Improving Drought Conditions

Okiedawn OK Zone 7December 8, 2011

It has been a long time since I've linked the Oklahoma portion of the U. S. Drought Monitor because for so long it just wasn't showing much improvement.

So, guess what? The autumn rains have improved conditions a lot, so I am going to link today's updated Oklahoma Drought Monitor map below.

Look! Some people are completely out of drought at the present time.

Let's hope for continued improvement so gardening won't be such a struggle in 2012.


Here is a link that might be useful: Oklahome Drought Monitor Map

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Aren't we happy that TEMPORARILY the forecasters were WRONG about the drought expanding or maintaining. The Texas map has the exceptional drought area looking somewhat worm eaten. I am still in exceptiona drought in Travis County Texas, but it is a WET Exceptional drought. My 20,000 gallon rainwater tanks are FULL, they called off the burn ban and I am burning brush in my front field. There are wildflowers sprouting. They did not do that last year. I see rosettes everywhere. Our lakes are still not seeing much of an increase , but I have mud in my driveway and have driven past some streams that are no longer dry. It rained and rained before we had mud. It was strange how the ground soaked up a 2 inch rain and there was no run off. We have been lucky with gentle un Texan like rainfalls. The water has gone straight down .

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 6:16PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Yes! Absolutely! I don't know why they were wrong, but the rain that's been falling here has been heavenly and I am loving every raindrop.

I am not foolish enough to think they're totally wrong about a 2012 La Nina since they base that on SST readings, but maybe it is going to be a very mild La Nina.

By the way, I cannot believe you're finally getting to burn those brushpiles! I have all those rosettes everywhere too, and noticed today that some henbit is about to bloom. The bees will love it. Down front near the roadway, I have been walking around slowly, staring at the ground, trying to count bluebonnet rosettes and I am happy to report that unless we have the coldest winter ever and it kills my tiny bluebonnet babies, we are going to have a lot of Texas bluebonnets blooming this spring. I bet there's 4 times as many rosettes now as there were at this time last year. In the border near the veggie garden, larkspur has sprouted everywhere. It should be a really good spring for larkspur as it has come up even in pastures where we normally don't have it.

Our ponds and creeks caught some runoff when we had 4" of rain in a 24-hr. period a couple of weeks ago, but have since dried up again. However, most of the big, wide cracks in the ground have finally closed back up. I'd say 90% of them are gone, and that is impressive. At our house, we'd had roughly 12" of rain by the end of August, and have had another 12" since then, so I feel like we are in really good shape now compared to then. We haven't had a really bad fire in our fire district since September. (Hope I didn't just jinx us.) We have mud too. We even still have a couple of puddles from the rain and snow earlier this week.

Our lake levels haven't risen too much, but they have risen some. The closest lake to us is Lake Texoma and it takes a tremendous amount of rainfall to raise a lake that big even an inch.

I overseeded the lawn area with rye, covering about an acre that wraps around the house, yard, gardens, chicken coops, potting shed and detached garage. It was a leap of faith because I knew rain would have to fall in order for it to grow, and when I sowed it, we had not had a huge amount of rain. I planted the seed, the rains came and kept coming, and now we're mowing rye grass twice a week. The deer and rabbits nibble it too, so it is good for them. Once the rains started falling, I went to another part of our land and sowed a deer food plot mix and it is about a foot tall now. They haven't started eating it yet, but it has been deer hunting season, and they lie low. I expect some time in the next month the deer will discover the deer food plot and start mowing it down.

Aside from being able to burn brush and all, the best thing about the rain is that it gives us hope for a better year for all our plants (and people and animals too) in 2012.

Don't get me wrong---2011 still will go down in the record books as one of our driest years ever, but thanks to the rain that's fallen since September began, it won't be the driest year ever, and not even the driest year since we moved here. At our house, it may be the third driest year since we moved here, though it certainly was the hottest.

I hope the rain keeps falling everywhere that we all need it.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 6:46PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

We are at 11.56" for the year, so it is still a dry year but we have had 7 inches since Sept 1 so you can see how dry we were through last winter. We were lucky to get a half inch in a month. It looks like we will finish out like the year before. The story is in when in the year rain fell. WE got all our rains from the end of October on.

