Droughts, Not Hurricanes, are Greater Danger

pam_chesbay(VA 8a/7b)November 19, 2012

Hi Oklahoma Friends:

As you probably know, Jeff Masters is the guy who started WeatherUnderground. I've read his posts for years, especially when we are threatened by a tropical storm or nor'easter. He is very accurate.

Last night, this post about the dangers and damage from droughts caught my eye but I was too sleepy to post. Although Katrina is the #1 natural disaster in the US, the next 3 most severe disasters are droughts, including the one that is still going on.

In the post (link below), Dr. Masters talks about the cost / damage in dollars and in lives. I hadn't thought about some of the issues he raises. He got my attention and I think he will get yours. One key to surviving a disaster is preparing for a disaster.

Today's post is "Great U.S. Drought of 2012 to Last Into Spring of 2013." He describes the weather patterns that Dawn has written about recently, shows graphs of the persistent drought that will affect the entire country west of the Mississippi and parts of the inland south, at a minimum, in 2013.


On that happy note, I'll say "good night."


Here is a link that might be useful: Lessons: Droughts, Not Hurricanes, are Greater Danger

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Thanks for the link, Pam. I finally quit cussing the fact that there is no moisture and started slowly digging DEEP.

Hugelkulture. May g-d help my back.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 12:23AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


You and I think alike. I read Jeff's blog last night and almost came here and posted about it/linked it then, but it was late and I was tired, so I then decided to wait until morning....and here it is already! lol

I, too, have followed Wunderground for several years and have learned so much about the weather and climate not just from his and Angela's blogs, but from the personal blogs of many members, and from the comments that are posted discussing the blogs. It was another member of this forum, Randy, who first mentioned Weather Underground here, which sent me off to Google to find it several years ago.

Last year I read a fantastic article in one of the regional Texas magazines about the recent years of drought and wildfire, and it was equally disturbing. One thing that stuck in my mind was that all the "Top Ten" wildfires in Texas history have occurred since 2000. Texas has always been hot and dry and wildfires always have occurred, but the fact that they have worsened so much in the last decade is very concerning. Especially to me, since I am in a part of OK that sticks down into Texas and have Texas to my west, south, and east. Also, I've noticed that whatever is going on with Texas' weather tends to be hitting OK, KS, AR and often MO and NM at the same time. You may see different weather patterns there, but it is apparent to me that you're experiencing changing climate conditions just like we are.

I feel like the changing weather has made me a weather-obsessed person. Before the drought of 2005-06, I felt like I understood our southern OK weather fairly well after gardening in it for a few years. I understood the typical climate patterns here, and knew how to deal with them. Then, everything changed and I began to increasingly feel like a stranger in a strange land...even though we were still in the same exact place.

Bonnie, I've tried hugelkultur before and have not been totally thrilled with it in the garden, but I am going to give it another try. It worked better for me in Texas than it has here. One issue I've had with it here is that the wild things that live in our woods really like hugelkultur beds and I don't like having those wild creatures in my fenced garden. Voles, in particular, like to invade those hugelkultur, and then snakes come to hunt for the voles. beds. We have lots of voles here not just on our acreage but on the land around us, though the cats hunt them relentlessly when they come up close to the house, yard, and garden.

However, I've used hugelkultur beds to repair several severely eroded areas on our property, much of which is a sloping creek hollow that erodes severely whenever we have heavy rain. Not that we have much heavy rain any more, it seems, but we used to have a lot of it just a few years back. During those rainy years, the hugelkultur beds would erode badly during heavy, prolonged rainstorms. My definition of a heavy, prolonged rainstorm is one that brings 5" or more of rain all at once.

When I use hugelkulture beds to repair eroded areas, I pile up the wood first, then add everything else on top. I don't plant the first year or two, though, I just keep throwing compostables on top and let that material break down for a couple of years and then broadcast wildflower seeds and sometimes 4 o'clock seeds over the area. The four o'clocks work well in eroded sloping areas under repair because the roots get huge, tolerate drought well and those huge roots help hold the hugelkulture beds in place during the type of storms that cause erosion. Eventually the severely eroded area heals and fills in and looks like the rest of the field around it instead of being a bare gully of red clay.

