Facing Drought

Drought in the GardenWhat should gardeners do in the face of water shortages?

We don’t have to tell you. The news from many parts of the west is all about drought. You can find accounts of what’s being faced, including the potential for cutbacks and rationing, here, here, and here. And the forecast for the coming months doesn’t look good.

No matter if you believe that drought is just a part of the natural cycle (it is) or is a product of global warming (we don’t see this as an easy either-or question but think both factors could be in play), dealing with a lack of or more expensive water is something that gardeners frequently face. Even as a back-to-the-land, ex-hippie in the 19(garbled) living on the edge of the rain forest in Washington State we had summer months without rain some years that meant the buried reservoir that collected water from our spring filled more slowly and even ran dry when we watered our rather large garden. That’s the problem with water: you run out just when you need it most.

These are problems faced by all gardeners, not just organic gardeners. The embrace of water-wise — or xeric — lawn and garden practices has taken off in the last decade or so as demand on water and shrinking supplies multiply. Much of what gardeners and those with lawns can do is well known and championed in mailings by local water districts.

Installing drip irrigation, using rain barrels and other rain-harvesting techniques (pdf file) to collect otherwise wasted precipitation, especially in the southwest where summer monsoons occur; using native plants and drought-tolerant plants in you landscape; these are all ways to get by on less of the water that’s piped to you home. We also know that keeping your soil in shape with plenty of compost and organic material helps it retain moisture.

Sure,there’s some expense required in employing some of these practices. But one of the things that doesn’t cost anything — other than time and labor, of course — is keeping your garden weed free. Why let a plant that’s squatting in your garden, a plant that most likely can’t be eaten (unless it’s one of these) drink up the water meant for your crops?

Having weeds that compete with your garden plants for moisture — especially when that moisture is in short supply — can result in stunted plants, smaller harvests, and generally poor results. It’s amazing how much moisture weeds can rob from your garden. Of course, we’re not recommending you go out and spray herbicide on any weed that shows up. But we are suggesting that you resolve to stay ahead, way ahead of the weeds by frequent cultivating (which also helps water utilization by allowing it to be more easily absorbed into the soil) and hand weeding. What are the consequences of letting weeds get a foot in the door? Check out these papers, both pdf files, here and here.

In the meantime, what are you planing for your lawn and garden in the face of continuing drought? Let us know in reference to where you’re located and what your specific circumstances are. We all need all the water conservation tips we can get.

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