I can't tell you the fear that we had when we heard the double La Nina news.Austin's reservoir (Lake Travis) is down to 30%, where it has never been before since Mansfield Dam was built. We were thinking that we were looking at a city the size of Austin running dry. Austin is not Dallas or Houston but 1 1/2 million people or more depend on that lake. All the Rice Farmers down stream depend on it to. No one wanted to voice this fear but it was on everyones minds. In Austin , you saw no green lawns. Very few people were watering their lawns. There are dead plants everywhere.As a city we are used to water rationing , but this year people stopped watering their grass and the city turned brown.

I am outside the waterlines and no one out here ever waters their lawns and most of us have native grasses for lawns. They dry out and then they come back every year. They are only now turning green, 7" down the line.

My county took the burn ban off when they should and would not have in normal years. Last year they had a burn ban all winter long and they are not going to make that mistake again.The grass was like tinder, but the humidity was up and their was some dampness in the ground.. They needed to let us country folk burn, since their crews had been battling them in the big fires during the summer fires. They wanted these piles gone and jumped on the chance to get them out of here. OUr first fires were scary. The grass caught in a way they have never caught in our many years of burning. We took so many more precations than ever before. We had 4 people with hoses, shovels blankets, extinguishers. These piles EXPLODED. Burned fast , but they were immense. The humidity that day was 22% and I timed my burn for morning time. Thanksgiving day we were out burning. I thought about you , Dawn. My son has just joined the volunteer Firemen for Hays County. I have put a slideshow below.

Here is a link that might be useful: My Fires, My Lovely Fires

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 7:49PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

OOPs I meant to send it as a slideshow.

Here is a link that might be useful: Slideshow of lovely fires

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 7:59PM
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Our lake is in the normal range and our rain fall for the year is just under 47 inches so that is also fairly normal, and greater than last year. What wasn't normal was the hot and dry summer.

I spent about half of today working in my garden. I have a few more tomato plants to get rid of, but we spread oodles of leaves today on the south half of the garden. One of my neighbors that owns several properties here bought a huge catcher to pull behind his yard tractor and he brought me 4 loads of leaves today. One load is still in my side yard but three loads have now been spread on my garden. He said he would probably have two of three more loads tomorrow so I plan to clear the rest of the garden in the morning so I can move the leaves in. I sprayed some water on the side that I got covered with leaves and the ground is wet underneath, but it would be nice to get a good rain and wet them down good. I think we are supposed to get rain early next week. If I can get one more days work in, then rain would be nice.

At least the availability of leaves is forcing me to get the winter prep work done,and I can start adding my compost and be ready when Spring arrives.

I'm not feeling the desire to plant seeds just yet, like some of you, because I just finished this years garden. LOL I picked sweet peppers until just before Thanksgiving and a few hot peppers that I had kept covered a couple of days after Thanksgiving, but all is gone now except for the two tubs of salad greens that I cover on cold nights. They have grown so slowly that I haven't even picked any yet. My fault though because I planted too late.

If I start feeling the urge to plant I will do a little wintersowing for a few flowers. I usually start indoor veggie seedlings about mid February.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 8:31PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Before your 7" of rain fell this fall, y'all were really hurting for water! It is hard for me to comprehend a year-to-date rainfall of 11.56". In our worst year here, 2003, we had a little under 19" and we were scarey dry for so long.

I follow the Texas news pretty closely, so knew the downstream rice farmers were getting pretty worried. I didn't know that Lake Travis was so low. I've been following the stories of towns running out of water, like Grosbeck (hope that temporary pipeline helps as much as they think it will) and the one in the panhandle...I think it is Robert Lee, TX, whose lake dried up during the summer months.

The problem with many parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area is that they just keep building and building endlessly while doing nothing to increase their water supply. I just saw in the paper a couple of days ago that the city of Dallas is implementing Stage One Water Restrictions next week. Apparently the autumn rains, while fairly plentiful, haven't helped enough. I've never seen Dallas with water restrictions in winter, although they almost always have them in summer.

If any town could survive exceptional drought, I think it would be Austin because so many people there use sustainable techniques like xeriscaping and catching/storing water. Still, how could it not turn brown in 2011? Between the heat and drought, green was hard to maintain even with irrigation here and I am sure the same was true there.

I had started to wonder if they would ever lift your burn ban so you could burn those piles. The governor lifted ours quite some time ago and everyone here still was pretty cautious about burning, and many waited several more weeks so more rain could fall. Our two ranching neighbors across the road from us still haven't burnt their piles. I think after the summer we had, they're still sort of leery of burning, but my feeling about it is "if not now, then when?".

