Dr. Deb Tolman Works With Nature (podcast)

Jun 8th, 2017 | By | Category: Featured Articles, podcast, the show
Dr. Deb Tolman showing off living roof on "fairy outhouse." Nature at her best.

Dr. Deb Tolman showing off living roof (that’s lettuce) on her “fairy outhouse.” The roof is a re-purposed satellite dish.

Most of us do the best we can to live more lightly and sustainably on the planet — to be gentle with nature. That may mean reducing, reusing and recycling, and growing some of our own food that we irrigate with collected rainwater—to name a few worthy activities.

Dr. Deb Tolman cranks all that up to 11, and then some. Tolman is a fit, energetic middle-aged woman with a ready smile, hearty laugh, and a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.

She holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences/Resources and Geography from Portland State University, and lives and works on six rolling acres in Clifton, Texas in Beautiful Bosque County; which serve as home and sustainability learning lab.

What she’s learning is how to live off the land: she builds nearly everything she needs using reclaimed and recycled materials (often turning to YouTube videos to guide her), and is just a hair away from living off the grid entirely.

She says in “the big picture” she’s trying to teach herself is how to “live with nature and not against it.” Dr. Deb says she wants to see if living in this manner can help her live more efficiently. “I don’t fight weeds. I don’t fight a lot of things that other people do,” she said. As a result, she adds, she learns a lot more about nature than the average person.

A walk around her homestead demonstrates what she’s learned. She’s built her home, furnishings, and even an  outhouse with a living roof. She collects rainwater, was in the process of building a “rocket furnace” for the “tiny home” she created from a former grain silo. She cooks in an outdoor kitchen, where she’s able to prepare healthful, delicious meals that come straight from her gardens. And there are gardens and food growing everywhere.

Dr. Deb, has more than thirty years experience in academic research and landscape design, as well as extensive training in plant nutrition, economics, and environmental education. She shares what she’s learned in a variety of ways, including through her non-profit, the Silo Project, which stands for Sustainable Information and Learning Opportunities.

One of her more popular programs is keyhole garden construction. A keyhole garden is a six foot diameter round, raised bed—held in place by rocks, bricks, clay—whatever works—with a center wire kitchen scrap cylinder, and a wedge missing from the circle, which allows gardeners easy access to the basket. She did not create the concept of keyhole gardens, but instead of filling them with soil, she fills hers with recycled materials like phone books, cardboard and paper–thus creating rich, fertile soil where none before existed. She says it’s all about “the rot.”

And there is rot in short order in her keyhole gardens. Dr. Deb said she, herself, wouldn’t have believed how quickly decomposition occurred, if not for a mishap with the first public keyhole garden she built out of cob and recycled materials in Clifton. She said four weeks to the day of building the garden at a demonstration site in downtown Clifton, torrential rains inundated the garden and broke out its wall.

Instead of the myriad, thick Waco phone books, reams of newspapers and cardboard with which she’d filled the garden, what she discovered was rot. Decomposition.

SOIL!

In just four weeks, all those recycled materials transformed into soil. Mother Nature came through and worked her magic.

If she hadn’t already believed in the process, she would have converted that day. And she believes others will become believers, too, and in so doing learn to live more lightly on the planet.

Dr. Tolman offers workshops on a wide variety of sustainability topics from gardening to cooking, to building furniture and outdoor ovens, to rain water harvesting and wildlife and range management — and more. If living with nature and not against it appeals to you, Dr. Deb Tolman knows how to get it done, and is glad to share what she knows with like-minded folks.

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