Gardening in Drought Times

Here in California we are grappling with how to continue to garden when the rain is not falling from the sky in adequate quantities–i.e., barely ever, and certainly not enough to sustain all the human and other life in our vast state.

Here’s some tips for gardening in dry times and dry climates:When facing serious drought, we can be water-wise and successful growing a food garden. Here are some thingsto consider when planning a food garden during a drought and some suggestions for optimizing water usage.

The first step in deciding to have a food garden is to determine if extra water beyond basic household needs of cooking, bathing, etc. is available. This includes rain collection systems, captured water, and greywater.

FOOD GARDEN ACTION PLAN

1. Compost, compost, compost! Add organic matter to the soil. If soil is sandy, the addition of organic matter allows the soil to hold more water. Organic matter also helps open up soil allowing roots to go deeper and find more water at lower depths if there is any. Higher soil nutrition helps plants produce better yields with the same amount of water. Avoid adding excessive amounts of nitrogen as this encourages lush leafy growth that requires more water to sustain.

2. Mulch, mulch, mulch! Mulch keeps soil cool, conserves moisture and reduces weeds. Use three to four inches on top of the soil. The larger the material size, the deeper layer you need to provide. Choose from straw, fallen leaves, hulls, shredded bark, grass clippings and newspaper. It is not advisable to use plastic sheeting as mulch because it deprives the soil of much-needed oxygen. Keep mulch two inches away from the base of the plant to avoid the possibility of rot. When hand watering, pull back mulch so that water goes directly into the soil.

3. Use a drip system. Learn about individual plant moisture needs and group plants that have the same need together on the same valve. If using in-line emitters in one-fourth inch tubing that use one-half gallon per hour per emitter and there is a length of ten feet with emitters spaced every foot, five gallons of water an hour is used on that section of tubing. Add up all drip lines to determine total water used. Install a timer. Install shut-off valves at the beginning of drip lines in order to turn them off when an area is fallow. Irrigate only as long as it takes to moisten the active root zone. Water, preferably, in the morning or in the cool hours of the evening so that soil stays evenly moist. Don’t forget the drip system once it is set up. Monitor and adjust it, as needed.

4. Be selective. Consider the water available to support crops through harvest, and grow only the amount and types of vegetables the family will consume. For example, plant two beds of vegetables instead of six; plant four tomatoes instead of ten. To get the most out of the water you apply, grow high yielding vegetables like beans, chard, mustard, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, squash, quinoa and amaranth. Do not grow crops that need consistent moisture. Examples include most brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cauliflower and radishes), lettuce and other greens, beets, carrots and other root crops, celeriac, celery, leeks and onions. Avoid these unless a particular variety has been bred to need less water. Generally, cool season crops are not drought resistant and growing them during the heat of the summer requires lots of extra water to keep them cool.

Consider the following observations on which crops need the most water and when:

Some beans and sweet corn need considerable water to produce a good crop. Beans need water most when they are blooming and setting fruit.

Corn needs water most during tasseling, silking and ear development.

Yield is directly related to quantities of water, nitrogen and spacing.

Peas need water most during pod filling.

Other vegetables, such as cucumbers and squash, and fruits, such as melons, need water most during flowering and fruiting.

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant need water most during flowering and fruiting. (Note that after tomatoes set, they can do very well with reduced water).

After deciding what to grow, choose varieties that tolerate dry conditions. Look for the terms “drought-resistant” or “drought-tolerant” in seed catalogs or on plant labels (note that “heat-tolerant” refers to above ground air temperature and is not the same as drought-resistant or drought-tolerant). Even these varieties require water. Some water is needed to start seeds or establish a seedling, and to periodically irrigate the plant through the growing season. Selecting varieties that are described as “widely-adapted” in addition to drought-resistant and drought-tolerant also may be helpful.

5. Consider days to maturity. A crop needing fewer days to mature requires fewer irrigations before harvest (e.g., 62-day ‘Stupice’ vs. 85-day ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato). Look for early-maturing or short-season varieties. Days to maturity will vary from one part of the country to another as well as from one microclimate to another.

6. Increase plant spacing. Spaced plants are not competing as much for water in the soil. Very deep, open soil or French intensive double dug beds allow vegetables to be planted closer together because the roots have more room to grow deeper and find water if it is present. Try increasing the spacing recommended in the SCMG “Vegetable Planting Summary,”iv by 50 percent or even doubling the spacing if you have room.

7. Eliminate weeds. Weeds compete for water. Be aggressive in removing them from growing areas.

8. Use light-weight row covers. Cover plants as a means to collect dew. Dew drops onto soil and keeps it moist. While using row covers can help prevent insect damage, look under the cover from time to time to monitor plant growth and check for unwanted insects trapped inside.

9. Use shade. Heat-sensitive vegetables can benefit from being planted where they receive some afternoon shade. Plant them underneath or behind taller plants or consider using shade cloth.