Tim and I were out in the yard late yesterday afternoon and I was showing him two specfic areas where I want to do something different. In one of those areas, I want to reconfigure my big garden making it more like a rectangle than a square. The reason is easy to understand---shade from woodland trees is encroaching on the west and north sides making those edges of the garden less useful for a vegetable garden as they become more and more heavily shaded every year. I likely will surrender some of those areas, moving the fence and leaving out a lot of area at the west and north ends that currently is fenced, but extending the fence much further east and turning the square garden into a rectangle.

The area east of the fenced garden is badly eroded and has heavily compacted red clay, and the adjacentwoods are full of deadfall since these last two drought years have caused a certain amount of tree death and limb drop. I told him we could kill two birds with one stone: clean up part of the woodland (it is about 10 acres so I know we won't get it all done this winter but maybe we could cleam up at least a couple of acres) and then use the tree limbs, etc. to build hugelkultur beds in the eastern area I want to add to the fenced garden.

My best drought-beating strategy still will be to plant as early as humanly possible and employ plant protection methods to protect the plants from late frosts or freezes. We really can't defeat the weather when it is hot and dry because Mother Nature bats last and, therefore, always seems have the last word. I hate having to battle heat, drought and grasshoppers relentlessly every year. I feel like all we can do is try to work around whatever weather we get. If we ever do have a wet, rainy year again, we may not know what to do.

The extreme weather is making me extremely crazy.


    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 8:29AM
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For anyone interested in planting 4 o'clocks (I know a lot of you already grow this tough tuberous plant), I'm attaching a photo of a couple of images of the tubers. Mr. Brown Thumb, who authors this blog and web pages, lives in the Chicago area, and as he mentions, the tuberous roots get larger the further South one goes. The tubers are carrot-like and can extend up to 1' or more into the soil.

Four o'clocks are not always hardy here in the City, but if the tubers don't survive a cold winter, they do reseed, and/or are easy to grow from seed. You can find a lot of bulk seed offerings on the web, too. Hazzard's Seeds sells them bulk, at 1,000 seeds for between $17-20.00.

I am going to have to look at this method of gardening, you two, because I have never heard of it. That's what I love about this forum - you're never too young to learn a thing or two!


Here is a link that might be useful: 4 o'clock Roots`

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 9:03AM
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pam_chesbay(VA 8a/7b)

Part 1. I have several things to share but don't have time to write more now, so will add another post later today.

Bonnie & Dawn - There are variations of hugelkulture. Brent and Becky Heath live a few miles from us [ https://store.brentandbeckysbulbs.com ] We live in an area called "Tidewater Virginia" - 2 or 3' above sea level, flat land, swampy areas, sandy soil over marl clay. Our biggest problem/ challenge is rising sea levels - they are rising fast. We are trying different strategies to raise the level of our land that borders the Bay.

A few years ago, B & B needed more growing area so they bought a large tract of land. The soil was poor, about an inch of "sandy topsoil" over yellow and blue marl clay. This type of clay forms where land used to be under the ocean - it's impossible to improve marl clay so Brent decided to experiment. He piled wood chips, leaves, garden litter into large rows and used a tractor to turn the material so it composted faster - this is called windrow composting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windrow_composting

When I visited their new farm for the first time, I was surprised to see hills and valleys. Waterfalls! In Tidewater, land is FLAT! I poked a finger into a garden bed - wood chips! I continued to poke a finger into beds and realized that all the trees, bulbs, etc were growing in partially composted wood chips. Below is a link to photos I took that day - you will see how he grows bulbs for next year and a few photos of their display gardens. I took these photos in December so the gardens look bare but you can see that they use a form of hugelculture to raise their crops (bulbs, perennials, shrubs) and create display gardens. You don't have to use logs. You can use wood chips, leaves from neighbors, stuff left over after farmer's harvest, just about anything that will break down. It works.

I use a similar method. I made friends with tree companies and the guys who trim trees for the electric company so they bring chips to my place. Two years ago, I had huge piles of chips. Now, the piles are big, not huge. In the beginning, I used the front loader to turn them, but I haven't had time to do that recently so I'm letting nature do it for me.

