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Hello from central Oklahoma  RSS feed

 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1787
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
195
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Hi, everybody. I suppose it's typical that I've been hanging around for a couple of weeks without discovering the "introductions" section ere now. I did post a hello in one of the regional forums, but that's perhaps not quite the same thing.

So here's my deal. I live in central Oklahoma on 40 acres of land that belongs to my inlaws. Nobody has loved this land since before World War II, although there's been constant activity in the form of a grazing lease and a couple of ancient but still producing oil wells.

I'm not a farmer or even much of a gardener, but I did grow up in a very rural "back to the land" sort of situation where we grew a lot of our own food (600lb of potatoes a year, plus carrots, turnips, rutabegas, cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, lettuces ... and in a greenhouse, tomatoes, green peppers, and cucumbers) using lots of child labor (me and my sisters) and organic gardening methods. Of course by the time I left home, I was swearing I'd never again grow so much as a nasturtium in a pot.

One grows up, one learns wisdom. In my case, wisdom struck in my 40s in the form of the realization that even in high summer, I couldn't find a decent tomato around here. Not at Walmart, not in a roadside vegetable stand, and not even at the one feeble excuse for a farmer's market that's in my area. (The few times I've driven to it I found it with just a few vendors with very little produce, plus a larger selection of hand-made soap and candles.) Eventually I broke down and planted a few tomatoes in pots on a bench in my back yard.

Pots, of course, work better in the cold climate I come from than they do here. But I wasn't interested in tilling and irrigating a proper garden; that's massive work and this is the dust bowl. The soil is thin and poor and underlain with red clay, it turns to dust if you till it in a dry year, the bedrock is shallow, and the irrigation water is expensive if you're buying it from the rural water department at household prices. Plus, everywhere you go outside is a nightmare of thorns and snakes and poisonous insects. Or, that's how I saw it, anyway.

So I got a few tomatoes out of my pots, plus a whole crop of horned green caterpillars and other dramatic plant predators that don't exist where I come from. This only confirmed my preconception that (a) this place/climate sucks for agriculture and (b) I am no gardener. But I did get a few very delicious tomatoes.

That began to matter more to me when, because of massive health problems, I started eating a vegetarian diet. My health improved dramatically, I lost a lot of weight, my interest in tasty vegetables went way up, I planted more things in pots with mixed success, and I began to have a lot more interest in the things that were already growing on this land: an ancient Kieffer pear tree, some venerable neglected pecan trees, wild persimmons, wild onions, and so forth. For exercise, I began to carve walkable paths through the jungle bits of the land, allowing me the greater access I needed to pay more attention to the wild edibles. This fall after a chance encounter with a deliciously-bearing Persimmon tree, I got even more serious about surveying the property for useful trees. I found *dozens* more persimmon trees than I had known we had, plus a huge grove of ancient pecan trees that are now so overgrown you can't get inside the drip lines without a machete and a chainsaw. I also discovered unexpected delicacies like passion fruit, after literally stepping on them and wondering what the popping noise was.

Without ever having heard of permaculture, I kept mulling the notion that this land (for all its flaws, which are many -- barren salty graveled-over oil-production areas, aridity, poor thin soil, a legacy of erosion from poorly-managed grazing leases, thorns on *everything*, ticks, poisonous critters) is green and covered with fairly lush vegetation. Surely there must be some way for a lazy man (I'm not carrying a lot of watering buckets) to get useful things to grow beyond the range of his garden hose? My mother was a 1970s back-to-the-lander with a Mother Earth News magazine in one hand and a Rodale Press magazine ("Organic Gardening" or "Prevention") in the other, so I have a notion of what's possible. But it's a lot of work! I got to thinking: can't I just tweak what's already growing, find native species of tasty things that can compete with the weeds and thorns and survive on the limited rain and surface water? I started Googling about that, and it didn't take me long to start discovering permaculture notions.

