Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Seed: A post-apocalyptic romp (Sneak Preview)

The following is an excerpt from Seed, a post-apocalyptic romp by C.S. Patton, now available on Kindle.

SEED  |  Chapter Two |  Friday

n interesting turn of events, to put it mildly. Craig Harper turned up the radio in his Corolla. Every channel was streaming live coverage of the president’s press conference. The voice of the president of the United States filled the car, as rough as usual but betraying more than a trace of anxiety. Craig stared ahead as he listened, trying to give at least a token amount of attention to the traffic, which was barely crawling along. Evidently the financial shit was hitting the fan now. He doubted the fan could survive the onslaught.

“My fellow Americans, by this time you have seen the emergency measures that went into effect this afternoon. America is not under physical attack by terrorists or a foreign country. You are in no immediate physical danger,” the president said.

“Over the past week, our banks began noticing what we thought was a coordinated bank run. Last night, we discovered the real problem. Our entire banking system has been penetrated by a team of hackers.

“The criminals have been removing funds from bank accounts across our country and depositing them in offshore accounts. Last night our counter-terrorism team attempted to stop the hack, tried to stop the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars an hour.” The president’s voice paused.

Craig gave up driving and pulled the Corolla off the road into a Shell gas station. He sat, gripping the wheel and staring intently at his dashboard. The traffic continued to inch past him, many of the people apparently oblivious to the president’s announcement.

“Unfortunately, the countermeasures taken by the Department of Defense triggered a sleeper virus, which spread through the Internet, jumping to airlines, brokers and credit card companies.

“We don’t know what this virus can or will do. It has resisted all our efforts to isolate or destroy it. As of 2 a.m. last night, the virus was replicating itself thousands upon thousands of times.” The president cleared his throat.

“As of now, I am declaring a national state of emergency, including a national banking holiday. Until we understand how airlines have been affected, planes have been grounded. Fortunately, we believe that our Pentagon, Department of Defense, and CIA systems are still secure. Our people, the best people in the world, are working around the clock to keep Americans safe and crush this attack. Believe me, American territory is secure. Our military has detected no incoming attacks. You are in no physical danger,” the president repeated. This time, his voice was firm.  

“And now, the Secretary of Defense will let you know what to expect in the days to come. God bless us all.”

 A short series of shuffling noises, the whine of an adjusting microphone, and then a new voice began. “All utility services, including water and sewage, electricity, telecommunications, and natural gas will remain active for U.S. residents, regardless of the payment status, until the emergency has passed. Public transport systems, including buses, will continue operations. We anticipate that gasoline supplies will run low. Therefore, critical services will have priority over personal vehicles.

“The United States is prepared to weather several weeks of emergency status. Listen for a situation update at this time tomorrow. In the meantime, we advise citizens to remain at home as much as possible, help your neighbors, and stay safe.”

Craig thought for a moment then noticed the sign displaying fuel prices had just increased by forty cents per gallon. Ten cars had pulled into the gas station since the end of the president’s announcement, and the line waiting behind the pumps was now several cars long. He maneuvered his Corolla to the end of one of the lines and sent a brief text to Skye.

After refueling—paying in cash, since the banking holiday had apparently taken effect immediately—Craig turned his ancient but steady car in the opposite direction. He had planned to spend some time at the firing range this evening after work to burn off some of his fury from yesterday’s incident before he arrived home. Some Glock therapy. But that would have to wait.

A few minutes later, Craig found Skye and Katie finishing burritos at their apartment. Even in his haste, he took a second to appreciate the sight of his wife. Skye had grown more beautiful as she edged toward thirty, despite her minimalist makeup. Her softness had melted away, leaving her with the features of a fey elf: clear grey eyes, sharp cheekbones, loose braid of night-black hair. Only her scrubs and lack of pointed ears ruined the effect.

He greeted the two of them briefly, kissing the top of Katie’s head, then headed directly for the kitchen pantry and pushed through the assorted boxes until he reached the very bottom and back. There, an emptied can of baked beans hid a bundle of twenty-dollar bills. Craig reluctantly counted out four hundred dollars. The remaining few twenties looked lonely curled in the fetal position at the bottom of the can.

