Cherokee Lowlands

Cherokee Lowlands
Big Brutus, the world’s largest electric coal shovel, is located near West Mineral in Cherokee County, Kansas.

The Cherokee Lowlands occupy roughly 1,000 square miles in parts of Bourbon, Crawford, Cherokee, and Labette counties in the southeastern part of the state. Overall, the region is one of mostly level plains, although a few hills rise up here and there. These plains are cut by narrow valleys and by ditches left over from mining days.



Strip mining has taken a devastating toll on soil fertility throughout the region. Eroded, poorly drained hardpan forms the uplands. However, the valleys still contain some undamaged soil, which is relatively deep and fertile.



Oak and hickory trees grow on the slopes and in the stream valleys, and tallgrass prairie covers the uplands. Mining areas are slowly being reclaimed by native vegetation. Efforts have been made to plant trees and grasses near the old strip mines in order to repair the damage.



The Cherokee Lowlands benefit from streams and an abundance of annual precipitation. Furthermore, the ditches left over from the strip mines also provide a source of water. Many of them are now stocked with fish.



Although the average annual precipitation is over 40 inches, rain arrives on a seasonal basis. The summers can be extremely dry.



Until recently, the Cherokee Lowlands were considered useless. Good cropland and pastures, however, can be found in the reclaimed strip mines and in the more fertile areas where mining was never practiced.

Cherokee Lowlands
© 2013 Homestead on the Range

Also of Interest

Strip mining had a profound impact on the region, removing the natural vegetation and changing the landscape, especially along the Kansas–Missouri state line. Coal, zinc, clay, and limestone were abundant for a time, but by the 1930s mining was typically no longer profitable. Only coal is still mined in the Cherokee Lowlands.

Now that the strip mining days have passed, the land is slowly healing. Agriculture is gradually creeping into the region. For now, it is difficult to generalize about the prevailing conditions in the Cherokee Lowlands. Their story is not yet complete.


Helpful Resource

Strip Mining
A photo of strip mining in progress in Crawford County.


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Why Direct Market?

Why Direct Market?When it comes to selling produce and livestock that we have raised ourselves, we have two main options:

  1. Market products directly to our customers.
  2. Sell products through conventional commodity channels.

One of the problems with the latter route is that commodity markets do not lend themselves to fulfilling producers’ unique purposes.

If we decide to sell our crops or our livestock as commodities, we will have to stick pretty closely to market standards.  Unfortunately, market standards tend to be antagonistic to innovation.  We’ll have to produce the same thing everyone else is producing whether it makes sense to us or not.  And what if we disagree with conventional practices or have a different set of goals?  The commodity markets can’t make allowance for that.  We have to fit in or pay the price.

Furthermore, market instability and soaring costs make it difficult for small-scale producers to survive in the commodity world today.  The current maxim is, “Get bigger or get out.”  Those who survive in the long run are usually the ones following that advice.  Most producers are keeping their costs down by spreading them out across huge acreages and large numbers of livestock.  So how does a beginner with only a modest bank account start out big enough to survive?  Usually debt—and lots of it.

To a certain extent, direct marketing gives us the freedom to create a product we are satisfied with and then share it with customers we feel comfortable working with.  We can go in any direction necessary to fulfill our unique purpose.  We can directly serve those we were put here to serve.

Even if a constant stream of customers coming to our home doesn’t sound appealing, we can still direct market.  There are no rules that say everyone has to have an on-farm store or set up shop at a farmers’ market.  Our creativity is really the only limit here.  For example, some direct marketers have successfully used self-serve roadside stands.  Don’t overlook the Internet, either.  Even grassfed meat can be shipped across the country with a little know-how.

Yes, commodity markets do have their place.  If nothing else, they can be a convenient way to salvage a product that doesn’t meet our direct marketing standards.  In general, however, most of us will probably find that the benefits of direct marketing far outweigh the extra work involved.

