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Arkansas rock outcrop is turned into a garden paradise

Arkansas rock outcrop is turned into a garden paradise


A Letter from Eric Dunn,  a People of One Fire member in Arkansas

Look at this! Eric has created fertile garden soil on solid rock!


Dear Friends in the People of One Fire,

Melon vines

Back in December we moved to a different house so I have had to start over with my terrace gardening. I have a rocky hillside to work with along a 12′ cliff.  

My rock walls for the terrace are fairly ugly since I hastily used the rocks on location to build the terrace and they are not of the right shape to configure an aesthetically pleasing wall.  They are functional for the first year, though. 

This year I planted a variety of watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydew melons and banana melons.  They are all heirloom varieties.  I also planted some heirloom garden berries.  I lastly planted over 100 heirloom tomato plants, pumpkins, amaranth, potatoes & okra.

I stated by constructing the rock wall, then raked I lead litter, then I started digging soil and sifted it through a 1/2″ mesh screen to remove the larger gravel. Though the land appeared to have little topsoil and a lot of sandstone boulders, I found that the sandstone rock was relatively soft and weathered/degraded to the point that I was sifting a lot of really sandy soil.  I think that the sandstone is fractured in a lot of places.  This would explain the 65′ – 70′ tall short leaf pine trees growing out of a really rocky ridge line.  Though I started my seeds early, I got my plants in the ground late since it took me a while to complete the terrace.

The melons are doing great.  We have had a higher than average rainfall starting since late February.  It has not gotten up into the upper 90s here except for the last couple of weeks.  Very pleasant summer here in AR.  The melons, as expected, are outgrowing the terrace and are extending down the cliff face.  It is really interesting to see watermelons setting fruit on the side of the cliff at exactly smaller shelves on the cliff and the melons are perched on these rock shelves.  The largest melons are on the side of the cliff face.  I am curious if the gravitational force is helping to deposit water from the plant into the melons.  Some of the watermelon vines have grown down to the bases of the tomato plants that are in a terrace at the bottom of the cliff.

Tomato plants on steel trellises

The tomatoes are doing really good too.  I continued my practice of taking a 5′ x 20′ cattle fence panel and cutting them into 3′ x 5′ smaller panels.  I use these smaller panels and fasten them into a zig zag patter with t posts.  I was able to fit those 100 tomato plants into a 4′ x 40′ terrace.  As the tomatoes grow I push the tops through the panel openings such that they grow back and forth upwards through the panel squares and I do not have to tie the plants up to support them. They are supported by the panel fence.  The fence also makes a good perch for birds who swoop down to eat the garden pests.  I have had some problems with tomato horn worms.  I do not use poison, so I check daily and pull the horn worms off and kill them.  Some of my tomatoes have reached ~8′ tall as well and are still growing. I did fertilize with organic fertilizer that has lower  nitrogen, higher phosphorus & potassium that will tend to help set larger fruits & not just grow vines. I guess the soil had a sufficient enough decomposed matter to provide the extra nitrogen leading to the tall vine growth. 


If you like cucumbers, they do really good by growing on the fence panel fence.  I did that last year and the cucumbers look great.  They just hang down from the fence panels and no pest eat on them.  Any of the cucumbers that set on the ground were eaten on by slugs and pill bugs.  I have a theory that melons can be grown on a full length fence panel that is bent over to resemble a covered wagon frame.  The vines can grow like it is a trellis and the fruits can hang down underneath to make picking really easy, though larger fruits may need to be supported though.

If you wanted to experiment with a panel lattice, I think that one could be constructed from river cane.  It would take a little work, but really could work well. 

I recently planted some butternut & acorn squash at the bases of my tomatoes.  I want to see how they do. 

I think that I will also start my corn in seed trays like you did this next year as well.  I plan on making more terraces too. 

Along with the garden plants, I got some tree seedlings.  I bought some native plum, Paw Paws, Douglas Fir, Coastal Redwoods & Sierra Redwoods.  I put them all in 3 gallons HDPE pots.  My father-in-law had a tree nursery in NE AR and he is in the process of selling out his business and he has been bringing me all kinds of nursery items like those HDPE pots, rolls of irrigation line, irrigation controllers, sprinklers, grafting knives and a bunch more stuff.  It’s like some sort of boundless Christmas every time he comes down to visit.

The plums, Paw Paws & coastal Redwoods are doing the best.  The coastal Redwoods have grown ~ 2′ since being transplanted from bare root in late January.  It is staggering how fast they grow.  No wonder that they are the fasting growing tree on the planet.  I look forward to planting these trees in the ground in November.



Eric Dunn



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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    our people (Cahaba Creeks) use hog wire (welded wire) cut(bolt cutters!) & rolled over, connected to self to make cylinders 2 feet diameter & 5-6 feet tall. small holes at bottom. plant matties , 3 in each one. then in a week or so straw/hay from the bales of winter insulation from in poultry house. the straw holds moisture, suffocates weed seeds & fertilizes. the vines can be “woven” in & out as needed. that is the only support they will need. & matties reached thru larger holes. works well with cucumbers, small squash. We use those silly wire cones only for climbing beans. too weak for most else. the panels are good but move work to move around. the cages are moved/rotated every year to different parts of garden. extra straw, pulled weeds(tho most are tossed to poultry) & feed sacks go on top of paths or old canvas, carpet scraps or junk plastic sheeting. Wood chips are pretty, but we use them in woodburning stoves, & they let weeds sprout more than straw.


    Eric certainly got some work done there. It sounds a bit like the landscape here in Crete. But the strong winds and intense heat in the summer months burns the plants. I have to spray the leaves as well as water all plants which does help a little. Nice work Eric.

    • So the photos of the beautiful flowers around patios and terraces in Crete must be from the cooler months of the year.


        Mostly yes Richard, However, if plants have some shelter from the sun and wind they will survive, but that is mostly on balconies or where there are trees. Of course the irrigation system is a god send.


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