He stood up to find his wife waiting behind him. Skye pressed a burrito into his hands and flashed a handwritten list at him. “We listened to the announcement. Let’s get groceries before the stores empty out.” She took the keys from his hands, spun him around, and hauled Katie with her out the door.

The drive to Buy for Less was short, but it took ten minutes to navigate through the parking lot already crowded with cars, people, and overflowing carts. Though the lot was crammed, there was a notable lack of panic—people were hustling, but not rioting. At the orderly sight, Craig breathed easier. He usually feared the worst. In this case, zombie apocalypse movie reels had played through his head as they had driven to the store, while he formulated back-up plans in case of fire and chaos.
Craig divided their supply list in half, giving Skye the perishable and food items and a thick wad of cash.

“Thanks, sugar daddy,” Skye said, as she tucked the roll of twenties into her purse.

Craig snorted as she got out of the car and called, “Be careful!” He exited the parking lot and headed to the nearest sporting goods store to purchase the rest of the items. 


Skye and Katie held hands and skipped through the parking lot. After yesterday, Skye was determined to keep Katie’s anxiety level low no matter what happened. It was important to stay cheerful. Make the disaster-preparedness shopping expedition into fun family time, maybe even slip in a teachable moment or two. How hard could that be?

Inside the store, shelves were already beginning to empty. Skye and Katie hurried to snatch the high-demand items like milk, bread, and yogurt, skipped the meat and cheese areas as too expensive, then slowed to look at prices throughout the rest of the store. People rushed past them, tossing items in carts, not even glancing at the labels. Cans rolled off the tops of brimming carts, ignored by shoppers hustling to get to the lines already ten people deep. 

Although the quickly emptying shelves lent the scene a surreal aura, shoppers were behaving in an orderly, though rushed, fashion. It seemed safe enough, so as their cart began to fill, Skye sent Katie back to the front of the store to get a miniature cart, one small enough for her to push. Katie darted around the larger shoppers traversing the aisles, returning in a few minutes with a slim-line cart already stacked with some of her favorites: peanut butter, jelly, pickles, and chocolate brownie mix. Skye raised an eyebrow but nodded. They filled the rest of the cart with oats, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, canned corn and green beans, canned pineapples, applesauce, and beans, all items with shelf lives of numerous years.

“That’s a lot of beans, Mom,” Katie said dubiously, eyeing their carts.
“I know, but we don’t have a lot of freezer space for meat, and peanut butter and beans stay good for a long time on the shelf. Plus they’re so nutritious, they have protein, fiber, potassium, et cetera, et cetera. And they’re cheap.” Katie wrinkled her nose but didn’t protest.

On their way to the front, they passed through the baby food section, then halted in front of the infant formula. What was left of it. 

“Crap,” Skye said, under her breath. Their next-door neighbor had a formula-fed infant. Had Benicia been able to get to the store? A can of the powder was twenty dollars—a lot for their cash budget, but a baby that young could not eat anything but formula or breastmilk, and surely Benicia’s milk had dried up long ago. With the food in their cart, they would have enough for weeks, even months, if their harvest from the Earth Magic community garden tomorrow was abundant. But a baby might not survive longer than a few days without formula.  And who knew how long this banking holiday might last? Stores might be out of formula for weeks.

Skye took four cans—enough for a few weeks—and showed them to Katie, saying, “Put these at the back of your cart.  We’ll buy them if we have enough money left over after we buy everything else. OK?”

Katie nodded solemnly, and they kept pushing toward the front through the corridors that were now beginning to look as if they had been ravaged by locusts. On every aisle, there were empty sections on the shelves wide enough for a grown man to climb in and take a nap, if he were inclined to do so. Bare metal showed scuff marks from years of cans rotating in and out.

Skye snatched a few toothpastes and an extra-large package of toilet paper as they approached the checkout lines. Activity in the back of the store was starting to die as latecomers picked through what was left of the canned goods. All the staples were gone, piled somewhere in the carts now winding into lines at the front. Her fellow shoppers checked the news on their phones and settled in for the wait.

“Hey!” Skye turned to see her husband’s bright copper hair as he called to her from across the store. Craig was not an inconspicuous man. He was soon at their side.

Hugging Katie, Craig said, “I had some cash left after I picked up ammo and supplies, and thought you might need it.”

