Activity 1.1: Develop the Base Map of Your Site

Activity 1.1: Make a Base Map of Your Site.  

If you have participated in other permaculture courses, this is your opportunity to further refine and get feedback on critical questions about your work-in-progress base map.

For new participants, this base map activity is a challenging one - especially because each of your situations is different. Do your best. The goal is to have a relatively drawn-to-scale map that you can work with as you move through the class. Think draft and look forward to getting feedback from us as you continue.  This base map will become the template and guide for future maps of your site.

You will find that permaculture thinking is most useful when applied in context; that is, if you can envision and apply the theory and practices to a real place. The way you will apply what you learn in the class will be in a self-selected design project.

1. Select a design site. 

Consider these criteria when choosing your site:

  • Is it at least a ¼ acre in size? If not, you can still do a base map, just be prepared to adapt.
  • Is the site easily accessible by you (ideally within your daily routine)? 
  • Is there potential for designing human food or plant systems?
  • Do you want to put the energy into fully designing it?

Most select their own backyard or a green space they have access to where they could potentially implement their design. 

Please email instructors if you are having any trouble finding a site to use for your design project.

2. Obtain an aerial and a property map of your design site.

In the United States you can obtain aerial maps from:

In the United States you can obtain tax property maps from:

  • Your County Clerk office can give you a copy of your tax map. You may need to know the site address and ideally the tax ID #.
  • Conducting a search online. Find your county at and search by name, address, or tax ID #.

TIP: If you are getting online maps you can take a screen capture and save as an image file. A screen capture is like a built in camera that records the image you see on your computer screen and saves it as a file. The image will either be saved to a folder, on your desktop, or on the clipboard ready to be pasted into an image program. If you are having trouble, you might just opt to visit your county offices for the information.

-- For PC users, you can load your map by pressing the PrtScn button, normally located in the top right corner of your keyboard near the other function buttons on the computer. Sometimes you also have to press shift to make it work.

-- For Mac users, press SHIFT+Command+4. You will get a crosshair-type cursur that you can draw across the screen to select the area you wish to save.

3. Visit your site to create your sketch map(s).

Visit your design site again and make some rough notes and sketches on your maps. Nothing beats first hand experience to understand what is going on at your location. 

These are some of the elements to include in your site sketch map(s):

  • Property boundaries
  • Hedges, Walls, Fences
  • Existing buildings
  • Roads, Paths, Gates, Doors
  • Large Trees
  • Ponds, Streams, Springs
  • Downspouts and Gutters
  • Pipes and other Utilities

4. Combine maps.
There are numerous approaches to making a base map of your site. It will serve as the foundation of your work throughout the course. Do your best to combine the elements from the maps above to develop a base map of all of the CURRENTLY EXISTING features of a site. Have fun. It can be a draft that you continually modify. We are learning how to better engage in our landscape, and it sometimes takes a few tries to get it right.

5. To complete your assignment use the submit button below to turn in copies of your following maps:

  • base map
  • sketches
  • an aerial and tax map

A maximum of 6 documents can be submitted.

In the submission comments section (which you will see after you hit submit the first time) write a few clear and concise sentences clarifying details, comments or concerns about your maps. This allows us to provide more helpful feedback than the maps alone.


REMEMBER: If you are having technical trouble submitting there could be helpful details under Simple instructions for submitting your assignments.


Example maps:


Here I took aerial images and tax maps I found and traced the outline of vegetation, streams, the driveway, the pond, etc. onto graph paper. This was done on a computer but could easily be done by hand as well.


 Here is an example with the aerial map - you can simply print an aerial photograph and DRAW these elements over top by using tracing paper to make a base map.