Arkansas rock outcrop is turned into a garden paradise
A Letter from Eric Dunn, a People of One Fire member in Arkansas
Dear Friends in the People of One Fire,
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.
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.
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