“Thanks, darling,” Skye said, standing on the tips of her toes and stretching her neck to peck him on the cheek. He obligingly leaned down for her kiss. Craig stood nearly a foot taller than Skye, especially since she rarely—never?—wore high heels.


Craig straightened and glanced away to study the lines of people standing placidly, staring at whichever screen was closest at hand. He suspected thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of housewives and businessmen and retirees and single mothers and families and bachelors were standing in lines like these across the country, all bracing themselves for life without credit.

What would they do without it? In the past decade, credit and electronic money had almost completely replaced paper cash and checks. As Craig had walked into Buy For Less he had heard cashiers explaining patiently that no, debit cards were not actually cash, they still had to be authorized by a bank. And the banks were all closed.

This store, like every store in the city, was only accepting cash. Not checks. Not credit cards. Not debit cards. Just cash—physical, foldable paper dollar bills and hard, round, shiny coins.

A few carts still stood at the end of the checkout line where shoppers had abandoned them after leaving the store without their goods, having not understood this simple fact.  Other shoppers quickly descended upon the forlorn carts, liberating whatever cartons and boxes remained before returning to their spot in line.

Craig knew the store’s registers would be overflowing with cash by the end of the day, but unlike every other day, the cash from today’s receipts had nowhere to go. All banks were closed, so the cash would be locked in a flimsy safe somewhere in the manager’s office. Good luck with securing that box.

He scanned the faces in the crowd, alert for signs of danger or unrest, for any threat to Skye and Katie. His weapon was concealed in its holster, as usual, but a weapon would not protect them from a riot if one began to brew. Neither would jiu-jitsu. Around him, Craig read minor irritation, fatigue, the boredom triggered by queuing up in any line, even glimpses of occasional excitement at the change in pace from their normally predictable, though busy, lives. No signs of overt anger or fear, nothing that might ignite a stampede.

These people were not hungry yet. What had driven them here was simply instinct, the same instinct that drove a squirrel to bury a yard full of pecans or a bear to stuff its body full of calories before hibernation. But what would happen when the pecans were gone, when the pounds were melted away? Every store in the city was in the process of being scraped bare. Without digital cash to lubricate trade, the stores would stay that way.

Katie began to fidget, so Skye gave her a mission: find and return with the salt they had forgotten. Katie grabbed Craig’s hand, towing her father behind her through the barren aisles. Between the time they had first arrived and now, about forty-five minutes, the store’s inventory had dwindled to essentially nothing. All the goods were in transit, contained in shopping carts aimed at the cashiers.

They passed a woman staring dully at the milk section, now empty. Her two toddlers tugged futilely at her hands. Katie stopped, having caught sight of the mother’s expression, and looked up at her father. She could sense something was wrong. Craig halted.

“Try the powdered milk. I think it’s in aisle ten,” he told her.

The mother glanced at him, dazed, then understanding lit her eyes. She flashed him a grateful grin and strode away, keeping a firm grip on the kids. Katie hugged Craig’s arm, happy again. They found the salt, grabbed a canister, and returned to Skye, who had moved only two feet forward during their search.

The irritation level of the crowd was growing as people at the tail end of the lines were beginning to realize they might be standing in line for more than an hour. They were shifting, murmuring, but no one was yet pushing to get ahead in line; no one was making a bee-line for the doors. Craig narrowed his eyes, resolving that he would send Skye and Katie to the car and stay in the store with the cart if the crowd grew more restless.

“What happens next?” Skye leaned over and whispered. Craig took her hand and squeezed it, knowing it was a rhetorical question.

This was only the beginning. These people, though irritated by the waiting involved in purchasing groceries on this particular day, were the lucky ones—the ones who had heard the president’s announcement as it was being read, who had the presence of mind to make a quick decision, and possessed actual physical cash on hand. He and Skye were even luckier; they had prepared somewhat for emergencies. They still had some cash left over after this trip, plus bikes for everyone in their family when the gas ran dry, and the assorted preparations that any sensible family living in tornado alley might make.

But what would come next? These supplies would run out eventually. What would they do if the financial system was not restored within a few days, a couple of weeks? Craig didn’t believe they’d be dining on human flesh anytime soon, but…well, he just hoped there were some other options.

