An absolute "must-do" hobby for me to regularly reduce stress and exercise muscles most people don't realize they have is backyard gardening. But I didn't think backyard gardening could be a reality where I now live in Northwest Oklahoma. I live in the old Dust Bowl of the 1930's and the weather is inconsistent and unpredictable -- it's considered a semi-arid climate so we don't get much rain, it can be terribly hot in the summers withering a lot of sensitive plants, in the spring we can get late killing frosts, in the autumn we can get early killing frosts, and the few storms we get can be severe in terms of hail and winds (both straight winds and circulating tornadic systems). When we do have enough precipitation in the spring where seeds germinate, the plants don't want to grow very well (even plants I never had problems growing elsewhere like flowers and cactus).

So I took a cue from Israel's success making the desert flourish by using low-water-use irrigation in my vegetable garden -- and the results have been amazing!  My favorite thing to do is bury textured "leaky" drip hoses at the root level of most of my plants, which seems to work the best for everything (except it is kind of "if-fy" for bushy plants like yellow wax beans, lima beans, and chick peas [alas and alack!   No homemade hummus this year!]). This way there is minimal evaporation and the moisture only goes where it is needed. Plus, I'm not watering the areas between the vegetable rows, so the weeds don't grow as well and they stay better in-check.

When I first started using the "leaky" drip hoses compared to the conventional oscillating sprinklers, my monthly water bill dropped $20 a month because the amount of water used in the yard was dramatically decreased. I went from a small garden where I might get enough vegetables to supplement 1 to 2 meals a week to having so much produce that I needed to get a chest-style "deep freezer" and I had to learn how to preserve and can foods. I couldn't find enough people to take all the surplus off my hands!

My cousins who farm in America's Deep South absolutely loved my pictures of the 9-foot tall okra plants (i.e., a little less than 3 metres tall) that resulted during that first year using drip irrigation!  My cousins were especially excited because the variety of okra seeds I used were developed at their alma mater, Clemson University in South Carolina.  (They said the plants were proof that all the tuition moneys that they paid over the years for themselves and then their kids actually accomplished something!)  Normally, okra plants for this variety of seed only grow 4 to 5 feet tall, so we are thinking the unusually tall plants resulted from the combination of abundant watering from the drip irrigation coupled with the scorching hot summers that we still get in the old Dust Bowl.  (Okra tends to love growing in hot, moist climates like the Deep South.)

Last year, I was talked into entering the county fair (which I was really reluctant to do) by people at the local Chamber of Commerce.  They said, "If you just enter the vegetables that you pick on a regular basis and some of your canned goods [meaning pickles, jams, sauces, fruits, and vegetables], it would make our little fair a whole lot better!"  I've been to large State Fairs in Illinois, Florida, as well as in Oklahoma, and I could have told anybody that my stuff wasn't high enough quality to enter into these fairs.  But much to my surprise, I entered a little of everything I had on hand and won 32 blue (i.e., first place) ribbons!  When I told my mother who lives in South Carolina how well I did, she asked, "Is it possible to live someplace where you can win 32 blue ribbons at the county fair?"  I replied, "Well, I guess it must be!"

I don't know if one person winning 32 blue ribbons was a record for this little county fair, but it created a local sensation!  People kept asking me, "How do you grow such beautiful vegetables?", and "How do you get such a variety of vegetables to grow?"  I replied, "I use exported Israeli irrigation techniques!"  More often than not, people looked a little uncomfortable and repelled at the mention of Israel.  But a lot of sincere Evangelical Christians were very supportive and excited at the idea.  These nice folks said, "Good for you!  Support our friends in Israel!"

This past year, a lot of these supportive people and teens at the local high school started using drip irrigation in their yards and gardens.  The students started doing it because we only live one block from the high school; the Vocational-Agricultural students then would look out from their classroom window and they saw what a big difference low-water-use irrigation has made in my garden.  This year, I would say the participation of local people at the fair increased at 10 times compared to what it was several years ago, and probably 5 times more than last year.  A lot of people entering vegetables in the fair said it was possible to do so because they followed my advice.

People seemed a lot more open to talking at the fair about Israel's drip irrigation techniques than the previous year.  That might not seem very much, but I thought it was an enormous gain for positively promoting Israel, Jewish ingenuity, as well as religious concepts of Judaism in my region.  This may be hard to believe with a lot of anti-semitism occurring elsewhere, but many church-attending Christians actually want to learn basics in Jewish beliefs and the Hebrew language because they realize it helps them understand the true roots of Christianity.  (But I'm not going to mislead anybody by painting the entire community as being completely supportive of Jews.)  As a result, a lot of Evangelicals say that the Bible comes alive for them and they say they find they love Israel and the Jewish people more.  They actually"get" why a Jewish homeland needs to exist, and why Diaspora Jews wish to return to this miraculous homeland!  

You can't argue with successes like that!  That's even bigger, better news than the 9-foot tall okra plants and the 32 blue ribbons at the county fair!

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