That was a couple of months ago. I'm still reading and learning, and going out every day to play on the land. (I still hate garden work, but somehow my conception of what "work" is has changed since I was 12, funny huh?) Mostly I've been clearing around my most promising pecan tree -- an enormous job with hand tools (all I have). But I'm gearing up to plant a few fruit trees this spring and to start all kinds of drought-tolerant annuals from seed, sneaking them into various little holes in the existing vegetation that I'll find or create and seeing what, if anything, is capable of thriving. I'm also seeding mulch plants under my pecan tree (clover for the nitrogen, some root veggies to bring up nutrients) and I've got my eye on a spot for a thicket of sand plums if I can get some transplants to take in that location. Meanwhile I'm making a couple of proper garden beds in my Zone 1, and a compost pile. Baby steps, baby steps, too much to learn and too many years of neglect to address all at once with a pruner and an axe and a shovel and a mattock and inherited piles of ancient scrap building materials.

I've also slowly come to realize just how much of the poor condition of this land can be attributed to half a century of cattle grazing by a lessee with no interest at all in soil conservation. The land is crisscrossed by deep notched ravines with bottoms scoured clean, all of which are fed by an endless series of erosion channels leading down from the former pasture. These ravines have isolated pools of water in them year round, but are flowing streams only seasonally (and not at all in dry years). The sad thing is, I'm told they were all year-round creeks as recently as the 1970s, in shallow beds that were closer to four feet deep than the current 20+ feet. Now that I've done a little bit of permaculture reading, I can see all sorts of places where the water flows rapidly away (and off the property) when we get rain, taking soil with it and leaving behind eroded areas and thin soils that parch in the long hot summers between the all-too-rare summer rains. There's so much that could be done to slow, capture, and retain that water -- and with the captured water, the soils could be rebuilt.

My limiting factors are energy (I'm fundamentally a lazy man), time (I have a business that eats much of my days), and money (business is bad). I'm not going to turn this land into a food forest oasis overnight, not with hand tools and scrap lumber and ancient piles of rusty sheet metal from 1960s chicken houses that belonged to people who are long dead. But I'm going to noodle away at the easy things, catch escaping water and sediment where it's as easy as digging a small depression or dropping a fascine of brush and throwing some dirt on it, and plant a wild profusion of cheap seeds and whatever tree seedlings I can buy, find, or (mostly) "make" for free from cuttings and sprouted seeds. The goal is to grow more of my own veggies and (hopefully) improve the land in spots, creating more places that can catch and hold enough water to grow plants for both food and soil improvement. If I live long enough, the fantasy is a food forest so rich that I start to generate surpluses for extended family and friends. I'm also of the opinion that we live in a world where everybody is going to be getting hotter, drier, poorer, and hungrier as the 21st century advances. Thus, I see building up the food resources this land provides (and restoring its water and vegetative resources) is my hedge against economic uncertainty and potential disaster.

We'll see how far it goes and how far I get, I guess!
 
Zach Muller
gardener
Posts: 778
Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
36
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Hey dan, Your land sounds like a lot of the land I see throughout Oklahoma. Are a majority of your trees post oak and blackjack?
I like that you are only using hand tools, that is all I have as well. Your plan for throwing seeds here and there to see what takes is what I would start doing too. If you want some inspiration check out this thread where a guy shows some extensive water management using only hand tools.

Have you looked for wild ginseng in your woods? Some range maps show it's range extending into central Oklahoma, I always wondered if anyone in ok confirmed it's presence.

Good luck with your baby steps.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1787
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
195
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Zach, thanks for that thread! I'm watching those videos next, as "personal" water management projects loom large in my thinking right now. This land is bone dry in the summer, but there are numerous rain events every year that feature surface sheet flow across saturated ground. There's water to be managed!

Are a majority of your trees post oak and blackjack?


One of my most frustrating problems is basic plant and tree identification. I come from the boreal forests of (barely) sub-arctic Alaska; no hardwoods grow there, and almost literally NOTHING that grows here is familiar to me. My in-laws are a couple generations removed from their farming ancestors, so they go "ah, um, some kind of tree?" when I ask them what tree is growing over there.

