If you live in the western part of the United States like I do, drought conditions mean scaling back the amount of water we use, including what’s used for our vegetable gardens. Conserving water in a vegetable garden is easy to do but does take a bit of advance planning. Here are some of the planning tips I’ll be using to lower the water use in my gardens this year.
Careful plant selection
Some vegetables require a lot more water than others which is why conserving water starts with selecting the right plants. I know from my own experience that food crops such as sweet corn, peas, winter squashes, broccoli, cauliflower, watermelons and certain tomato varieties use up a lot of water which is why I won’t be planting them again. Herbs along with veggies such as Swiss Chard, peppers, legumes, Roma tomatoes, pear tomatoes, Cumshaw squash, summer squashes and bush beans have lower water needs and do well in my region.
Even though the summer growing season begins June 1 in my neck of the woods, I always plant an early spring crop to take advantage of the moisture in the ground and the spring rains. Veggies such as spinach, lettuce, radishes and green onions can go into the ground as soon as the earth is thawed and will yield edible produce in 30-45 days. Heat loving veggies are started indoors as early as March 1 and are transplanted after the last spring frost. This early start means that they will have a well established root system by August and September when the drought conditions are the worst.
Plant flat and water wise
Furrow irrigation is something I learned to do on the farm and have always watered my veggies this way since it’s the easiest. This type of irrigation system doesn’t work when the water supply is low. Instead of a mix of furrows and mounds, I’ll be planting flat and using a drip line system to bring water directly to the roots.
Last year, I started experimenting with denser plantings by planting veggies much closer than what’s listed on the back of the packet. Closer rows makes better use of the water and provides shade which lowers evaporation.
Mulch does more than keep down the weeds. It also reduces ground moisture evaporation and speeds up plant germination, especially in the northern climates where our growing season is short. Black plastic mulch works best for heat loving plants such as peppers and tomatoes. As far as the rest of the garden, I use organic mulches such as grass clippings and straw from the hen house once the soil temperatures have warmed up.
For families like ours who rely on vegetable gardens, drought conditions will limit the food we can grow. Planning ahead with careful vegetable selections and how the garden will be planted will make gardening possible even in a low water year.
Oregon State Extension Services: Conserving Water in the Garden
More by this contributor:
How to shade your garden during a heat wave
10 easy garden chores for early spring
How to start vegetable seeds indoors the cheap & easy way