Getting Started: Part 3—Persevere

Getting Started: Part 3—PersevereCountry living is exciting.  Every day is a new adventure.  The opportunities to learn and challenge yourself never end.  Freedom, family life, peace and quiet—aren’t these things we all crave?

However, forewarned is forearmed, so here it comes:

Sooner or later you are going to become tired of the whole thing.  You will feel overwhelmed, overburdened, and burned out.

You may or may not be able to believe it right now while you are still running on adrenaline.  However, you are guaranteed to feel discouraged eventually, and it could be because of any number of things.

It could be:

  • The wearing battle with pests and predators.
  • A catastrophic weather event.
  • The inevitable learning curve.
  • Long hours with little reward.
  • A tough struggle to break even.
  • Slow sales at the farm store.
  • Criticism from city-dwelling friends.
  • Murphy’s Law in action.
  • A touch of boredom for no apparent reason at all.


A Word of Encouragement

Whatever form it takes, discouragement is bound to come, so prepare yourself.  God has given you a purpose to fulfill.  Fulfill it!  Let nothing stop you from pursuing the mission you have been assigned.  Do not look to the left hand or to the right, but straight ahead at the path laid out for you.  Make a commitment right now not to throw in the towel, however tempting it may seem.  You do not stand alone.

And to those of you who have already reached the dry spell, take heart!  It will pass.  Again, remember that you are not struggling on alone.  There’s no telling what miracles can be brought to pass through hardship.  The only way to find out is to carry on.


Dealing With the Dry Spell


  • Take some time to remember why you wanted to live the country way in the first place.
  • Re-read an inspiring book.
  • Count your blessings.
  • Pray for the strength to go on.
  • Talk things over with someone close to you.
  • Research your particular problem and come up with a plan of attack.
  • Take a little time off.
  • Revisit your vision.

This list of suggestions could go on.  Only you know what will work in your particular case.  The point is to regroup so that you’re ready to carry on with renewed courage.


Carry On

Country living is not easy.  Disasters will happen, and it seems to be a maxim of life that everyone must grapple with burnout sooner or later.  But if you are going to fulfill your unique purpose, you must carry on anyway.  You can’t quit when the adrenaline runs out.  You must discipline yourself to work through it.

Only those who persevere will realize their vision.


Next Week: Part 4 – Focus


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Free eBook: Growing Corn Successfully

Growing Corn SuccessfullyHere’s some old-time wisdom we can benefit from today!

Growing Corn Successfully: A Treatise on Corn Culture From Plowing and Planting to Harvesting and Marketing by E. S. Teagarden was originally published in 1895 as a protest against a problem all too prevalent in the author’s time—farmers were trying to grow more corn than they could properly manage.  As quantity increased, quality suffered.  Sound familiar?

While this brief work starts as a guide to raising field corn from start to finish, as the subtitle claims, most of the book expounds on Teagarden’s basic philosophy:

Do well whatever is attempted and best results will always follow, whether it is growing corn for the general crop, or for seed, or any other work to be done on the farm, whether in connection with growing crops or raising stock, or in any other of the many departments of farm work.

Teagarden believed that by working on sound business principles farmers could increase their yields and avoid problems like soil depletion.  Accordingly, the methods of seed selection, plowing, cultivation, and even using corn for fodder are explained from the point of view of one who broke with the conventions of his day and made quality his aim.  Throughout the book we find a philosophy we would do well to heed: it is better to do a little well than to do much poorly.

Growing Corn Successfully is a must for those who plan to raise corn, but we all can benefit from Teagarden’s thoughts on quality of work as well.

This book is in the public domain and available for free download.

Chautauqua Hills

Chautauqua HillsThe Chautauqua Hills run in a narrow band (ten miles wide at most) from the Kansas–Oklahoma line up to about Yates Center. Rolling uplands mark the region, and the Verdigris, Fall, and Elk rivers flow at the bottoms of the slopes.



A thin layer of dry, sandy soil covers shale and sandstone across most of the Chautauqua Hills region. Throughout the uplands, rock outcroppings jut from the sides of many of the slopes.



