Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Google Earth as a Permaculture Tool

Yeah I've written one blog post about it already, but by far the most useful tool I've found so far in planning our homestead is Google Earth, and it warrants deeper investigation.

Using its elevation tool   on the bottom right hand side of the screen...

 ...we were able to plot the contour of the property and lay out possible swales and greywater systems with ease. Plotting the pin location using GPS (more later) allowed us to get a pretty good idea where the property lines lie. By downloading the image and moving it into an image editor we could start drawing in where the best possible locations would be for gardens, houses and critter pens.

To make things even more clear, we drew everything on different layers, so we could turn off the imported map layer, save all the drawings as a PNG file with a transparent background, like this...

.... then upload it right into Google Earth as an overlay right back into the original place. So now everything we plotted is in 3D.

Here's the result:

If you click here you can download the full size version to see the details.

The circles we created with the various numbers on them helped us to measure out areas for better accuracy while we were drawing them in the image editor, though once everything was uploaded to Google Earth we could double check it using Google Earth's measurement tool.

Seeing it all in 3D.....

....lets us get a clearer idea of solar angles, waterflow, and where to plot rooms so they don't interfere with the sun. We can plot where the sun rises and sets at different times of the year, and estimate how the prevailing winds will hit the hillside to best plot wind turbine and pollinator attractor locations.

But mostly, this comes in handy for calculating and plotting swales and water distribution along the property for optimal use. Combined with carrying a GPS while walking around the property and observing things first hand, we could get a little more accurate. By standing next to various landmarks and plotting the coordinates (like property pins) you can find them again on Google Earth and fine tune your locations on the drawings. My GPS app in my phone happened to show the locations in the decimal format, but by using a conversion tool from the FCC I was able to convert them back to minutes and seconds so I could find them on Google Earth by hovering my cursor til I hit the right spot and watching the coordinates bar on the bottom right. 

Google Earth also allows me to write notes in the "properties" box when I plot something directly onto the map (using the 'polygon' or 'line' tools), so when I hover over an element, I can get a text popup that describes, maybe, what I'd like to do with that particular area. I can even add photos if I like.

This can come in really handy if you're working from your PC and want to collaborate with someone else. One more feature about Google Earth is that you can export your saved places as KMZ files, send them to collaborators, and they can open it and see the whole map from their own PC.

Don't underestimate the power of Google Earth in planning your homestead. It can save you a lot of time and work.