He supposed the government E-SWAT Team could, theoretically, restore the financial world to a state of normalcy. They had in the past. On the other hand, the majority of people were completely unprepared for any type of crisis. What was the statistic? In some parts of Oklahoma City, something like sixty percent of kids lived in poverty. They had to rely on the government to take care of them in an emergency. They couldn’t even care for themselves during the best of times. How could they possibly deal with something like this?

As his family inched closer to the cash registers, Craig wondered what it would take for people to realize that trillions of dollars of virtual money had vanished, forever, into a black hole of nothingness. No more retirement funds. No investment or savings or checking accounts. No college funds of stocks and bonds. No pensions or paychecks. On the other hand, no mortgages or debt, either. With all the complexity, could anyone figure out the real implications of the situation?

“Have a blessed day, y’all,” the cashier said, automatically, as they paid for their purchases. Katie handed over the twenty-dollar bills to her and grinned.

Seed the novel is now available on Kindle

For a free Kindle app for iOS, Android, Mac, or PC, click here.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Looking for (more) independence?

This post is for anyone who dreams of owning a small farm - a place to raise chickens, bees, goats, tomatoes, potatoes, and peaches with love and care. A farm large enough to keep you busy but small enough to manage; far enough away that you can leave the bustle of the city, but close enough that you can enjoy the benefits of a metropolitan area.

A 4.4 acre certified-organic farm, 45 minutes west of Oklahoma City near El Reno, is now available for purchase. Because the farm is being sold by a retiree, it includes almost everything you need to get started in a small farming operation (Everything physical, that is. Knowledge and marketing not included).

Interior of large greenhouse under production

The selling price includes:
  • 4.4 acres of farmland certified organic by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry,
  • An 1,100 square foot, 2 bed, 1 bath home with well-water, includes a garage and a screened-in porch and fireplace, built in 2000, 
  • A large (2880 sq. ft.) greenhouse, fully climate-controlled with irrigation system and removable shade cloth built in 2005,
  • A small (288 sq. ft) greenhouse with electric outlets and hose connection, 
  • And a variety of equipment: 2007 Craftsman Rototiller, 2007 Riding Mower, 5x8 trailer, tools and other assorted equipment, coolers and supplies (for packing and transporting food to local farmer's market or CSA customers).


Please contact John at ogfarm@gmail.com to discuss the house, greenhouse and equipment or to enter negotiations. Full specifications are at the bottom of this post. 

Exterior of large greenhouse

Interior of 1,100 sq. ft home built in 2000

Full disclosure: This farm is for sale by my friend John Leonard and his mother, who is going into retirement. I haven't visited the farm and have no financial interest in its sale.

Full specifications:
- 4.4 acres of land certified under organic production via the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food & Forestry.
- Fully functional well that pumps excellent quality water at 8 gallons per minute that’s tied to both the house and large greenhouse.

- House (built in 2000)
o 1,100 sq. ft. 2 bedroom, 1 bath, large adjoining living room, dining room & kitchen
Vaulted ceiling
Natural stone fireplace with mantle
Large screened in front porch
Oversized garage
Well insulated accessible attic with spacious storage ability
Electric oven, cook top, refrigerator, washer, dryer
Kitchen pantry connected to the washer and dryer room
Central HVAC with digital thermometer
Septic tank & lateral lines

Large Greenhouse (built 2005):
o 30ft. x 96ft. (2880 sq. ft.) fully climate controlled
Wadsworth Greenhouse Control System
2 large exhaust fans
Weed cloth & gravel floor
3 large tables (8ftx42ft each) and side wall bench space (4ftx42) for production
NW corner of greenhouse open for future upright crops or aquaculture
Large evaporating cooling unit
2 – 200,000 BTU heaters, 1,000 gallon propane tank
Complete irrigation system for bench, table, floor, and hanging basket type crop production
Removable shade cloth of 40% light reduction that spans the entire greenhouse

Small Greenhouse (built 2001):
o 12 ft. x 24 ft. (288 sq. ft.)
Small crop management near the house
Shelves along north & south walls and a movable shelf in the center
Electric outlets for heating, windows for cooling
Hose connection from the house for irrigation

o 2007 Craftsman Rear Tine Rototiller
o 2007 Craftsman Riding Mower
o 5x8 enclosed trailer
o 5 boxes of pint size clamshell produce containers (600 per box)
o 1 box of ½ pint size clamshell produce containers (600 per box)
o 4 large coolers
o 4 large 3 ft. x 8 ft. heavy duty tables with collapsible legs
o 9,800 sq. ft. of pre-cut, ready to plant weed fabric
o Hoes, shovels, rakes, pruners, and hand tools

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas in June

Suppress your anger now, folks, because I am going to share a handy idea for de-stressing your NEXT Christmas. Not this one. This post probably won't do you a lick of good for the current holiday season. 