The river valleys historically harbored a thick growth of oak trees, although cedars have invaded more recently. A mixed tallgrass prairie occupies the higher ground. This combination of woodland and prairie is known as the Cross Timbers.



Although the soils are dry, the Chautauqua Hills still have the rainfall and streams necessary to support both woodlands and wildlife.



As with the rest of Kansas, temperatures in the Chautauqua Hills swing with the seasons, ranging from a mean maximum of about 91°F in the summer to a mean minimum of about 44°F in the winter. The region receives over 35 inches of rain annually.

Chautauqua Hills
© 2013 Homestead on the Range


The thin, rocky soils of the Chautauqua Hills are not ideal for raising crops. Most of the land in this region is used to pasture livestock, particularly in the less wooded areas.


Also of Interest

Although the Chautauqua Hills are very similar in appearance to the Flint Hills, there are differences between the two regions. The Chautauqua Hills have sandy instead of clayey soil, and Cross Timbers instead of tallgrass prairie. Topography is another difference. The Flint Hills have more relief and are higher in elevation than the Chautauqua Hills. As far as agricultural purposes are concerned, however, the two regions are fairly similar—grazing is the focus.


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Pros and Cons of Soaker Hoses

Pros and Cons of Soaker HosesCareful stewardship of your water resources is a good policy whether you live in the semi-arid High Plains or along the rivers of eastern Kansas, but balancing conservation with effectiveness can be challenging in the garden. All those rows and beds! What is the most efficient way to water them without eroding your carefully improved soil or wasting a drop of one of your most valuable resources?

In an effort to solve this problem, some of you may be investigating soaker hoses. Experts usually agree that these hoses can cut down on the amount of water wasted in the garden. The question is, are they worth your money or not? The answer will vary from garden to garden. Weigh some of these pros and cons:



  • Water conservation. A good soaker hose reduces water waste by delivering the moisture right to the roots of your fruits and vegetables. Combine the hose with a thick layer of mulch around the plants, and very little water will evaporate from your garden.
  • Soil conservation. A soaker hose in good condition disturbs the soil very little, and therefore will not wash away soil, seeds, or seedlings.
  • Time conservation. Turning on a soaker hose is much quicker and easier than watering by hand. While the hose drips away, you can bring in the harvest.



  • Short lifespan. Soaker hoses tend to deteriorate quickly. As they age, their pores fill up with sediment and lose their ability to seep water. Furthermore, soaker hoses are very fragile. Crimping or stepping on a hose almost guarantees a leak, and this problem will only worsen with age. Always be careful when working around a soaker hose; it is very easy to slice one in half with a hoe.
  • Limited coverage. The primary advantage of soaker hoses—water conservation—can also be a disadvantage if your plants are not growing in conventional rows. Remember, soaker hoses can only deliver water to the ground directly beneath them. Your garden layout is a key consideration in the soaker hose question.
  • Low output. Kansas summers can be hot and dry, causing water to evaporate rapidly from both leaves and soil. During some parts of the summer, soaker hoses may not be able to deliver enough water fast enough to satisfy the needs of thirsty plants. Furthermore, a soaker hose will encourage a plant to grow roots near the surface of the soil. Once the top layer of soil dries up, the plant will wilt quickly because it does not have a deep root system to probe for more moisture.



In the end, you are the only one who can determine whether or not the benefits of soaker hoses will outweigh the shortcomings. If you are in a drought, on a tight budget, or have planted your fruits and vegetables in patches rather than rows, you may need to look for a better way to water your garden. On the other hand, if you only plant in rows and are willing to make repairs as necessary, you may find that soaker hoses are the best tool to help steward your water resources when conditions are favorable. Perhaps you will find that a combination of watering methods is the solution to your gardening challenges.

Weigh the pros and cons carefully, and do what makes the most sense for your unique circumstances.