Prescribed burning of range land was going on here hot and heavy for a couple of weeks in either late October or early November, and the skys were full of smoke. It was worth it, though, to reduce the fuel load. At least if we have winter wildfires (which seems inevitable), there is less to burn. However, the fires drove the firefighters crazy. After a summer where you had to be ready to drop everything and speed to fires, it has been hard for them to chill and relax and let the brush piles and prescribed burns just go ahead and burn. We've only had a handful of brush pile fires or prescribed rangeland fires get out of hand and require firefighters to go put them out. I'd rather see these property owners burning stuff now than in January or February.

Our fires were like yours. They were explosive in a way I've never seen, and I have seen some really bad wildfires in the past. These just took the danger and explosiveness to a whole new level that was almost beyong comprehension. So far this year, we have run about twice as many fire calls as last year so it has been a rough year, but we made it through. Recent weeks have been pretty quiet and I hope it lasts a while.

The slide show of your burn piles was impressive. As dry as that stuff was, I bet it burned very fast. We have two brush piles to burn, but they've been sitting there so long that they may decompose before we ever get around to burning them. The sight of all those cedar trees is like a knife in my heart because I know how they burn. I hate them. We remove cedar trees from our property every year, but we'll never, ever be able to get rid of all of them. Still, we keep trying.

Carol, I am green with envy over your 47". It is unfortunate all that rain wasn't spaced out evenly over all the months. I did keep telling my friends here that our extreme heat was more of a problem than our drought. During the extreme heat, moisture just evaporated at such a fast rate that it amazed me. Soil that was moist in the morning would be bone dry by evening, so watering was not as effective as usual.

I hope to start gathering leaves from the woods in the next few days. First, I have to make a lot of Habanero Gold for Christmas, and I am going to start that process in a few minutes and then make multiple batches throughout the weekend. I've promised a case of Habanero Gold to one friend for her Dad's Christmas present and a case of Apple Pie Jam to my nephew for his Christmas present. I have oodles of peppers in the freezer, so may make some red jalapeno jelly and green jalapeno jelly too. This will be the first canning I've done since last December, and I blame that on the beastly drought!

Today, in my garden, I noticed one verbena bonariensis plant is about to bloom, and so is some henbit on the south side of the house. It is a crazy, mixed-up year, but if those plants were people, I'd be asking them what they were thinking and why are they blooming in December.

We are supposed to have rain next week on Wed, Thurs and Fri, I think. Of course, the forecast could change a lot before then, and likely it will. It is cold, gray and overcast here this morning. Sort of feels like winter.

To keep myself from ordering any more seeds, I went through the seed boxes and made lists of what I have and what I need. There's hardly anything at all on the 'need' list.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 10:54AM
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It's nice to see the percentage of the state that's not in drought increasing. It's even nicer to see the exceptional category has dropped to 2% when just three months ago it was 69% of the state. We're still listed as extreme here, but we've had over 5 inches of rain since October and hopefully it will keep on coming. We're still at 9.26 inches for the year, but it could be a lot worse.

We have a lake north of here that is used for irrigation and it's at 17% of conservation capacity right now. I'm sure the farmers are praying that it rains all winter.


    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 12:46PM
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Dawn, We have sunshine this morning and a forecast for mostly sunny today and sunny tomorrow. The temp is only 35, but when I am working that isn't too bad. I waited until all the leaves had died back on the exposed plants. Some still had green stems though.

We are having our heat pump replaced and I had some large rocks that had to be moved so they could move the old one out and the new one in. I moved about half over to the other fence and stacked the rest next to the house. I am using them to build beds for permanent things. I grew horseradish in containers but I plan to put some of into the garden after I harvest it. The instructions said to wait until it had a freeze or frost. I assumed it would die back. So much for that. I can see it out the window and the plants are hanging over and look frozen, but are still green. The rocks should help hold the soil in place but is mostly to help us remember that something is already planted there. I think the heat took the rhubarb, but I plan to try again.

