High Plains Homestead - USA
This homestead is located near Lubbock, in the windblown Sandy Plains West Texas. Fifty mile-per-hour sandstorms are common. Oil wells are the dominant feature across a landscape filled with cotton fields. On the morning of the first site visit, it was 28ºF and rose to 81ºF by mid-afternoon. A diurnal temperature range common in winters near Lubbock and the high plains. This brought to mind our first Design Driver #1 – Broad seasonal temperature extremes. Then by 10 AM, the wind had picked up with 20 MPH gusts, a mild day for most of the spring. This breeze frequently exceeded by sustained winds of 50-70 MPH in early summer. Design Driver #2 – Wind Protection.
Loose sandy soils of the high plains whip up to high altitudes and travel long distances. The gritty dust dropped onto every flat surface in our closed rooms. This same sandblasts across the landscape from broken soils; scouring away the thin skin of organic material and unprotected young trees (ref: 50-70 MPH!). Imagine vegetable crops covered with or impregnated with fine grit. Not great for sales or teeth. Design Driver #3 – Blowing Sand.
Elevation: 3642 feet. Slope: Gradual Southern aspect over 400 miles to the gulf coast. It is flat. Over the 160-acre homestead site, the elevation changed less than 2 feet across a ¼ mile. The biggest elevation change is the grass tussocks holding the soil a few inches higher as bare spaces are lifted out by the wind. Limiting Factor (Design Driver #4) – No consistent slope for water catchments or soil water holding capacity.
Large centre pivot irrigated cotton fields and oil/gas wells surround each homestead. Our host’s site is lucky to be centered with a 160-acre buffer to the East, North, and South. Directly west is an expansive cotton field held down by last years stubble. When ploughed it will loosen and unleash tons of silt into the sites long fallowed CRP fields. Over decades the site fields have risen above the adjoining croplands by capturing the wind-eroded soils in the deep grass. Design Driver #5 – Chemical drift, Sand Drift, Windbreaks and Buffer Strips.
Organic material is dried and broken apart by sandy soil conditions. Mostly blown away before it can be utilized or accumulate in the soil. The soil is barren. Design Driver #7 – Surface Mulch and OM to create and hold soil nutrients.
Windbreaks are the obvious priority for this site prior to any other implementations on the land. The final design called for berms and earthen walls to protect the property from the blowing sand. 28-foot earthen walls, 350 feet long were placed on the property line’s windward side. Two additional berms were added to protect the home and access to the property. Each of these created microclimates on the downwind side for collecting moisture and protecting initial tree canopy plantings. Annual garden areas are protected by plastic hoop houses. This is done by using white plastic to reduce the summer sun, but also retain warmth in the winter. Although the average rainfall is between 12 and 15 inches a year; the last 2 summers had seen less than 7 inches annually. Retaining water in the soil would require every mulching and ample organic matter within the root zones. Keeping the soils cool would be the primary strategy to retain the moisture while adjusting the final plant list to more drought-tolerant species.
After a number of days on the property which seem to be in a desolate and intolerant landscape (see Mars), we began to see the beauty of living in solitude on this prairie ocean with a vast 360° view of the horizon. The night sky is filled with stars and galaxies rarely seen by people living in the light of urban areas. Except for the occasional fumes of oil wells and dusty sandstorms, the air is clean and crisp. The loamy sandy soil has great possibilities for production with the addition of compost and mulching. The land has immense hidden potential for those that live on the plains of Texas.
The combinations of these factors require a multilevel strategy.
Creating windbreak microclimates:
1. shade the soil for water retention
2. generate protective mulch
3. increase organic matter needed for soil health
4. provide shelter for transplanted species to establish
5. cover homestead consumables
Climate: High Plains – Desert Grassland
Annual Precipitation: 12 – 15 inches
Function: Homestead resources for
a family of 5
Size: 160 acres