More than Just a Garden: An Introduction to Geek-Levels of Garden Planning

Garden Sketch Design

(photo courtesy: Andreas Krappweis)

The Kinky Hose Garden Project wants to let you in on a little secret. This is more than just about planting a garden. It is actually about changing the landscape. It is more about increasing family flexibility and health, about resource conservation, and about efficient and effective use of the environment. It is all about tapping into the physical, philosophical, and social aspects integral to a truly sustainable system. To do so, we need to create more than “just a garden.” Yes, that is part of Phase I, but it is only a part of the overall vision. But we cannot jump into such a project without a plan. This is a lot to take in, considering, as we have stated before, that we can kill plastic plants. What follows is our Kinky Hose Garden Project Site Plan. Within it, you will find the resources and the data we used to formulate a more or less comprehensive plan to accomplish the stated goals.

But first, a brief disclaimer: Some of the following is approaching GEEK-levels of planning, so we ask you to bear with us. This information may seem like quite a lot to capture, maybe even overkill, but we have already proven some of it useful. The more knowledge we have about the environment affecting the site, the better we can plan. The better the plan, the less stress we encounter. Keep in mind that we intend this to be a living document. That is, we may update the information from time to time. We at least intend to revisit the plan every 6 months or so. We hope you find some of this helpful if not merely interesting. The information herein is for our geographic location. We include sources, in case you wish to find similar information for your own plan. Or… you can simply shake your head at us in stunned silence at our nerdiness. We don’t mind.

What is a Site Plan?

A Site Plan is a drawing depicting the site of a proposed or existing project. Some key elements of a Site Plan are property dimensions and boundaries, access, animals, topography, underground utilities, vegetation, existing structures, easements, and even proposed landscaping or projects. Our Site Plan includes other information as well, including goals of the project, climate considerations, geological information, and zone analysis. Most communities require a site plan before any development, so why not in gardening? In permaculture circles, a site plan is essential to create a prescribed, efficient, well-thought-out end result. Winston Churchill said, “Let our advanced worrying become advanced thinking and planning.” Without a plan, we’re doomed to rely on luck amidst a jungle of doubt.

Phase 1 of the plan is all about the garden, but subsequent phases will include landscaping, rainwater catchment, and an overall reduction of lawn in a aesthetic, self-sustaining manner. To accomplish this, we have employed a few tools used in permaculture circles.

What the Heck is Permaculture?

Okay. What is this Permaculture think we keep talking about? Deep Green Permaculture defines permaculture as : “a holistic design system that emulates systems that exist in Nature to create sustainable human settlements and food production systems which integrate harmoniously with the natural environment.” Think permanent agriculture or permanent culture. Note that the Kinky Hose Garden Project is a fledgling permaculture project in need of refinement and growth (if you pardon the awkward pun), but we employ some of its principles to help us because efficient use of our environment to exist in harmony with (as opposed to fighting against) nature is a smarter way to garden and live. That, and it is fun to say things like “holistic design.”

And so, without further ado, we give you the Kinky Hose Garden Project Site Plan.

The Plan

We created this Site Plan with the help of Robert Warne, good friend, permaculture nut, and overall garden guru. To accomplish the site plan, we consulted a few different sources. We set out to monitor the amount of sun on different areas of the lawn, document average rainfall, map out the property, and capture a few goals. The following information, plus a little more, is located in this PDF document.

The Purpose

We began the Kinky Hose Garden Project to increase family resiliency, resource conservation, recycling, reuse, and comfort. We also set out to prove that people who cannot keep anything alive can learn to grow a garden and more.

The Goals

  • Introduction to gardening
  • Improve property aesthetics (view into private green oasis)
  • Transition away from lawn maintenance
  • Reuse waste in the form of compost
  • Transition time previously spent on lawn care to productive maintenance of beneficial plantings.
  • Learn to produce own food
  • Teach children to be responsible for the family diet
  • Preserve soil

Eventual, future goals include:

  • Shade the house in summer (south and west side)
  • Increase property value
  • Develop rainwater collection system
  • Achieve aesthetic landscape design
  • Build a worm farm

Site Analysis

Our site is situated in the town of Perkins in the southern part of Payne county Oklahoma at an elevation of approximately 896 ft (273 m). The home is located in a 15-year-old subdivision built on what was formerly agricultural land. The home was build in 2007. The property was worked as farmland since the mid 1890s primarily in wheat, peanuts, cotton, and hay production, and pasture.

Development groundwork involved grading and backfill to prepare for home site slab foundations resulting in significant disturbance of the soil profile. After construction, lots were laid with Bermuda grass sod. It does not appear that the developer made any landscape tree plantings nor have many of the current home owners.

