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Donovan Mallard’s suburban backyard produces good things to eat.”I’m one of those people who never grew up,” he said. “I like to play in the dirt.”Mallard said his father was a gardener who liked to move every four years or so.
He recalled growing up around Jay from age 2 to second grade.”That’s the environment I actually grew up in,” he said. “It’s green. There were trees.”He spent most if his youth in the Oklahoma Panhandle city of Guymon.“I remember thinking, ‘This is so desolate, flat, no trees,'” Mallard said. “I don’t even think the red cedars were beginning to grow there.”Mallard joined the Navy before finishing high school in Guymon.After earning degrees in criminal justice, Mallard worked in a reform school and a jail.After earning an education degree, Mallard taught English at Hartshorne, where he met his wife, Wanda.They moved to Las Vegas, partly to get better teacher retirement and pay. They worked at a vocational high school.Mallard said they moved to Muskogee about six years ago to be closer to his wife’s family.It’s also closer to the terrain he loves.
Donovan Mallard inspects discarded food he keeps in a kitchen container. He uses the food waste to make compost.
CATHY SPAULDING/Muskogee Phoenix
“I just wanted to get back to a little gardening,” he said. “Let me tell you, gardening in the desert was not fun. Three months from June, there was not a single day below 100 degrees.”Mallard has raised vegetable beds, fruit trees and vines around his backyard swimming pool. “It’s mostly weeds right now,” he said. “My job as a gardener here is to simply make sure we my wife’s flowers and the trees stay alive. I do more vegetable gardens. The vegetables are what I like to play with.”He likes to keep things organic, catching rain in a rain barrel and keeping space for compost.”We have a can for all our organic kitchen waste,” he said. “We found an nice stainless steel one. We learned not to put out any meat products. I put it in the ground and my beagle goes out to eat it.”Growing tomatoes for more than colorDonovan Mallard grows all sorts of vegetables, but is especially drawn to tomatoes.”They can’t sell a good one in the store, I told Wanda to quit buying them,” Mallard said. “She said ‘put them in for color in salad,’ and I said no, they’re tasteless. It’s a green tomato that they’ve gassed and made red.”He said he also grows lot of peppers.”And I filled out a quarter of the garden with onions,” he said, listing onions, peppers and tomatoes as his “big three.””I don’t really have much room here,” he said about his backyard garden. “I’d have to plow under the lawn to get some corn in there.” February’s sub-freezing spell delayed this year’s outdoor gardening.”Last year, I had potatoes in the ground and growing by Valentine’s Day,” he said. “Not this year. I’ll be at least a month and a half behind where I was last year.”He said he tried restarting onions left over from last year.”But they’re not doing very well in the trays,” he said. “They should have been in the ground a month ago.”However, he did have some success. Earlier this year, Mallard started growing lettuce in an indoors tray.”And I ignored it,” he said. “And it just kept growing and kept growing.”Growing fruit more difficultFruits pose more of a challenge than vegetables, Mallard said. He has planted peach, plum and cherry trees.
Worms pose the biggest challenge to growing fruit, he said. Peach trees are especially challenging.”Peaches, they say we’re in a zone where multiple kinds of insects and bores and worms feed on peaches,” he said. “If you grow peaches, you have to be prepared for a lot of maintenance.”Weeds pose another challenge, Mallard said, adding he does not like to use herbicide.Mallard also must work to keep trees the right height. He recalled growing fruit trees so tall, he could not get the top fruit, so it “just rotted at the top.””I had a tree trimmer and I said, ‘Trim all my trees to 15 feet,'” he said. “I can reach 15 feet on my big ladder.”Mallard said he likes to grow hybrid blackberries with no seeds. “You can grow blackberries pretty easily, and they grow well in this environment,” he said. “The neighbor girls knock on the door and ask for blackberries. It’s kind of fun.”Caring for fish inside and out Mallard said he’s had to learn a lot about raising fish.”We got a couple of bottom feeders, a couple of other fish and goldfish,” he said. “When you have a 40 gallon tank, they’ll get to be big. They’re big.”Mallard feeds the fish twice a day and said the bottom feeder enjoys zucchini wafers.Cleaning the 40-gallon aquarium is important.”I do it two or three times a year with a shop-vac,” he said. “I take it, clean the bottom and use the fish stuff for my plants, so it all gets recycled.”A rock pond in his backyard features three koi and a giant goldfish that outgrew the aquarium.“We just moved him out with the koi,” Mallard said.Two 125-gallon tanks supply the pond’s water. He laid a rubber liner around a hole and surrounded it with flat stones. He said that, during February’s sub-freezing spell, “that koi pond was one big chunk of ice.”But they survived.“They couldn’t eat very much, but it was still open underneath the little waterfall,” he said, adding that the fish like to hide under a ledge.”In the winter, they’ll stay under there,” Mallard said in late February. “In fact, I haven’t seen them in two weeks.”Q and AHOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?”My usual reply is a big yellow truck. Wanda’s mother lives in McAlester and her sister lives here. I just wanted to do a little gardening.”WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?”The weather. I like the seasons. I do prefer the snow once a year, stay on the ground for three days and go back to 70 degrees. I prefer the spring.”WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?”If people observe the mask-wearing…. I think they need to care more about one another. The neighbors here are pretty decent. The kids play outside, and I have some pretty nice neighbors.”WHAT PERSON IN MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?”Some of the gardening people, they help build the Habitat houses. We had a couple who would help with that. We’d do the landscaping. David Redding, he volunteers and helps, any time I have a problem with growing something, trimming trees, those kinds of things.WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?”The most entertaining thing was the day I ended up on the roof to fix my chimney. I looked like an epileptic mountain climber. That roof is super steep. I was up there and I had to clean it. I’ll never get on the roof again.”WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?”I do a lot of reading. I kind of alternate. I go online, and when my eyes get tired, I sit and watch a lot of television. I try to watch at least the PBS station.”HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?”Very friendly people. Always willing to help. The people are what makes the town.”
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