When I make new beds, I put down about a foot of partially composted chips and cover this with 2-3 inches of soil that I dig up with the tractor. Sometimes buy a truckload of soil - ours is so poor but bought "topsoil" isn't much better. I used this method to create a new vegetable garden with 8 raised beds this spring. The plants put down roots through the soil and into the chips. I used a little organic fertilizer when I planted (TomatoTone and Vegetable Tone), put down soaker hoses, mulched with newspapers covered with grass clippings, leaves, a little seaweed.This year's harvest from those beds was incredible.

Here is a link that might be useful: Brent and Becky's Farm

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 12:38PM
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Here is an ACRES USA reprint very much on topic of this Thread:

The Drought Myth. An Absence of Water is Not the Problem.
by William A. Albrecht, Ph. D.


    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 3:15PM
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I used that method...I just didn't know it had a fancy name :) Those of you who have been to my house or seen my front flower beds, the one on the (north? far side in the pic) side was made with fresh wood chips. My neighbor across the street had a tree cut down and then chipped. They offered me has many chips as I could haul across the street! My bed was at least two feet deep. I wished I had taken pictures of it! By the time I covered it with top soil, the neighbors were sure I was making a halloween graveyard display :) There was talk of adding some RIP headstones! LOL

I added as many Starbuck's grounds as I could get my hands on. We had a new one in town, so they were eager to let me pick them up.

I planted in it the next spring, but I used my itty bitty wintersown transplants and planted them in "pockets" of soil. They thrived. The bed has shrunk considerably since then!

I have a wood debris pile in the back, I need to do this with it.

ChickenCoupe...I'm saving you flower seed and I have a few four o'clocks in there. I will mail them to you before the end of the year so you can try out wintersowing if you want.

This is a pic from May 2006 of the two beds. I am not sure how old they were at this point.

Here's a pic from 2002, so the Halloween Bed was between those four years sometime!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 9:28PM
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pam_chesbay(VA 8a/7b)

Susan: Thanks for the info about four o'clocks. I think they may survive your winters - they survived when we were Zone 7. And thanks for the info about Hazzards - they are a good source of seeds.

Dawn: Yes, I'm a weather junkie too. We live less than one meter above sea level so storms can do great damage. We have to pay attention to the weather or we're likely to be blind-sided by a storm that didn't get much attention in the media. This happens more often than people realize. A little blip on the radar screen is described as a minor sub-tropical storm, people don't prepare for a real storm that arrives at high tide with with 70+ mph winds and a big surge. Homes are flooded, boats are lost.

You described different ways you are dealing with changing conditions. You don't rely on one strategy but use several. I think that is the key to successfully adapting to these changes. You live on land that is experiencing harsh droughts more often - I think these droughts are part of the new normal. They will be longer, more intense, with shorter periods between them. People can survive and even thrive under these conditions but they need to think about it and prepare. Although you are in a severe drought, you had a bumper harvest this year. I think that's because you made changes in how you grow.

My husband is an attorney who does training programs for lay people. He teaches them about the "Rule of Adverse Assumptions" - you need to assume that your worst fear will happen. What steps do you need to take today, tomorrow, next week to prepare for it, survive, and prevail? It's a good rule for many areas of life.

This morning, I found a neat site about battling hunger and malnutrition by teaching people how to grow food in buckets and bags (link below). After they learned that buckets are expensive in 3rd world countries, they didn't reject their plan but thought about alternatives. I liked their ideas about alternatives and why they may be better than buckets - aeration, drainage, planting mix, less heat, larger root mass, and light weight.

I know you use containers to grow many crops so you probably have an opinion or two about how they propose to use bags. They also devised an automated irrigation set-up. If their ideas are sound, we can adapt them to our conditions - growing in drought-prone areas and growing in low lying flood-prone areas.

I've been thinking about Holland. The Dutch created an incredible system to hold back the sea after a devastating flood nearly a century ago. A few years ago, we visited that country for a couple of days. We drove to the North Sea through incredibly flat land laced with canals. We saw part of their flood protection system. Holland appears to be very well protected from any storm in history but they are worried about about global warming and sea level change. I think at least 50 percent of their land is at or below sea level, and at least 20 percent of Holland is reclaimed land.

I learned so much in two days. I'd love to go back and spend a few weeks traveling along the coastline and seeing how they do other things -- like controlling the salinity of the water in their harbors. This saves shipping companies tons of money so they love to ship from Holland.

