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
, 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
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!