We’ve been having another unusual weather winter here in Northern California. Last year, our rainy season was fairly dry–basically no rain during December and January–but we basically caught up on our water quotient with later rains during March and April. Kind of wreaked havoc with the fruit crops, but there you have it.
This year, I don’t think we’re gonna get so lucky. It started off well–rains coming in the autumn and turning the terrible dry brown of late summer into the lucious green of winter. Northern California’s funny that way–the nicest, most fecund time of year is, in some ways, winter–surely the polar opposite of most climates in the country. We watch the world looking like a shriveled dead thing coming back to life, even as many plants go into dormancy.
November and December brought plenty of rain–sometimes too much at one time–rivers of water flowing through the culverts and into the streets. The reservoirs were filled up to the brim, and early. My rain barrels were full by mid-December.
And then some time around New Year’s, the rain stopped. In January and February the rainfall where I live has measured less than 2 inches–not so good for getting our beds ready for the spring planting season. Now, a month later, I can see what that means–dried soil in my garden beds, no seeds sprouting without plenty of water inputs on my end, the usual spring wildflowers stunted, or non-existant.
According to the Climate Prediction Center, http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/DOD.html, in central and northern California, the 3-month precipitation outlook for March – May 2013 calls for significantly enhanced chances (over 50 percent) that spring precipitation totals will rank among the lower one-third of historic occurrences.
So this means that the drought which spread through the mid-West last year is creeping westward. And one of the significant things it means is that we have to get creative about making the water we have last longer, since the dry season this year will be longer by at least 2 months. This means, potentially, little to no rain between January-October. I dread the summer and the autumn in years like this.
How to plan a garden in this circumstance is tricky. I usually plant food for my family in three separate gardens–one in the backyard of a friend, one at a community garden, and one at home. The home garden feeds us in greens and beans and herbs and the kinds of foods you like to pick frequently. The two outlying gardens usually host crops that need less daily tending–potatoes, squash, garlic, onions, drying beans, artichokes.
But I’ve been wondering if this isn’t the year to rest one of those beds, and to choose instead to buy food from farmers who are already committed to growing for larger numbers of people and who will already be using water growing this food. Will I be saving water in this way, while spending more money? Probably. Is this is a responsible choice, or does it not really make much difference? How do I feel about starting the irrigation on three gardens months before I usually start watering? What’s the eco-responsive choice?
I’m not 100% certain of the answers to these questions yet, but I notice that my garden planning is slowing down and looking for new solutions to the problem of water.
How are you managing water in your garden this year? Are you in a drought-prone location? Has the winter weather revealed any seasonal challenges for the coming spring? Will you do anything differently than you did last year?