Oak identification is a project I have not tackled, but yes, there's a ton of oaks (several species at least) on this land. There's also some huge trees I can't identify that have rough fissured bark like a cottonwood and little dry berries. I went for years thinking I had some sort of white maple trees before learning they were sycamores. The former pasture is growing in with huge numbers of Osage Orange, Honey Locust, and some species of ash tree (it has the distinctive "wing" protrusions on the bark). Plus the persimmons and pecans, and a bunch of stuff I haven't identified yet. There's only one willow tree on the whole property, which I now plan to make the ancestor of an entire battalion of willows in the service of bank stabilization and erosion control. (My fantasy is that if I plant enough willows from cuttings, maybe some day the beaver will come back, build dams, and turn my dead ravines into beautiful pools. There's beaver sign on this land -- cut stumps -- but none of it's newer than ten years old.)

Have you looked for wild ginseng in your woods? Some range maps show it's range extending into central Oklahoma, I always wondered if anyone in ok confirmed it's presence.


The notion first occurred to me too late in the autumn last year, so no, I have not looked. But since then I've identified several of the most likely spots, based on the descriptions of likely terrain that ginseng hunters use. I'm not hopeful, not particularly; but I remain open to the idea, and will look next summer. As a very long term project, I've also considered trying to get some ginseng started in a couple of the most likely areas -- but it's far from the top of my priority list.

Good luck with your baby steps.


Thank you!
 
Zach Muller
gardener
Posts: 778
Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
36
bike books chicken dog forest garden urban
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Dan Boone wrote:

Oak identification is a project I have not tackled, but yes, there's a ton of oaks (several species at least) on this land. There's also some huge trees I can't identify that have rough fissured bark like a cottonwood and little dry berries.


Yeah I hear ya, there are a bunch of oaks out there. The tree with dried berries sounds a bit like a hackberry. Luring in the beavers sounds like a fun project, get even a little moisture retained to grow the willows and then have them come in and establish a wetland. Perfect!
 
K.C. King
Posts: 3
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Hey, Dan, where do you live in Seminole county? We might be neighbors. I live at the very tip top of Pontotoc county real close to the South Canadian river that divides our two counties. If you live in the south part of the Seminole county, we might be within minutes of each other. Do you live along Highway 99/377? That Highway splits our land in two, with about 60 acres of nice mixed pasture and forest on one side, and a less nice 90 or so acres of forests and hills on the other.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1787
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
195
forest garden trees woodworking
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Hey, K.C., Sorry I missed this when you posted it.  I don't like to post the precise details of my location on the open internet, but I'll send you a PM. 
 
E Cochran
Posts: 74
4
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Just dropping in to say Hi from Payne County! Nice to see others from Oklahoma here since most of the yahoos I've run into in the country here not only don't practice permaculture, have no desire to even learn what it means. Sigh. Would love to chat about our places.

We only have a tiny place compared to yours (about 6 acres) but it too hasn't been used in many many years. Nothing has ever been built on the south side of our creek and the forest is thick. Just clearing a path to walk through is time consuming. I'm kind of new to the community here so I"m not sure how to find people.
 
Gail Gardner
Posts: 117
Location: SE Oklahoma
2
duck forest garden hugelkultur
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I thought I'd pop in and say hello in case anyone from SE Oklahoma does the same.
 
Chris Barrows
Posts: 52
Location: Western Side Of The Great Oak Savanna
6
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Howdy from Northern Payne and southern Noble counties!

Unfortunately, many areas in Oklahoma have been agriculturally abused, but be thankful the damage can be repaired!

Mulch/compost material can be readily found and  it can be transported at relatively reasonable rates.

As for the tomato horn worm problem, I've found that tobacco grows well here and they'll tend to attract them instead of letting them munch your tomatoes.
 
Deb Rebel
garden master
Posts: 1689
Location: Zone 6b
180
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Just chiming in, I'm in the end of the panhandle. Out where even the state gub'ment mostly ignores us. I am sitting in the Original Dust Bowl. And they changed us to 6b (edge of town changes zone!). So altitude, dust, bugs, weeds, and stickers. Land that is caliche under and can fail a perc test. I think I could make adobe bricks of the back yard, and mold the Bermuda grass right in to hold them together.
 
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