Time to shift gears. I ordered a couple of neat books this summer but didn't have time to read them at the time - one is How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. ;-)

Take care,

Here is a link that might be useful: Global Buckets

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 10:13PM
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Thanks lisa! In fact just tonight I cut open my gallon jugs to ready for winter sowing. Of course, I don't dare set anything out right now and water it lest it think it's spring lol.


    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 10:23PM
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Bon, it is better to wait until January, The wintersowing people will usually do a first run around the time of the solstice. I never make that. I do good if I can get my tail end in gear by February!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 10:41PM
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Excellent article Waurika!!!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 10:44PM
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I detest four o'clocks. They are toxic to horses, very invasive, & down here near the Red River their roots are HUGE. As in they literally get nearly football size.

I had to dig them all out of a paddock before turning horses into it. Most every plant I had to go deeper than the shovel head. That left me huge holes all over that I then had to fill in very compactly, so a horse did not trip or break a leg stepping into a hole.

The flower is pretty, but frankly I will pass on them... ;)

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 11:55PM
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As for third world gardeners planting in plastic bags, sounds rather expensive & not a readily obtainable in an a grade of plastic that would not rapidly deteriorate.

Having spent a lot of time in the third world, I saw a lot of bags made out used fiberglass strapping tape. Whether it be a bag for market items, or large enough to carry crops out of the fields. Strapping is trash, & is free. Why not use that for pots? There is quite the cottage industry around used strapping tape.


Also, I would think weaving pots out of palm frond or sisal would be another free to cheaper route. Not like "they" do not already weave palm frond & sisal. And I would think far more long term durable than plastic bags.

On a different note, I saw in the link someone mentioned using newspaper as mulch. Sort of scares me, as how much ink is non toxic? Unless my paper assures me they are using soy ink, I will not use newspaper. Even when I use card board, I sit there & tear all the ink print off first.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 12:48AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Pam, If wood chips were readily available here, I'd get them, but our electric co-op in general only does a big tree trimming about once every 10 years out here in the sticks where I live. However, I have about 10 acres of woodland full of raw material so I can gather all the wood we need even though it isn't neatly chipped.

Susan, In the sandy soil on the east side of the pecan tree, our four o'clocks make humongus roots. I've seen them roots get as large as the head of an 8-10 year old child. Once the roots are big, the plants will grow as tall as 6-8' tall as long as they have something like a tall garden fence or chicken coop wall to lean against. Mine do come back reliably in the sandy soil and in well-amended clay, but do not come back as well in unimproved clay.

Lisa, When I started making hugelkultur beds when we lived in Fort Worth in the 1980s, I didn't know it was a method that had a name. I just knew that my black gumbo clay needed major soil improvement, and we had cut down a tree so I stacked up that cut wood behind the shed for a couple of years and then used it to improve the flower beds and veggie garden. It was amazing what a change it made, so I've used wood and other woodland debris to build soil ever since.

Pam, I first read John Jeavons' book in about the 1990s or so and employ many of his biointensive techniques, which allow me to get a huge yield from my gardening space. I believe you'll love the book and will find his methods offer many benefits.

With regards to teaching people in difficult conditions to grow in buckets and bags......I am not sold on the idea unless they otherwise have no land in which to plant. I think it always would be preferable to teach them (as Ecology Action does) how to improve the soil they have in order to increase its fertility over the years. There are sustainable mini-farm techniques that can be used for food production even in very difficult climates. Any method used to teach people how to grow food successfully is good and helpful and useful, but growing in buckets and bags wouldn't be my first choice unless there were mitigating circumstances that made it impossible to grow in the ground using biointensive methods. It can be difficult to keep container plantings happy in extreme heat, and we have the advantage of having drip irrigation lines that can be placed on a timer. I cannot imagine trying to grow in those bags in low-rainfall areas or during drought periods accompanied by extreme heat. It seems like it would be hard to keep the growing medium moist enough.

With regards to adapting our gardening practices to the changing climate/weather conditions, I think we have to be flexible and willing to push the limits in order to achieve success despite the weather. The recurring droughts of the 2000s make soil improvement even more important than ever before (and it always has been very important anyhow), and mulching makes a huge difference. So does careful watering using methods that don't waste water. Providing plants some relief from the sun in periods of extreme heat helps them remain happier, healthier and more productive. I use many more 'protective' techniques now than when we first moved here, and I think they make a huge difference.

