control. In the late 1960s, a group of scientist observed children resisting the urge to eat a sweet treat in the present moment, enter the marshmallow test. The child would be sitting down and offered a cookie if they ringed a small bell on a table; however, if they waited 10 minutes to ring the bell, they would receive two cookies. It was literal torture for these children to wait, to delay satisfaction. In the long term though, the scientists tracked these peoples’ lives and continued to study how they would respond to temptations and life, and discovered more than what they intended. The children who were able to resist eating the sweet treat for longer periods of time succeeded far beyond others in stressful situations, maintaining friendships, and simply paying attention.

As an adult now, the significance of learning this one tool is astronomical. As the years go on, the responsibility becomes larger. We are responsible for children learning self-control, are dealt a bigger role in society with access to tools, knowledge, and the future of this planet, and yet many of us have not mastered or even thought about the idea of mastering ourselves.

The trick is to make self-control a habit.

“Keep Your Goals to Yourself”
We’ll move away from self-control for a moment and move our attention to goals in general. Every new year, people create new years resolutions and strive to accomplish that task. The problem arises when people taut about their resolutions and share it with everyone that they talk to. In the end, they feel great from sharing and letting people know while getting positive feedback from their peers.

The issue arises in the mind. Derek Sivers delivers a great TED talk on the issue of keeping your goals to yourself. By saying and sharing, we trick the mind into thinking the task has been accomplished by substituting the real genuine gratification of doing with one that is replaced by talking. Sivers concludes that we should keep those goals to ourselves or if we are tempted to say it we beat ourselves up with the harsh reality of what it’s going to take to complete it so we get no satisfaction from it.

A Few Tools
Overall, there is a reoccurring pattern in the realm of success and conquering dreams, delaying immediate results through self-regulation and control.

Changing behaviors though can require extra work, energy, and time to create a dedicated effort in manifesting a healthy feedback loop of successful results. There is no one singular method in creating new habits. However, the ones that have stayed with me the longest are slowing down, observing, meditating, and writing.

Slowing down is essential to realize of how much time is available to create our dreams. Rushing to solutions or conclusions often results in more work later on. It’s best to give things some thought beforehand. This vital step is crucial for those that follow.

Observations clue us into whether we are headed in the correct direction on the right assumptions. In a fast paced world, this process is easily blurred from an incorrect realization. For example, those who switch from conventional farming to organic may see horrendous results in the first year and come to a conclusion that organic is worse than using chemical pesticides. Coupled with slowing down, the observation may be deduced to a depletion of soil fertility and erosion.

Meditation for me is a method to clear the mind of the ambient noise and clutter from the day. It’s a moment that allows the mind to guide your thoughts, actions, and words.

Finally, writing, drawing, or blogging catalogs your new habits and ideas into a new reality. It tracks the slow progress and shows the mountain that is about to be conquered with hard work and dedication. One my favorite sermons was at Creation Flame, the Church of Awesome which was based on the epic journey. It’s not meant to be easy. Every huge feat that was accomplished was done with strife, hardships, and in the end a sense of accomplishment.

In fewer words, without the journey the end is meaningless.
Live with passion.

The Power of Mulch on Heavy Clay and the Human Soul

Every soil can benefit from the use of mulch or an organic covering on top of them.
When I first arrived at East Fort Worth Montessori Academy, the alley to the chicken coop is sandwiched between the building and the sloping hillside that feeds the alley with a downpour of water. The soil in the alley has cracks and quickly absorbs and holds water, a good indication of a good heavy clay soil.

The first rain showed the signs of a good mucky clay.

To alleviate the issue, we decided to obtain some free mulch and spread it over the soil. A good three inches will do the trick. The transformation after is unbelievable. A place that was once a trap to walk through can become functional once again.


In the years of using mulch, the pattern emerges that the soil that feeds us needs more organic matter and love. It’s truly a universal solution to build soil and ourselves. Reflecting on the theme of this blog, to cultivate ourselves we must take care of the elements that nurture and feed our body and soul, the soil and all the life within it. The result is a mirror image of ourselves in nature. The soil is now ready for cultivation and growth.