For the sake of this post, let’s assume that you have a group (or several groups) of friends, acquaintances, colleagues, clients, etc. to whom you enjoy giving a token of appreciation every Christmas. Just a little something to say “I like you.”

Yet even if you only spend $5-10 on each aforementioned gift, this amount can quickly add up. Plus, you have to go shopping for those gifts, potentially adding to stress during the holiday season and/or consuming resources that might better be left under a mountain or inside a barrel.

Enter Christmas gifts made in June.

Now I don’t know about you, but when Thanksgiving rolls around, and everything needs to be done in oh-my-God-the-next-thirty-days, I have other things to do besides create home-made presents, which is one of the key ideas that everyone recommends for de-consumerizing, de-stressing, de-stickershocking the holiday season. 

You know what I mean: batches of fudge, loads of home-baked cinnamon bread, jelly jars full of make-your-own food projects (hot chocolate mix, soup, etc.). Yumminess that will, in short order, be augmenting the fat reserves of the gift recipient. I am the lucky friend of several of these enterprising folks, but have never been inclined to do this myself. No, I discovered this particular technique, the topic of this blog post which you are now wishing that I would actually begin discussing, quite by accident.

There was no clever strategizing or thinking ahead involved; just the happy fact that the plums growing in my backyard ripen in June, and they need immediate attention, which means processing. My plums happen to be quite tart and so, the first year that they ripened, I turned the whole harvest (one tree’s worth) into jam, somewhere around four batches of it, yielding around 26 half-pints of plum jam. 

Then, when the holiday season rolled around, I remembered all that jam in my pantry, already conveniently made, ready to give to friends without any additional post-Thanksgiving effort on my part. As it turns out, plum jam happens to hold a special place in the hearts of many Americans.

At least here in Oklahoma, plum jam is closely associated in the minds of a great many people with their sweet sainted Memas or Nannas or Grannys, who used to spread the stuff on fresh-baked biscuits so their darling grandchild could snarf it down while cuddling with Gramma while reading their favorite Pooh book for the seventieth time while receiving cherished toys while getting kisses on their jam-smeared cheeks.

You know… love.

And so, when one gives a jar of plum jam to one’s friend/colleague/client/acquaintance, one might immediately acquire an invisible aura that reads “Someone a bit like my Granna who loved me so much.” The aura might subsequently be addended to read (depending on your jam-making skill): “who makes jam so incredibly delicious that I would fight in the Mad Max Thunderdome for it, if I had appropriate armor and weapons available.”

Ahem. Not saying that’s me.

As I mentioned before, I discovered the Plum Jam Granny Love connection quite by accident, because I had an entire pantry full of plum jam  and a simultaneous need for gifts for wonderful friends, and I only noticed the happy coincidence of the matter after the nineteenth person told me that their Nanny used to make plum jam JUST LIKE this, and by the way, it’s already three-quarters gone, in case you happen to have any more???

So, long story short: whether or not you happen to have plums ripening in your backyard next summer, there is undoubtedly a regional food specialty associated with loving kindness in your area, and, because of the nature of ripening fruit, it will most likely need to be batched up in June, July, or August. 

So if you don’t mind being mentally associated with all the best, most magical and loving memories of your friend’s childhoods, you might consider making your Christmas presents next summer, and save yourself some money, time, and trouble when December rolls around. 