The first year I bought a roll of shade cloth to shade the tomato plants during extreme heat (I think it may have been during the drought of 2008), Tim was not fully on board with the idea. I am sure he was asking himself just how far I was going to go to protect those tomatoes. A few days ago he told me that he wished there was a way we could put shade cloth over the entire garden during periods of excessive heat. So, even as a non-gardener, he's learning what it takes to help the plants give the maximum production during difficult summers. Of course, our garden is far too large for it to be practical to shade all of it, but I do shade peppers and tomatoes with shade cloth during periods of extreme heat, and I also plant interplant rows of shorter plants with taller ones so the tall plants can partially shade the shorter ones.

After we'd lived here 6 or 7 years, I thought I had our weather and climate all figured out, knew how to deal with it, etc......and, then, it started changing. Every year that it remains very hot and very dry, I learn more about how to deal with it. We all have to constantly adapt to whatever challenges the weather, climate, soil, pests or diseases are throwing at us.

Waurika, It is always interesting to read Dr. Albrecht's writings. I spend a whole lot more time on soil improvement than on anything else and the most-improved beds always produce best whether we're in or out of drought.

Last year I triple dug one large bed that is roughly 40' long and 5' wide and amended the soil as I went along. Triple digging in dense clay soil is very difficult back-breaking labor and is very time-consuming, but it is a wonderful way to improve the productivity of a planting area. I hope to double-dig or triple-dig a few more raised beds this winter. That triple-dug bed gave us a huge output of veggies this year. It grew tomatoes from March through July, southern peas from July through early November, and is growing carrots, turnips and collards now.

Newspaper inks used on newsprint are non-toxic, but we shouldn't use the glossy inserts or any glossy magazine pages because they have a different kind of ink. I've used newspaper ever since we moved here and it is wonderful. Both newsprint and cardboard attract earthworms like mad. I like to put them down on the ground as the first layer of mulch and pile grass clippings and shredded leaves on top of them. As these materials break down over time, they further enrich the soil.

I'm going to link the website of Ecology Action for anyone interested in learning more about biointensive, sustainable mini-farming or gardening. I also buy some seeds from Bountiful Gardens, which is affiliated with EA. (Bountiful Gardens is where I first found Piricicaba broccoli.) When I first read John Jeavons' book, it changed me so much as a gardener and the more that I used biointensive gardening techniques, the better a gardener I became. At the Ecology Action page, there is a link to Bountiful Gardens in the upper right-hand corner.


Here is a link that might be useful: Ecology Action Website

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 11:16AM
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pam_chesbay(VA 8a/7b)

Hi all - good discussion about bio-intensive gardening.

Waurika, I agree. It was my sense that the group was looking for more practical options than buckets or traditional bags. The Alibaba site is pretty amazing.

When I included the link to the Global Buckets site, it was because I'm thinking about ways to use grow bags here. And because my daughter lives on St Thomas and has been struggling to grow vegetables for years. She lives on top of a hill on the eastern side of the island. The island is volcanic so there isn't any soil. She has been trying different strategies to grow vegetables but it's always a struggle. I thought buckets or bags might be one thing to try, but ST is so hot, rain is seasonal, and is stored in cisterns so that is another problem.

I found an organic garden on St John, an island close to STT. She may be able to visit, get some ideas.

Dawn - thanks for your thoughts on priorities. I agree that improving the soil is the first priority (assuming the person has soil to improve). I've focused on improving the soil and am seeing improvement. Last year, I purchased Sunleaves bags but had already planted most crops, didn't have planting mix ready, so I didn't use them. I want to work the bags into the plan for next year. I know watering will be a big issue so I want to think about how to handle that in advance.

I learned one thing about the Jeavons book - it's not bedtime reading material. I need to be awake and alert.

Take care,

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 2:57PM
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I used to live on a Dutch island further south. (Yes, I am one of those people that has been everywhere.)

Why doesn't she collect the food trash from restaurants? Even having a dedicated bucket for the left over beer in the bottles? All makes for wonderful compost.

Worried about pathogens from used food? High heat composting. She could even make a large solar cooker to really turn the heat on.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 7:08PM
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