Anyway, now that I have rambled on....I was tired from cleaning up that area then the the leaves started coming. My neighbor from across the street had already giving me his leaves and he called to see if I wanted more. I assumed they would come by the wheelbarrow full like before, but instead they came by huge hopper. Each time he would ask if I wanted more. I thought it was a different neighbor until he got here. He is a pilot that inherited this home from his aunt. She was a nice little Native American lady that I met when I first moved here. She had been in the neighborhood just about longer than anyone and had a very large lot (or several) and lots of trees. If I had not taken the leaves, they would have been burned, so this plan worked well for both of us. I hope he offers them to me every year since it is much easier for him to drive a couple of blocks and dump them than it is to burn them. Not everyone in my neighborhood lives here full time so I have to work on their schedule.

Al came home just after the leaves started coming, and the neighbor who had called me, stayed and helped and we got three loads put into the garden. I have been waiting for it to get a little warmer, but I guess I had better go start getting things ready for more leaves.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 2:55PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I burned another three piles yesterday. I want to burn the whole field but I notice that the years of grass has made a thick suffocating thatch that is not burning all the way now because it is holding in the ground moisture (we now have ground moisture; AMAZING), but it will rot what is under neath it. I need to burn it also. Earlier this Spring I had a friend cut the grass becuse it was SO dry and I thought it would be better, but now it is flat on the ground and some of it he just pressed flat and it is not burning. I am actually factually a displaced city girl learning things as I go along. I think I need toTease or comb my fields before I burn them in order to get a better burn, so I need to look for a tractor and a comb attachment. What is the terminology so I don't sound like a nincompoop when I start calling around? Anyone out there KNow? I sure don't want to get out there with my tiny little rake teasing grass. The neighbors will think I am nuts and it is a 5-7acre field. If I am not nuts now, I will be when I am done teasing the whole field.

We are having another gentle rain tonight. Yea!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 12:06AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I know that extreme is still pretty bad, but at least it is am improvement over exceptional drought. I hope y'all continue to see improving conditions and that enough rain falls to significantly replenish the lakes. That 17% just isn't nearly enough.

I hate seeing people burn leaves because they make such a fine mulch or, if chopped or shredded, a great soil amendment. I'm glad y'all have a nice win-win situation going on there.

Enjoy the ground moisture while it lasts! I am a transplanted city woman too, but am surrounded by ranchers with both cows and horses and lots of pasture land. There are several different ways to deal with thatch, and I don't know which one is best in your situation since you have a thatch buildup. You might need a tractor-pulled dethatcher if the layer of thatch is heavily compacted. If the thatch is loose enough that you could easily rake it by hand, then a standard hayrake used to comb hay into windrows for baling might be able to rake up the thatch into windrows, but then you'll still have to gather the windrows up somehow and pile them up to burn, or let them dry out enough to burn and then burn the whole field.

One of my neighbors has a thing he calls a dragger that he drags behind the tractor, but it actually uproots plants too and lightly regrades the surface of the soil. He uses the dragger to create a seed bed when overseeding winter rye so that his rye grass seed will make good contact with the soil. The dragger is probably more invasive than what you want if you only want the thatch fluffed up or raked up but don't want to disturb the soil surface.

Some rotary cutters (commonly referred to as brushhogs) that are pulled behind tractors have these bars on them called conditioners that crush the hay stems on purpose and then line up the freshly cut pasture grasses/legumes into windrows for baling. If your pasture had been cut by that kind of rotary cutter, it would have left you nice little windrows you could pick up or burn once they were dry. There are brushhogs that don't have the conditioners to make the windrows though. If one of those brushhogs is used to cut a field that is to be hayed, then the person doing the cutting/baling has to come back with a hayrake pulled behind the tractor to rake the hay into windrows. I know hayrakes work great with loose, freshly cut grasses that were just cut, but don't know if they would work on a heavy thatch layer that is compacted or compressed and sort of solid, or at least not as loose as freshly cut grass.

So, when calling around, explain the thatch layer and tell them you think you need a dethatcher but that you're open to the idea of a hayrake being used if the hayrake operator believes it will rake up the thatch layer. If there's a better thing to use than a dethatcher, I'm sure they'll tell you.