  • If you don’t grow your own fruit, you may need to scavenge the plums/apples/peaches/blackberries from an abandoned orchard (with permission of course), or harvest the fruit at a u-pick operation, or simply buy the stuff from the farmer’s market. The taste and ripeness of the fruit is essential, however, appearance is unimportant: ugly fruit is quite acceptable.
  • Think ahead: ensure you have the proper equipment and supplies before the time comes to make your project, whatever it is - apple pie in a jar, plum jam, preserves. A water bath canner is most likely a necessity, and tools like jar lifters and lid lifters can make the whole process much easier and safer. You could borrow the equipment for the first year, to find if you like the experiment, and then invest in it if you plan to continue the project (or when you simply fall in love with jamming and canning). You will, however, need to purchase the jam jars and new lids for your project.
  • Follow the instructions closely and completely. If you're like me, you like to experiment by adding or omitting ingredients or decreasing the amount of fat and sugar in your nightly meal recipes. That is NOT a safe practice when you are jamming and canning. Use the recommended amount of sugar, even if it seems completely outrageous. Luckily, there is a low-sugar recipe for plum jam that is quite tasty. It's available in the Sure-Jell box.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shelter from the Tornado

I live in Tornado Alley, in Oklahoma City. The suburb located fifteen miles south of our home, Moore, averages a tornado every 2.5 years since 1991. Until recently, I had believed that it was sufficiently prudent to watch the weather carefully during May, have a tornado bag assembled, and be prepared to shelter in the interior of the house, away from windows, covered by a mattress.

Until two years ago, that is, when I heard weatherman Mike Morgan yelling "Get underground! A closet will not keep you safe during this tornado!"  At that point, I grabbed my son and headed down the street to our neighbors, who have an above-ground safe room (a metal box bolted deep into the foundation of the house), and stayed with them until the tornado watch expired.

Mike Morgan's warnings were accurate during the tornado that recently struck Moore, killing and injuring dozens of people and wiping neighborhoods from the map, leaving only foundations and rubble. I'm sure you've already seen images of the destruction - words won't do it justice.

In 2011, my family signed up to have an underground shelter installed in our garage. We had to wait several months, as the companies that install them are typically swamped with orders after significant tornado strikes. Installation and materials cost approximately $3,000 for a four-to-six person shelter; the process was simple and took about four hours.

Here is a simplified description of the process: the two-person team cuts and removes a section of the garage floor concrete, then uses a Ditch Witch to dig a rectangular cuboid about six feet deep. Concrete is poured in the base of the hole, then a metal box is placed inside, and concrete walls several inches thick are poured around the exterior of the metal shelter. The shelter is topped with a rolling metal lid, and is designed to be narrow enough for a car to park over it.  When a tornado weather threatens, I pull my car forward an extra two feet for easy access to the rolling lid.

Our finished tornado shelter includes steps and two benches. I keep an old pillow, bottled water, and a crank-powered LED lantern in the shelter.  Also, a large plastic bottle with lid -- you never know how long you might be stuck down there - possibly for up to a day or longer for rescue workers to find and dig you out.

We have created a GO bag to bring into the tornado shelter with us, and for possible evacuations. The GO bag took about an hour to assemble, plus an hour to create a printout of important information. Our GO bag includes the following:

  • NOAA crank / solar radio-cell phone charger-flashlight
  • Bag of snacks
  • Entertainment items: cards, dice, coloring book and crayons, notepad and pens
  • Gloves (in case we have to dig ourselves out of the shelter)
  • Toiletry items (hotel sample size), bugspray and SPF 30 lotion
  • Change of socks and underwear
  • Bag of camping toilet paper rolls
  • First aid items - bandaids, tweezer
  • Printout of essential insurance and financial information and important phone numbers
  • Tiny fold-up tarp
  • Swiss Army knife
On top of the bag, I have placed a list that reads:
  • Dog
  • Tornado bag
  • Laptop
  • Cell phones
  • Purse / wallet
  • Nook / book
We have also stored some important digital documents and pictures in web storage, so that if we don't have time to grab the laptop, our important documents and our family pictures will still be available.

It has been such a relief to have this shelter for the last two years, during the extreme weather that is common in Oklahoma. Having the shelter allows me to feel confident in reassuring my son that we will be safe even during a major tornado event.  Even if a tornado wipes away our home, we can still survive, underground.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The year of fruit

Although 2012 was a dismal year for my garden, for some reason it was a fabulous year for fruit. The abundant success of our fruit and nut trees, which require much less watering and care than annual vegetables, has rewarded us for the years of faith and patience that it took for the trees to grow large enough to bear fruit. Now that they have, I'm just trying to keep up with them.