Getting Started: Part 2—Think For Yourself

Getting Started: Part 2—Think For YourselfIt can be very tempting to align ourselves with an ideology or movement, can’t it?  Usually we’re attracted to a particular way of thinking because there’s something in it that speaks to our deepest beliefs and values, or because it just makes too much sense.

There’s nothing at all wrong with taking an interest in the different ideas and philosophies out there.  The difficulty only arises when we adhere to one man-made (read, “imperfect”) ideology to the exclusion of all others.

When God created us, He gave each one of us a unique purpose to fulfill.  The purpose for one person is not quite like the purpose He established for any other person, just as you and I are not quite like anyone else.  We will be hard-pressed to fulfill the roles He had in mind for us if we adopt someone else’s mission and values.  Once we tie ourselves to an ideological bandwagon, how can we be sure that it’s going to go in the same direction that we were designed to go?

Compare this somewhat over-zealous adherence to ideologies and movements with the situation in the early Corinthian church as described in 1 Corinthians 3.  Basically, the Corinthians were parading about in bandwagons labeled “Followers of Paul,” “Followers of Apollos,” “Followers of Cephas,” etc.  Far from being flattered by the loyalty of his adherents, Paul condemned their folly and recommended a new perspective:

So then let no one boast in men.  For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you.

—1 Corinthians 3:21–22

How freeing!  All things are ours.  Not just the things pertaining to any particular philosophy, whether it’s about financial independence, environmental sustainability, or just simple living.  All things!

With such a wide sphere in which to move, why not make use of it?  Let’s:

  • Make ourselves familiar with as many of the hows and whys of country living as we can.
  • Scrutinize the validity, usefulness, and suitability of each different opinion to our own situations.
  • Compare each new idea with our convictions to see what fits and what doesn’t.
  • Adopt the best, and only the best, from each philosophy.

In the end, we each will have pieced together the information we need to carry out our own unique purpose.


Next week: Part 3 – Persevere


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Free eBook: Beans as a Field Crop in Kansas

Beans as a Field Crop in KansasHere’s a book that can help you grow something a little different in your field or food plot: Beans as a Field Crop in Kansas, issued by the Kansas State Horticultural Society in 1918.

This brief publication starts with a look at the history and benefits of bean-raising in Kansas.  Then follows a guide to growing pinto beans, beginning with the preparation of the soil and continuing all the way through the harvest.  Other subjects examined include pests, crop rotations, and the uses of bean straw.

The rest of the book consists of testimonials from all over the state, but do not skip over this part.  There are some useful nuggets of advice to be mined here.

Short and sweet, Beans as a Field Crop in Kansas is in the public domain and available for free download.

Arkansas River Lowlands

Arkansas River LowlandsThe Arkansas River Lowlands, an area of flat floodplains, cut through the High Plains and into south-central Kansas. While most of the region corresponds to the river’s course from Hamilton County to Cowley County, it also encompasses an area of irregular grass-capped sand dunes stretching south of the Arkansas River.



The soil mostly consists of sand, silt, and gravel deposited by the Arkansas River on its way down from the Rockies. Sand, however, predominates; digging it up has become an important industry in this region.



Arkansas River Lowlands
Little bluestem

Most of the Arkansas River Lowlands are covered by sandsage prairie vegetation. Species include sand sagebrush, sand bluestem, little bluestem, and prairie sandreed.



Water has long been a major concern in the Arkansas River Lowlands. Irrigation and evaporation pull more water out of the river than the low levels of precipitation can replace. Much of the Arkansas River is dry throughout part of the year, sometimes long enough that crops have been grown in the river bed.



As one travels through the region from east to west, the climate grows progressively drier, sunnier, and windier. Annual precipitation ranges from about 30 inches near Wichita to about 15 inches near the Colorado state line. The growing season also becomes shorter as one moves west.

Arkansas River Lowlands
© 2013 Homestead on the Range


Rangeland and cropland both have their place here, although cropland generally predominates in all but the westernmost part of the region. Winter wheat is the main dryland crop. Thanks to irrigation, however, alfalfa and sorghum are also grown in the Arkansas River Lowlands.


