That is how a TV reporter this morning described climate change and the resulting weather issues we are currently experiencing: “a permanent emergency”. His interviewees strongly suggested that extremes of heat, cold, flood and drought are the new normal that we are going to have to learn to live with. While the reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses should be the ultimate goal to return to a historical normal, in the more immediate time frame we have to figure out how to survive the extremes of weather that climate change is bringing.
While not all of us will experience flooded homes or have to flee flash fires, we all have to eat. Growing food crops in this new normal will mandate some new learning for farmers and gardeners. We will have to employ some new growing strategies. The alternating cold of a falling polar vortex and the current heat dome we are struggling with is exactly what the climate scientists have predicted. They also predicted drought; and we are experiencing that too.
Here are a few of the ways I think I might maximize food production from my garden while minimizing irrigation.
- I must remember to only plant as much as I really need and can realistically care for.
- Choose drought resistant species and varieties. Beans, peppers, determinate tomatoes, tomatillos are all enjoying the heat and doing well with minimal but regular watering. I will look for varieties that are listed as “drought tolerant” and where possible save my own seed from plants that survived and thrived with my gardening practices.
- Planting each species at its preferred growing time. Cold tolerant lettuces, peas and early seeded brassicas made good use of the soil moisture remaining from the winter snow melt. Later in the season they would not do well without copious amounts of irrigation water.
- I have better success when planting heat lovers like beans and corn by NOT soaking the seeds ahead of planting. Planting dry seeds into dry ground allows the seed to remain ungerminated until it senses adequate moisture in the soil for its growth.
- Planting varieties with higher water demands, like celery and carrots, in a trench allows for more targeted watering and keeps the moisture closer to their roots.
- Plant or thin plantings so each plant has its required amount of space, but not more. Bare soil loses more moisture by evaporation than soil shaded under a canopy of plants.
- Find shady spots for succession plantings of salad greens.
Some ideas for garden management that help make better use of water:
- No-till or lo-till gardening systems prevent soil from drying out and discourage weed growth.
- Add composted organic matter as a soil amendment or use it as a mulch to increase the organic matter content of the soil and its water holding capacity.
- Wicking planters and Hügelkultur beds involve less frequent watering as the moisture is retained within the growing areas, while still protecting plants from drowning in a flash flood.
- Situating plants around a leaky pail or barrel creates a ready-made drip irrigation system. It is fast to fill so is an efficient use of my time and the plants get the moisture where they need it at the soil level. Put a rock in the pail so it doesn’t blow around when empty.
- Keep weeds under control and remove plants that are no longer productive.
Ideas for making good use of the available precipitation.
- Trap snow on garden sites by leaving some trash out to catch drifts.
- Harvest the rainwater that falls on buildings.
- Pre-plant cold tolerant species late in the fall for next year. Consider parsnips, lettuces, and peas.
- Biennial and perennials can use the winter snow melt to get off to a good start. Asparagus, rhubarb, winter onions, winter grains, perennial herbs and garlic are tolerating the drought because they had snow melt moisture at the start of the season.
- Prevent evaporation by covering unseeded areas with mulch but be careful what kind of mulch is used. I have found that cardboard wicks moisture away from plants and even black plastic can heat the soil so that roots cook under it. Straw or well rotted compost are my best choices. Chop and drop weeds are OK too.
We can do this. We just have to be smarter about how we try and what we do.