My husband and I began planting our micro-orchard in 2006 on a mid-sized lot in an inner suburb in Oklahoma City, not bigger than a third of an acre. We planted three apples, two pears, two peaches, three plums, a persimmon, a fig, and a cherry. Towering above them all is a fifty-year old pecan tree. We pruned and thinned and watered our trees through the drought of the last three years (aside from the cherry, which perished, and the fig, which we are half-heartedly trying to kill). In 2012, we began to witness the amazing amount of fruit that a small orchard in the middle of a city can yield.

It began unexpectedly in May, with our first-ever bounty of plums. These were quite tart, so they were made into jam and given away to our friends in the resilience team we have jokingly dubbed "Plan T."

In June (about four weeks earlier than usual), we had an impressive peach harvest -140 pounds from two semi-dwarf trees. One of our friends was kind enough to help us by trading two hours of thinning in return by a home-cooked sirloin steak dinner. We ended up with peach chips, peach pie filling, peach jam and more fruits to our family and friends.

Around this time, our Plan T friends at Rose Ranch Jones called us to their farm for some free blackberry picking. After some prickly pain and sweat, we froze a lot of blackberries for blackberry pancakes and made some blackberry jam, perhaps my favorite home-made variety yet.

Next, our first-ever harvest of pears and apples. Admittedly, we only got two pears, as the majority dropped off before I realized they were ripe. We did pick 30 pounds of apples, augmented by a trip into Jones, OK, where a member of our Plan T group had a line on some apple trees that the owner did not want to harvest. We dried our share of apples (90+ pounds) into apple chips, which have become a staple of my son's school lunches.

In August and September, some non-perennial fruit: Orangeglo and Ali Baba watermelons and Rich Sweetness 132 mini-melons, from Baker Creek seed.  Maybe about 150 pounds of watermelons were eaten and given away.

Toward the end of 2012, we got our first harvest of persimmons from our Asian-American hybrid, Nikita's Gift. Persimmons seem to take forever to ripen - hanging on the tree until December - although (in my opinion) they are worth the wait, being as sweet as candy with a fun pudding-like texture.

To top off the year, we harvested the first pecans we have had in five years (our last harvest was in 2007). We took most of the crop to be commercially cracked, to reduce the labor in shelling the pecans, reserving a few for my son, who for some masochistic reason, wanted to crack them with the Reed's Rocket by hand. We ended up with over 80 pounds, plenty for snacks, potlucks and salads through the year.

The generosity of the trees in our mini-orchard, and the friends in our resilience team, have reminded me that we need not grow a huge amount of our own food to participate in a thriving local food system - if we have a group of friends who are willing to barter, share, gift and trade. This comes as a relief, as I can't seem to grow a tomato. Instead, my trees can take on the work of growing plums, pears, apples, peaches, persimmons, and pecans, and I can simply harvest and preserve their bounty, saving some for the pleasure of giving away.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Team Kimchi

Fourteen people gathered on Saturday in our kitchen to make kimchi, the Korean dish of cabbage, peppers, ginger and garlic; a smelly, spicy fermented superfood reputed to repel colds, infections and other assorted health downers.

Our group, a Resilience Team that has been together since 2010 under the mantra of "Share~Save~Support," has work-partied together numerous times - picking apples, harvesting pecans, canning peaches, learning how to use a marine battery for backup power, even making sausage - along with sharing seeds, plants and fruits, and showing each other support in a thousand ways. Never, however, have we attempted to make kimchi as a group.

We planned our escapade using Sandor Katz's recipe from wild fermentation, purchasing our ingredients in bulk from the Farmer's Market, and receiving a nice discount in return for ordering in advance. The members of the group assembled at 4 p.m. ready to slice, dice, and drink wine (after numerous large sharp and serrated knives were safely put away).

Controlled chaos ensued, building to a fever pitch as we hauled out a 5-gallon brewing bucket and donned latex gloves to mix the jalapeno-ginger-garlic paste into the napa cabbage-carrot-daikon radish base. By 8:30 p.m., after just a little work, some dice and cards, and a potluck, each participant had several jars of kimchi to take home, with a helping of juniper-berry sauerkraut promised from one family who created a batch while all others were pursuing our kimchi-making dreams.

