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.