Activity 1.1: Develop the Base Map of your Site

This base map activity can be a challenging, especially for many of us who have not been taught proper drafting, mapping and graphic skills. Do your best. The goal is to have a relative, to-scale map that you can work with as you move through the class. Think draft and look forward to getting feedback to as you continue.

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:

    • Easily accessible by you (ideally within your daily routine). 
    • It has potential for designing human food/plant systems.
    • You want to put the energy into fully designing it.
    • A backyard is a common focus of design but you are encouraged to include the whole property on your basemap.

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 #.

The above links reference New York information. If you are looking for maps for in your own region conduct an Internet search using the following to see if maps are available online. If maps are not available online you will have to contact your county clerk or local government office.

    • "[Your state/county/province/country] + soil and water office"
    • "[Your state/county/province/country] + tax maps"

TIP: If you are getting online maps you can take a screen capture and save 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 or on the clipboard, to be pasted into an image program.

  • 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

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 with measurements
    • Existing buildings with measurements
    • Ponds, Streams, Springs
    • Roads, Paths, Gates, Doors
    • Large Trees that you would not consider removing
    • Hedges, Walls, Fences that you would not consider removing.
    • Underground pipes, wires and other utility infrastructure

4. Combine maps.
There are numerous approaches to making a base map of your site. 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. 

It will serve as the foundation of your work throughout the course. 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.

    • Your finished map should be large enough to work on, at least 11 X 17 but potentially larger. Get your tracing paper early on and make sure you map fits the paper.
    • Your final edition of the base map should be a black and white version that can be photocopied and/or will be visible under a layer of tracing paper.
    • Add a compass rose and scale bar.
    • Label with your address and date created.
    • Keep at least an inch or more as margins.

5. To complete your assignment photograph or scan this draft of your base map, also upload a copy of an aerial and tax map, along with your sketches.  A maximum of 6 documents.

Below is an example of a first draft of Steve Gabriel's base map of Wellspring Forest Farm from 2012. It still needs some items added to it. The second image shows how it was created by an overlay above an aerial photograph.



 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.

 Above 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 first draft base map.