Today, the distinctive kimchi odor is already in evidence as the fermentation bubbles along on my countertop. We were perhaps a bit too diligent in rinsing the salty brine out of our kimchi, and so as I pushed the veggies back into the brine I also added a bit of salt. The kimchi should be fermented to my taste in about a week.  After that, I'm looking forward to a winter of addictive kimchi taste adventures, as well as many more work parties and other escapades with our team of resilience-pursuing friends.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The most wonderful (gardening) time of the year

Growing a garden during the regular summer season here in Oklahoma can be a slog of uncomfortable heat and drought. 114+ temperatures, weeks without rain...painful. Without our reliable perennial fruit trees, some of us would grow little at all. Many Oklahoma farmers and gardeners have even begun muttering about giving up completely on the summer garden. But the fall season? Now, that's a different story.

Zone 7 gardeners can start a second round of plants in the late summer for a fall crop - selecting warm- or cool-season plants that yield quickly in September and October. Others plant cool-season crops that will survive through the fall, winter, and spring with the simple, cheap, and low-tech protection of a row cover. In Oklahoma City, the first frost is traditionally between Nov. 1 and Nov. 10.  However, along with much earlier springs, we have also recently been enjoying later first frosts, giving plants plenty of time to get established (and giving us plenty of time to plant).

In the cooler fall temperatures, it's more enjoyable to get out in the garden to plant and easier to water, since evaporation levels are lower. In fact, I rarely have to water after the seeds sprout and the plants get established. Plus, weeds and pests are fewer, making fall gardening a cinch for anyone to try - and succeed.

Here is a short list of some plants that enjoy cooler temperatures:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage / Napa Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Swiss Chard
  • Spinach
  • Parsley
  • Turnips
  • Beets

You'll notice that many of these choices are some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables available. Garlic and onions are great immunity-boosters, while all leafy-green vegetables are "super-stars" of nutrition, with high levels of anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals.

My two favorite fall crops are kale and garlic. Garlic is tasty, nutritious, stores well, and is absolutely easy to grow. Home-grown garlic has much juicier cloves than the stuff available at the store. The difference is noticeable. To grow garlic, plant individual unpeeled bulbs in the late fall (here in Oklahoma, I usually plant in early October), water them a few times, and forget about them until the early summer, when you notice that they need to be harvested. Dig them up, let them "cure" for a few days, then tuck them away to use throughout the year. Then, re-plant in the fall.

I also love kale. Kale provides an amazingly long, virtually never-ending harvest of leafy greens. Eating kale is like taking vitamins, but in the form of a whole food with extra nutritious phyto-chemicals and fiber to fill you up. Although the taste of spinach (which is similarly green and nutritious) is milder and more attractive to my family, I have a hard time getting spinach seeds to germinate, even after soaking them overnight.  Kale is easier, in my opinion.

Last fall, as cooler temperatures arrived, I planted kale in two locations - one protected by a simple row cover, one completely un-protected. Both survived the mild winter, even as I repeatedly harvested the leaves. They then put on a heroic burst of growth in the spring, giving me early-season greens until April. The kale I planted in the fall performed much better than the kale I planted in the spring.

This year, I am planting garlic, kale, broccoli, napa cabbage, lettuce, carrots, and swiss chard, and I'll plan to protect everything (except for the garlic and carrots) with row covers as soon as frost approaches - or as soon as I notice any cabbage moths.  About half of  my garden space is currently filled with warm-season crops that are still yielding (okra, watermelons, peppers, basil), but in typical fashion, my tomatoes and squash have already withered to the point that they were useless. So I yanked them to give me space for my fall crops.

After several years of frustration, I had almost given up on growing broccoli. The darn cabbage moths always got them, no matter how much I picked away the little green worms. But this spring, I tried protecting the broccoli plants with row cover, and they actually yielded a nice harvest (despite a small hole which let some moths inside). So, I'm planting broccoli again this fall.

In short, planting in the cool autumn season offers much higher returns than planting in the spring. It's easier, has a longer harvest, yields some of my favorite crops, and takes less water and work. Trouble-free yields for six months? In my opinion, it's completely worth investing a few dollars and a few hours of planting time.