Source: “Payne County Oklahoma incorporated and unincorporated areas Perkins highlighted” by Rcsprinter123 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Base Site Map

The site under design includes a 1431 square foot, single story home on a 0.19 acre (8100 sq ft) lot. The back yard features a small, stained patio centered on the back of the home with a utility shed in the southwest corner. The back and side yards are enclosed by a 6 ft tall wooden privacy fence. The fence has one gated entry located on the north-eastern fence on the north side of the house.

The back and side yards are Bermuda grass lawn. The front yard is primarily Bermuda grass lawn with a small, partially-shaded garden/landscaped space near the front door. There is one redbud sapling on the property in the back yard.

Buried phone and cable/Internet utilities run east-to-west on the north end of the property. The buried electric utilities come off the property to run westward, but do so in the property to the north of the site under design. City water utilities run north-to-south along the eastern edge of the property. Utility location to the house is unknown, as the utilities were never properly marked with locator wire. Click the images below to view the basic site plan map and utilities map.

Perkins-Site-Plan-BASIC 
Basic Site Plan (Click to enlarge)

Perkins-Site-Plan_UTILITIES
Site Plan with Utilities (Click to enlarge)

Climate

This site is situated in the southern part of Oklahoma’s Payne County, which is located in the north central part of the state. This region’s climate represents a transition zone between the continental climate of the Great Plains, the arid southwest, and the temperate humid subtropical climate of the southeastern region of the United States. This convergence of such varied climatic zones results in significant seasonal and annual weather fluctuations and periodic extreme weather events.

During the spring and fall, the climate is heavily influenced by prevailing south and southeasterly winds carrying warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico bringing the majority of the areas precipitation. Summers are long and influenced by hot, dry air from the west. Winters are moderate with infrequent periods of extreme cold rarely lasting more than a few days. Frozen soil occurs infrequently, is brief in duration, and very limited in depth.

Perkins is in the transition region between USDA hardiness zone 6b and 7a: -5°F to 5°F. The region is classified as Koppen climate zone CFa, Humid Subtropical.

Climate Analogs:

  • Southeastern United States north of Florida from North Carolina to central Texas and western Oklahoma
  • Southeastern South America
  • Eastern shore of the Black Sea
  • Coastal southeastern South Africa
  • Northern India through southern China to southern Japan
  • Eastern Australian inland coast

Thunderstorms occur, on average, 50 days per year, often bringing damaging winds, hail, and a deluge of rain. Perkins-area historical tornado activity is slightly above the Oklahoma state average. Perkins is 223% greater than the overall U.S. average.

Source: http://www.city-data.com/city/Perkins-Oklahoma.html#ixzz3WqGdBuJG

Temperature Data

The average daily temperature at this site ranges from 37.6 °F in January to 82 °F in July with frequently significant swings between daytime highs and nighttime lows. Temperatures in excess of 90 °F occur, on average, 80 to 95 days per year. Temperatures exceeding 100 °F occur, on average, 10 to 20 times per year.

The average frost free growing season for this site is 200 days. In nine out ten years this site is frost free from April 15 through October 4. On average, the risk of frost is from October 22 through April 5.

Due to the site’s generally moderate winter temperatures row covers, cold frames, and green houses offer opportunities to extend the growing season.

1
(Click to enlarge)

Source: Oklahoma Climatologically Survey

Precipitation

The peak amount of precipitation in this region occurs during the late spring and early autumn months. On average, May brings more precipitation than any other month with a significant secondary maximum of precipitation occurring in September.

Much of the springtime precipitation is the result of intense rainfall originating from super-cell thunderstorm activity. On the average, more precipitation falls during the nighttime hours, while greatest rainfall intensities occur during late afternoon. The region can also be impacted by residual tropical disturbances coming out of the Gulf of Mexico resulting in significant hourly rainfall rates.

Total annual precipitation in this region can be quite variable from year to year. Annual or even multiyear droughts are not uncommon, with years of exceptional precipitation contributing to maintain the statistical annual average. Summer droughts occur with regularity and during non-drought years, summer precipitation is generally concentrated in brief but intense rain events.

5-7-2015 12-30-25 PM
(Click to enlarge)

Source: Oklahoma Climatologically Survey

Humidity

Daily average humidity remains fairly constant throughout the year but due to high summer temperatures June through September experience significant vapor deficit. Unlike relative humidity, vapor pressure deficit has a simple nearly straight-line relationship to the rate of transpiration and other measures of evaporation. The higher the vapor deficit value the higher the rate of transpiration and evaporation.

