A while back I heard that you could use topographic maps in the design process of a permaculture farm which sounded to me like a great idea! Since we bought our homestead back in October, I have been looking for quality topographic maps of the land with little success. One place I looked into was mytopo.com. While they allow you to purchase topographic maps in print or as a digital file at a reasonable price, unfortunately, they didn’t offer the type of detail on their maps that I needed for planning our farm.
After spending a significant amount of time searching for detailed topographic maps, I came across one by ESRI which is very detailed and useful but what I really wanted was a map with satellite imagery overlapping the topographic lines so I could also see where existing trees and structures were.
Eventually, I came across a mapping program called ArcGIS that had the functionality to overlay these two types of maps. They have a free 60 day trial which means you can probably get maps of your property for free! When I set out, my intention wasn’t to get to get free maps but it sure is nice. If you plan on getting into permaculture design consulting ArcGIS looks like an invaluable mapping tool that is worth paying for. I played around with the program for 3-4 hours and barely scratched the surface of its capabilities!
Here is a brief tutorial on how to make topographic maps of your property using ArcGIS Pro. These maps can be used to get a better understanding of the water and energy flows on a property and give a different perspective than you get from the ground. Permaculture designs can be applied directly to the maps by hand or potentially designed right in ArcGIS although I haven’t learned all the features needed to do this yet.
**Update** I have a better tutorial for making a map here. You may still want to watch this video as there is a bit of information not covered in the second video.
**Update** In the video I mention that 1:6000 is the best detail on the topographic maps but 1:2000 actually provides better detail (1 meter elevation lines!) so even more detail than I originally thought which means it will be useful for even smaller properties!
Having maps like this will allow you to understand your land better and think about where roads, swales, trees, structures and ponds would be best located during the planning stage of your permaculture design. Of course, when the actual work is to be done a ground survey will be necessary.