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Gardening during drought

Hooray! Finally a little rain! I’m glad that I waited until today to post what I wrote yesterday, as this “much” (around a half inch) of rain was not expected. It was enough to wet my garden and will prompt some grass to grow in the fields – yea! BUT – we need to remember that we are behind on 2 season’s worth of rain. Although very welcome and helpful, a little rain does not end this drought.

The drought is now official, serious and already having devastating consequences, especially for animals – with local livestock and already endangered fish populations diminishing. And also for farmers, who may not have water to grow crops. Although most jurisdictions have not yet called for mandatory conservation, I think restrictions – with penalties – should be enacted. It is too easy for those not directly affected to go on running the tap until we all run dry. I’d like to suggest reviewing what Sara and I wrote in our January blogs about gardening during drought, as it is all still very relevant.

Birds are having a hard time as well. Several gardeners have commented that birds have been scratching up the soil like chickens do and sometimes eating crops more than usual this winter. I’m using row cover, strawberry baskets and chicken wire to protect plants. Consider providing water in a bird bath and bird seed to help the poor birds though this time.

I’ve been pruning fruit trees almost every day and the recent warm spell is prompting buds to swell and even bloom for some trees in warmer locations. But nights and mornings are supposed to be frosty again next week; we still have plenty of cold weather again, though the extremes are bound to continue. As I noted last month, diluted white paint on south facing bark of fruit trees will help prevent sunburn and winter injury from these extremes.

The extremes have made the bok choys and mustards in my bed of winter greens bolt (go to flower) early this year. I check them every few days and just harvest out those starting to bolt, leaving others to fill in. But the escarole, endives and mache (from Oct. 1 sowings), are coming through nicely (they were mostly under row cover during the coldest nights), and starting to provide winter salads.

And as Sara noted, we’ve had enough warmth to start cool season spring plantings now. New moons are happening around the end of each month for the first half of this year – a convenient time to think of what could be seeded. I planted snap peas and sweet peas on Chinese New Year (last Friday), but am waiting on any other plantings. While I feel it is important to still grow food, more care should be given to grow plants that will provide the most production with the least amount of water. Once again, I am SO grateful for my perennial vegetables – especially the tree collards – which are deep-rooted and supply my leafy greens almost daily. Other crops where you keep picking from the same plants for an extended time make sense to grow too, like kale, chard, tomatoes, and squash. Think through what crops are most important for you to grow and how you will provide water. Thick mulches are great for holding in moisture, but they also will prevent light rain from reaching the soil. It would take a lot of water from above to wet through mulch, so they are best used with drip irrigation.

I have been using grey water, (by bucket), for my garden recently. Since I use all natural soaps, shampoo, etc. I’m not worried about chemicals that could be harmful. But it is good to alternate even diluted soapy water with non-soapy. The greywater web sites offer information about recommended soaps; liquids like Dr. Bronner’s are especially good choices.

Challenges like this drought remind us that we are one community connected by our dependence on the natural resources we must share. And prompt us to be better gardeners, with greater appreciation of how precious the soil, water and food that miraculously grows really are.