I'll be seeing a professional John Deere tractor mechanic (he is a tractor repair genius!) at a VFD meeting this afternoon. I'll ask him what he'd recommend for removing a serious layer of thatch, and I'll let you know what he says.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 11:45AM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I have a steal rake with the flat bar across and about three inch prongs on it. This is pretty thick and there was a layer that laid down flat by some heavy rains back in 2010 and 2007 ... This condition has been a long time forming. Sorry to step on the subject . This is a job that I have put off and a little frightened of. Originally the field was overgraised by 2 cows so we had the oposit problem and needed grass to burn. Now I have too much grass to burn lol

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 1:04PM
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Where that 2% drops down into OK I'm basically just on the KS side close to the middle of it. We have had some moisture rain/wet snows. I have received close to 6 inches for the year now. Unless something drastic happens will be the driest of the 4 year drought cycle we are in. Not sure why they have removed some of the other areas though. I still travel east to work. Just spent 4 days last week down there. And they have had on average an inch more than I have in the last 8 weeks. Some areas not any more and some up to 2 inches more. So not sure how they determine when to downgrade an area. Jay

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 2:02PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Good luck finding an appropriate hat and clothing. : )

My John Deer tractor genius friend suggested several options:

1) An aerator implement pulled by a tractor. He said this would work best if the aerator was run through the field twice, in a cross-hatch pattern---like east-west and then north-south, in order to more thoroughly break through the thatch.

2) A limb rake, especially one that is made to rake up pine needles and evergreen limbs. He says this is sometimes effective on thatch.

3) If the thatch is particularly packed down and hardened, he said you might want to have someone plow the pasture and turn over the soil surface, effectively burying the thatch in the soil. (The gardener in me isn't nuts about that idea because you'd lose your little green rosettes that have sprouted already which might set back the recovery of your native vegetation, and who knows what invasive weed seeds might be lurking in the soil just waiting to be exposed to light? However, since he recommended it, I am passing it on to you.)

I hope you can find a solution to the thatch issue.

Jay, I don't know how they decide either, but it must be some combination of year-to-date rainfall and current soil moisture compared to average rainfall or average soil moisture. Your long drought there defies understanding. Look at what an exceptionally long time it took for them to move y'all into the more severe drought categories. It literally took them years. I've seen my county go from "normal" to "exceptional drought" in less than three months and yet I think you had about 3 years of drought before your county progressed to exceptional drought. How does that make any sense?

I keep thinking every year that "this year" will be the one when your drought ends and you get more normal rainfall, but it sure hasn't happened yet. I am starting to really believe you're in the midst of a 8 to 10-year drought there like Texas and some surrounding areas had in the 1950s.


    Bookmark   December 12, 2011 at 4:59PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Thank you Dawn for looking into this for me. Is the limp rake a thing that someone pulls on a tractor or a "hand tool"?

Things are just getting wetter and wetter here ever since Thanks Giving. It has been dark and steamy and headed for a slight cool down. Not a whole bunch of moisture touching ground but ,sheesh, is it headed north to y'all. Low dark clouds. Slight bits of raindrops. .09" percipitation today but 90% humidity all day long. It is almost 11 pm and almost 70 degrees. I see the cold front a couple counties over. It won't be long.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 11:49PM
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If you can find a good harrow or a spring tooth harrow either should work. If needed just add weight to them. Most farmers around here don't use either much anymore and so have been easy to find and usually very reasonable. But with the current steel prices many are being sold for junk iron. I use one around here some. And many arena owners use them to manicure an arena. Unless really packed one of these should work. If you want to loosen the subsoil also you could pull a subsoiler through it. A chisel will loosen it but also tear out some grass but not nearly as invasive as plowing it. The gov't used to chisel the grasslands. This opened up the ground and let the moisture penetrate and would also loosen your thatch. Jay

    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 11:31AM
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I bought 1/2 of a section harrow a couple a months ago for $10.00, but I don't have a tractor, and with 2 large rocks on it it was too heavy for my lawn mower. after about 20 min. the mower was blowing out hyd. fluid. I took one of the rocks off and it did pretty well.

I took a scrap piece if 4 x 4 and drove 40 D nails through if and worked fine and did not over load the lawn mower.
I did strap the smaller of the two rocks on it to scratch the ground to seed the lawn and make a food plot in my son's yard. I only put 9 or 10 nails thought the 4 X 4 on about 3 or 4 in. centers.

I would not like to do an area over an acre by the method I used. I was only planting seeds, which I think would be easier than dethatching.


    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 12:56PM
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I didn't want to start a new thread, so I'll just interrupt here :)

Dawn, I swear I heard the weather dude say this morning that there was a possibility of 3 inches of rain next week...and then snow, oh yay. Maybe I dreamed that.. :)


    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 4:22PM
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