By RENEE FITE
A steady climb in food prices is among the reasons more people are trying their hands at sowing seeds and growing their own produce.
Backyard, patio and hobby gardeners are growing vegetables, fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and even adding hives for honeybees. Others are producing extra items to sell.
Some area residents are digging deeper to embrace permaculture, planting so each tree, bush, shrub and flower benefits the next through placement in a garden or farm and ranch setting.
Individuals are considering who grows their food, what pesticides or fungicides might have been used, and how recently it was harvested. The time spent preparing the soil, planting, and watering, plus the cost of seeds, is weighed and compared to shopping and paying for items at the grocery store.
The Cherokee County Food Policy Council is a local networking organization of growers, producers, and anyone interested in any step in the process of food, from farm to table.
The group sponsors speakers for educational and networking events. Last year, Mark Shephard taught about permaculture. An upcoming event, slated for Saturday, Feb. 2, will feature “Seed Saving” with George McLaughlin.
“George McLaughlin is kind of a rock star nationally, and we’re very lucky to have him in Tahlequah,” said Pam Kingfisher, a member of the group. “He’s been a seed saver for over 30 years, and advocates for local food, growing our own food.”
Growers share an enthusiasm for sowing seeds, sharing plants and tips and the joy of gardening.
Shephard is breeding plants, according to CCFPC member Julie Gahn, who is also a grower for Tahlequah Farmers’ Market.
“He’s our pioneer mentor,” said Gahn. “[He’s told us to] plant a thousand seeds; select the trees for the traits we want; cross-pollinate trees that have different traits that we want; then plant those seeds, and select for traits that you want.”
Gahn believes it’s important to repeat the process and not settle on a one-trait line.
“Keep the genetics diverse. I don’t want to breed and mass-produce the one chestnut that causes the problems today’s wheat is causing,” Gahn said.
Her interest in chestnuts centers on sustainability.
“Mark figured out that nutritionally, chestnuts can replace mono-crop corn, and hazelnuts can replace mono-crop soybeans. I’m on the restoration agriculture, perennial polyculture bandwagon,” said Gahn.
For direct seeding, gardeners have to consider protecting their plots from squirrels, gophers, and armadillos that like to dig up the seeds.
“We have many of these critters in our area,” Gahn said. “I will be direct-seeding in a couple months, and I plan to use pieces of poultry netting to surround and cover the seeds, but am always eager to hear of other methods.”
Whether the focus is seeds, sprouts or maturing plants, sufficient watering is crucial to success. Gahn said she wholeheartedly agrees irrigation is a must to establish any type of fruit or nut orchard in Oklahoma.
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