5-7-2015 12-30-41 PM
(Click to enlarge)

Source: Oklahoma Climatologically Survey

Sector Analysis

These energies include:

  • Hot summer winds wind rose for each month
  • Cold winter winds
  • Winter and summer sun angles
  • Salty or damaging winds
  • Water flow and flood prone areas
  • Wanted/unwanted views
  • Fire danger areas

The following chart shows the number of hours in a day that the site receives sunlight. The Roman numerals along the bottom represent the month. The vertical numbers along the right represent the hours (on a 24-hour scale). The vertical wavy line around the April mark is the day I captured this data.

5-7-2015 12-30-57 PM
(Click to enlarge)

Source: Giasma.com

If you intend to grow anything, you must understand what parts of your yard receive full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight), which parts receive partial sun (3-6 hours of direct sunlight), and which receive full shade (less than 3 hours of direct sunlight). This next chart provides the sun path for this area. This may look daunting, but it is actually pretty useful. The degrees on the globe depict the height of the sun in the sky. The yellow area is the possible location of the sun in a given day. The green boundary (top line) marks the Summer Solstice in 2015. The blue line (bottom) marks the Winter Solstice (although I believe it is supposed to actually be the 22nd). The various dots plotted mark the time of day (in 24-hour time). The orange line marks the day I captured this data. With this chart, you can estimate the position in the sky relative to N,S,E,W and degrees.

5-7-2015 12-31-14 PM
(Click to enlarge)

Source: Giasma.com

Of course, this is all academic. To really understand where the full sun and partial shade/sun hits your yard, you need to observe it. Then you need to map it. Here is the site map with the sunlight added.

Perkins-Site-Plan_SUNLIGHT
Site Plan with Sunlight Map (Click to enlarge)

Soil Analysis

Teller fine sandy loam is a well-drained loamy soil formed in old alluvial sediment under prairie vegetation or oak savannah. The soil is well drained; runoff is negligible on 0 to 1 percent slopes, low on 1 to 5 percent slopes, and medium on 5 to 8 percent slopes; moderate permeability. (Source: USDA Soil Survey of Payne County Oklahoma)

Our own soil analysis will determine the following for the back yard. Be aware that this has not yet been accomplished. We are a sad little garden project. Sorry. We realize this is very disappointing. It is our first year. We promise to do better next time. Ideally, you would do this before planting. We did not do this, and are hoping for the best. The Roman philosopher, Seneca, said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I like to live by this principle, but in this case, we’re not as prepared as we would like to be. So do as we say, not as we do.

Below are placeholders for our soil sample. We will update this post soon with meaningful numbers. Why do this in the first place? Soil is made up of minerals, organic materials, air, and water. Soil is what provides the nutrients to the plants and is critical to plant or lawn growth. For ideal growth, soil needs the proper pH level. A soil test determines whether your soil is neutral, alkaline or acidic so you can adjust the soil to the appropriate pH level for what you want to grow. Most plants prefer nearly neutral soil with a pH between 6.2 and 7.2.

The other day, I was visiting my good friend, Bob. Now, Bob has been gardening for years. I have dirt with some organic material in it. It isn’t bad dirt. It is somewhat clay, but also not bad. You can smell the fertilizer in it when you take a nice, deep whiff. Bob, however, has soil. Nice, dark, organic soil. I have dirt. Dark-brown dirt. In a year’s time, I hope to have soil like Bob’s. There are ways to make this happen, and we will discuss this in another post.

Lawn:

Nitrogen: TBD

pH: TBD

Organic Material: TBD

Garden:

Nitrogen: TBD

pH: TBD

Organic Material: TBD

Zone Analysis

The design principle of Zones is concerned with efficient energy planning. In other words, Zone planning takes into account the placement of elements in the design, such as trees, plants, and structures, to make to most efficient use of energy. Zones are defined by frequency of access, motivated by both desire and necessity.

Perkins-Site-Plan_ZONES
Site Plan with Zone Analysis (Click to enlarge)

Zone One in the design includes: (every day)

  • Back patio
  • Main crop and herb garden

Zone Two in the design includes: (3-4 times a week)

  • Fruit trees
  • Fruit vines
  • Berry bushes and canes
  • Compost Bins
  • Utility shed
  • Back Lawn (convert to zone three over time)
  • Front Lawn

Zone Three in the design includes: (As needed)

  • Rainwater harvesting tanks
  • Native Xeriscaped plantings

Zones four (pasture) and five (wildland) are not present in this suburban design.

We hope you enjoy your garden, whether your plans expand beyond just a garden or not. We hope you employ some of these techniques to help you understand your growing area and your site. The Internet is filled with resources on permaculture, landscape design, and gardening. We are merely showing you what we did. Happy gardening!

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