A few weekends ago we planted 5 apple trees and 8 blackberry bushes. This was a huge step for me. Not the planting, but where I planted – here in North Texas. For several years now we’ve been looking for land in Oklahoma: fertile land, land that will grow something, land that gets rain, land that has trees, land that isn’t plagued with fire ants, termites, grass burs, binder vine, high winds, clay and gravel. Why did settlers decide to stop in North Texas?
Lately I’ve come to the realization that I’m not going to find a perfect piece of dirt. Everywhere has problems. I might as well go ahead and start planting long-term crops now. For the last two years I’ve resisted, only planting seasonal crops. Everything has been short term, non-permanent vegetables and herbs. I’ve been waiting to invest in the long-term crops because I can’t take them with me. It will take years to develop the little 1-inch saplings into fruit bearing trees. It will take years to train the blackberry twigs to climb on the fence, providing a fruiting hedge around the garden area. So I had better get started and stop waiting to find the perfect piece of land.
Several factors have weighed in on my decision. One is a very useful tool my husband found online. Our tax dollars are finally paying for something that benefits us: a soil survey map http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/WebSoilSurvey.aspx. Using this map I was able to see that many of the parcels of land that we’ve been considering in Oklahoma also have less-than-desirable soil conditions. Yes, the average rain fall is higher and there are trees, but there is also the possibility of flooding and very large mosquitoes. In most places that we can afford, the soil would still need years of building.
The second thing that brought about the realization that I’d better get started was using the soil map to look at Polyface farms in Virginia. I have read several of Joel Salatin’s books, but I didn’t really believe that he started out with bare, rocky, barren soil. After all, I’ve lived in Virginia. I’ve seen the Shenandoah Valley. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. Rolling hills dotted with large round bales of hay casting long shadows in the golden light of sunset – apparently you shouldn’t form romantic ideas about picturesque scenes while zooming past at 60 miles per hour. Reality is that those pastures didn’t grow that lush without time, care, planting, and soil management.
So with our newfound tool, the soil survey map, we took a look at Polyface. I thought surely the soil classification would far surpass my piece of dirt in North Texas. I was wrong. The majority of the area is silty clay loam and clay with a very low available water capacity. The soil classification is 4e. According to the USDA, 4 means that “soils have very severe limitations that reduce the choice of plants or that require very careful management, or both.” Subclass e, means the land is subject to erosion. Yet, the Salatins have created a thriving farm out of the less-than-ideal soil conditions.
For comparison’s sake, I zoomed into my few acres on the soil map. To my utter astonishment, my sticky North Texas clay has a soil classification of 2e – only moderate limitations for plants and the same erosion threat as Joel’s piece of the Shenandoah Valley. That means that with time and proper management I too can have a beautiful, thriving farm. So rather than waste any more time looking for a perfect piece of land, I’ll hold onto my savings (for now) and begin working my dirt into something beautiful. Next on my agenda: shoveling cow poo into the compost piles. I’m actually looking forward to it!!!
Read more about our family’s journey to self-relaince at http://thegoodstorehouse.blogspot.com/