Also of Interest

Although the perennial disappearance of the Arkansas River is usually blamed on irrigation and has long been a bone of contention between Kansas and Colorado, this tendency predates any significant white settlement. It is true, however, that irrigation has sped up the water-depletion process, sometimes dramatically.


Helpful Resource

Windswept Dune
Yes, a photo of a sand dune taken in Kansas!


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When the Hens Stop Laying

When the Hens Stop LayingOh, no!  The hens have stopped laying!

Few chicken-keeping problems are as bewildering as this one.  So many variables affect egg production.  How do you sort through them all?

The quickest way to solve a laying problem is to keep good records well before the problem arises.  Every day write down:

  • The number of eggs you gathered.
  • The outdoor temperature.
  • The amount of feed, scratch, and kitchen scraps you put out.
  • Any anomalies that you might want to remember later on.

You should also keep track of the age, breed, and number of your hens.  These records may seem tedious or superfluous at first, but they are invaluable when you are trying to solve a laying problem.  The more information you have at hand, the faster you will be able to sort through the possibilities and arrive at a solution.

But now that you have an egg shortage, it’s time to figure out what caused it.



Optimal egg production requires the right balance of nutrients.  Many layer rations have been concocted to try to achieve this balance, but in the end the chickens know best.  Provide them with access to plenty of fresh grass and bugs, and supplement their diet with layer feed, scratch grains, and kitchen scraps.

No formula can precisely calculate how much you should feed your chickens.  The best way to balance the feed and the scratch is to simply watch what the hens are eating.  If they are just picking at their feed or leaving pieces of grain on the ground, give them less.   If they are devouring one or the other, or maybe even both in the winter, give them more.

After you change the hens’ diet, they should gradually lay more eggs starting in three to four days.  If there is no improvement, you’ll have to seek another solution.



Chickens usually don’t lay well in extremes of either heat or cold.  If your laying problem coincides with a summer heat wave, there isn’t much you can do except to provide your flock with shade and cool water, and ride it out.  In the winter, give the hens windproof housing and plenty to eat.  The scratch in particular gives them the energy they need to stay warm.  Periodically give them an additional boost with a high-protein treat like beef liver or a ham bone with meat scraps still attached.



The age of your hens plays a significant role in how many eggs they will lay.  If your whole flock is more than two or three years old, you will probably notice a sharp drop in production.  In that case, consider buying or hatching some new hens.



Be aware that breed can affect the hen’s laying rate drastically.  Heavy breeds typically lay better in cooler weather, while light breeds prefer warmer weather.  Also keep in mind that some of the ornamental breeds will never be stellar layers even under ideal conditions.

To keep egg production reasonably steady all year long, either buy a mix of hot- and cold-weather layers or choose breeds that can tolerate a wide range of conditions, such as Australorps or Plymouth Rocks.


If All Else Fails…

If none of these variables seem to account for your production problem, thoroughly inspect your flock and their living quarters.  Are the chickens in poor health?  Do you see signs of parasites?  Are the hens hiding their eggs in some bizarre, out-of-the-way location?  Is something eating the eggs?

If you see chickens with yolk on their heads, you’ve got a real problem.  The egg-eating habit is difficult to stop, so take pains not to let it start.  Make sure your hens have enough fresh range to keep them entertained and enough feed and scratch to keep them full.  Pad the nesting boxes with plenty of straw to avoid accidental breakages.  Setting out a pan of oyster shell as a calcium supplement will also help to keep eggshells from cracking.

If you break an egg in the chicken pen, don’t let the hens clean it up.  Bury it with dirt or hay before they can eat it and get any not-so-funny ideas.  Sometimes a hen will acquire a taste for fresh egg and become an inveterate offender.  When this happens, your only choice is to remove it from the flock.

Again, the best way to solve an egg production problem is to keep good records well before the problem starts.  That way if laying rates suddenly start on a downward spiral, you’ll have a much better chance of identifying the difficulty and solving it quickly.