Ongoing drought conditions in the West mean that vegetable gardeners like myself have to use every trick in the book to keep our veggies alive. Choosing low water vegetable plants is one way to get by with minimal irrigation. So using a drip irrigation system instead of watering overhead or by way of furrows.
What you do with your soil also makes a big difference in the amount of water your vegetable will require. Here are a few of the ways I’m prepping my garden soil for a low water year.
Improve soil texture
Since I live in a high mountain desert that gets quite hot and dry during the summer, the best gardening soil for me has always been a compost-rich loam that leans towards having a bit more clay in it rather than sand. Well amended soil helps retain moisture and encourages vegetable plants to grow deeper roots, which will help them survive summer drought when the watering has to be scaled back.
Because I’m an organic gardener, part of my soil prep includes turning over all my beds and running the soil through a sieve to remove weed and quack grass roots. Weeds will rob garden soil of both nutrition and moisture which is why it’s especially important to stay on top of the weeding during a low water year. For non-organic gardeners, you can treat the garden plot with Round Up (following instructions) before transplanting your seedlings.
Flat surface planting
Even though seed packets recommend planting certain seed varieties in mounds or on furrows, this style of planting results in water rolling away from the plant’s roots before it has a chance to soak in the soil. This year, all my large vegetable plants (tomatoes, squashes, peppers, cukes, etc) will be planted in slight depressions which will concentrate the water to the roots instead.
Mulching is especially critical during a drought year since it slows down evaporation, shades the soil, and keeps down the weeds. I’ve been saving our used animal bedding (straw and wood pellets) all winter to use as a mulch for when my plants can go in the ground. A three-to-four inch layer of organic mulch means that I will be able to get by watering every other day instead of daily.
In nearly 40 years of having a vegetable garden, last year was the first time ever that I ran out of well water halfway through the growing season. Paying attention to how the garden soil is prepped is the first step in creating a vegetable garden that can handle the low levels of irrigation water available in a drought year.
More by this contributor:
How to shade your garden during a heat wave
Vegetables that can tolerate a low water year
How to start vegetable seeds indoors the cheap & easy way