10. Use windbreaks. The moisture on leaf surfaces is dried by moving air, causing the plant to need more water. In coastal and other windy areas, windbreaks will help roots keep up with leaf demands.

11. Determine when it is time to water again. Use a soil moisture meter. Or squeeze the soil in your hand: if it sticks together, it is still moist; if it is crumbly and falls apart, it is time to water.

Sourced from Sonoma County Master Gardeners

 

To Till or Not To Till

Seems like everyone is talking about no-till gardening these days.  This is the idea that if you inoculate your soil with bacteria and-fungi and layer enough enough compost and “duff”on the surface, that you can recreate the forest floor and avoid the tedium of digging our heavy East Bay clay.

While sheet composting, straw mulching  and shallow surface cultivation will work in the long run, it may not be the perfect choice for those who wish to garden in well amended clay soil in the next five years.  An integrated system of sheet composting,  double digging, single digging and amending with compost for the first few years will decrease the amount of time it takes to achieve an effective no-till system.

Here is a sample scenario:
Year 1:  Sheet mulch.

Year 2:  Double dig.  add compost and green manures, mulch with rotted straw, aged manures or other easily decomposable material.

Year 3 & 4.: Double or single dig with green manures or finished compost, mulch tops of bed with rotted straw,  aged manures or other easily decomposable material.

Year 4 or 5:  Start no-till gardening, continue to layer mulch on top of beds at each planting.

English: Photo of plant roots with striga plan...
Read more:   Roots Demystified  by Robert Kourik is a bargain at $8, shipping included.

Garden Planning and Book Review – Spring Has Sprung

Garden Planning: Crop rotation is the practice of moving crops around yearly or seasonally, rather than planting the same thing in the same place year in and year out. Rotating crops gives the soil a chance to cycle nutrients and minimizes build of of the pathogens to a particular plant in that area. For example, if you always plant tomatoes in the same spot, even with added compost, the tomatoes will tend to tap out the particular nutrients that tomatoes like. At the same time particular tomato pests and diseases will tend to gather in that spot The combination of diminishing nutrient and increasing potential for attack is a recipe for crop failure. Smart crop rotation alternates plants that build soil nutrients with those that are heavy feeders. A typical rotation would be to plant a soil builder every third rotation, with a heavy feeder and a light feeder in between. Soil building plants are all in the legume family, as they “fix nitrogen” from the air with the help of bacteria. Examples are fava beans, soy beans, pole beans and peas. A heavy feeder need extra nitrogen to perform. Examples of heavy feeders are basil, beets, corn, lettuce, squash and tomato. Examples of light feeders are carrots, leeks, onions, peppers and potatoes.

In a small garden it may not be possible to rotate everything in as grand a fashion as on a larger farm with copious sun. Perhaps you have only one sunny bed that tomatoes will work in for example. Still you can rotate your tomato planting with a winter crop of fava beans or other legume. To keep track of your rotations, create a small drawing of your garden each year and notate what went where.

Book Review The Vegetable Gardeners Guide to Permaculture by Christopher Shein with Julie Thompsen. The much anticipated new book by local permaculture hero Christopher Shein has hit the shelves. This is a gorgeous book filled with large full color pictures, diagrams and maps. The book is comprehensive, yet also spacious and easily digested. After a clear and simple introduction to the ethics and principles of permaculture, the book dives into how to design your garden using design elements from the permaculture vocabulary. Food forests, fruit tree guilds, zones, sectors, inputs and outputs are elegantly described along with easily understood diagrams and sample designs to put them into action–from a balcony garden to a large urban lot. The book goes on to offer techniques for soil building, a plant-by-plant compendium of perennial edibles, annual vegetables, edible flowers, herbs, seed starting and seed saving. The sections on animals for your backyard systems are slim and not well developed. But overall this is a lovely addition to your gardening library.

post by K. Ruby Blume, Institute for Urban Homesteading

 

Farm Bill

The federal Farm Bill is the single most important piece of legislation affecting the food you eat, the kinds of crops American farmers grow, the degradation of the environment through agricultural practice, and the nation’s food security.

Deutsch: Traktor John Deere 8310 vor HAWE-Über...

As usual, the deck is stacked towards corporate agribusiness at the expense of the small scale farmer. As this piece of legislation is not yet law, there is time for each of us to communicate with our legislators about how we think the Farm Bill could be restructured to support local-scale, organic farming.

This is a good overview of what’s currently wrong with the farm bill and why we need reform. It also highlights the important benefits of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs and food bill that local food policy councils around the country are supporting.

http://fairworldproject.org/voices-of-fair-trade/fairness-for-small-farmers-a-missing-ingredient-in-the-u-s-farm-bill/

Take some time to agitate your legislators about this important piece of legislation — it makes a difference in what you eat, and how farmers and the land where they grow are treated. Getting active on an issue like this is one of my favorite strands of community-relatedness that is part of the urban homesteading movement. It’s not just about what we grow in our backyards; it’s about what we grow as a culture.