Drought is a word that many gardeners and farmers dread, and is an ongoing issue for many people all over the world. Those living in California will see a drought as their way of life, as they constantly battle to keep their crops alive through even the most severe of droughts. And, as the climate continues to change, droughts are something that many of us will have to come to terms with. So, here are some helpful tips as to how you can continue gardening and farming throughout a drought.
First, before you start planning for a drought, it’s important to remember that it’s not just the plants that need taking into consideration. The soil you’re planting your crops in is just as important as this is where your plants will grow from. That’s why it’s important that you make sure your soil is prepared for a drought.
Using Cover Crops to Avoid Bare Soil
By reducing the amount of soil that’s exposed by using cover crops, it can help to improve soil health. It’ll help to improve the water and air movement through the soil, will increase the content of organic matter, will reduce erosion, will help to recycle and capture nutrients and it will help you to manage soil moisture. Many farmers have noted increased yields when using cover crops during extreme drought conditions.
Don’t Till Your Soil
A lot more pore space is created on the top layer of soil during tilling but in order to achieve this you’re going to have to run over your soil with heavy equipment. This breaks down the structure of the soil and is detrimental to its compaction, which means you’ll have a layer of bad pores and high bulk density. Poor soil structure will mean that the soil can’t hold enough water in the pore spaces and it won’t be able to infiltrate the compact layer below. More runoff is created, which will lead to less water being held in the soil, pollution, flooding and erosion.
Other researchers have discovered that tilling your garden or fields can also reduce the amount of soil nitrogen. The microorganisms that are creating composted fertilizer from organic matter are disturbed and more nitrogen is released into the air before it has had the chance to benefit the crops or plants.
Add Organic Compost to Your Soil
Even by adding just a small amount of organic matter to your soil, you can help to improve poor soil dramatically. And, even healthy soils will benefit from some organic composting, as it will help to improve the structure of the soil.
Organic matter has been found to hold 10 times more moisture than its body weight, which helps to keep water in the soil for plants to use as and when they need it. The particles in organic matter are charged too, which means they attract water towards it, helping to draw water towards to the roots of your plants.
Improve Your Watering Efficiency
Sprinkler systems that water from overhead are not going to be as efficient as Professional Irrigation Systems and they’ll also help to reduce how much water you’re using. If you can, install one of the systems with plants that need similar amounts of water on one irrigation line.
The best time for watering crops is early in the morning or late in the evening, typically between the hours of 10PM and 6AM. Watering your plants during cooler weather and low winds will help to reduce how much water evaporates. You should also consider when your plants need watering most. A lot of plants won’t need watering as much or with as much frequency once they’ve become established. But once the fruit setting or flowering process begins, you’ll need to increase the amount of water you are using. After this, you can then reduce the amount of water slowly, which can often lead to better flavors from your crops!
Choose the Right Crops
If you are thinking of growing some vegetables but you are cautious of drought conditions, there are a number of hardy varieties that are tolerant of droughts. These include watermelons, tomatoes, sunflowers, squash, quinoa, pepper, okra, mustard, melons, eggplant, cucumber, corn, broccoli, pole beans, lima beans, butter beans and bush beans.
When looking for your next set of plants, check the packets to see which are recommended as “drought-tolerant” or “drought-resistant” as this should give you a good indication as to which ones require less water than others.
About the author: Kieran Hodgson has a homestead which he manages with his wife. When he’s not digging, harvesting or chasing after errant chickens he enjoys writing articles about all aspects of farming and living off the land.