Even in a drought year, it is still possible to grow a lush, low water garden.
The Mid-Columbia region in eastern Washington is home to commercial fruit orchards, large and small vineyards, acres of potatoes, carrots, asparagus, and onions, and legions of backyard gardeners. It’s the perfect place to grow your own fruits and vegetables. We have 300 days of sun, so seeds can go in the ground early and produce well into the fall. Except when we have a drought year. You see, here in the Mid-Columbia, our water comes via irrigation. Irrigation systems that depend on melting snowpack from the Cascade mountains. And the Cascades just aren’t getting their usual amount of snow this year. Commercial farmers will have primary rights to irrigation water, we backyard gardeners are at the bottom of the pile. But I am still planting this year, and you can too. It just takes a little extra planning.
1. Plant in Containers
Almost any crop can be grown in containers on the deck or in the backyard. Containers are usually planted with only one type of plant at a time, e.g. one tomato plant, or just lettuce, or strawberries. That means we water for that particular plant, not for all the plants in the garden. Thus, no water is wasted just because the lettuce needs more frequent watering than the tomato.
2. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
This is the year to mulch the garden, even if you have never done so before. Mulch helps keep the plant roots cool and moist. Don’t waste your money on expensive garden store mulches. I find that newspaper or cardboard covered with grass clippings work the very best. After harvest, just shovel or till it all back into the garden and it will break down before next year.
3. Forgo High Water Crops
This may not be the year to plant potatoes, or melons, or corn, or any other high water crop. These plants don’t do well unless they receive consistent water. It would be a shame to use what water we have available, only to find out half way through the year that it isn’t enough to get a good harvest. Hold off and let the bigger farms in your area, the ones who can plant a large area of one item, grow these water intensive plants. Concentrate on growing plants that you know work well in your area, and that won’t be hurt too much by inconsistent watering.
4. Move to Drip Irrigation
If you, like me, live in an area that requires irrigation systems for watering, this is the year to move to drip irrigation. Drip irrigation puts the water directly where you want it to go, to the plant roots. Unlike more conventional forms of irrigation that spray water into the air, drip irrigation doesn’t waste water.
5. Grow Ground Covering Plants
Another way to reduce water evaporation, other than using drip irrigation, is to grow plants with large leaves that cover the ground. Plants like squash – both winter and summer, pumpkins, and cucumbers. By the time summer is at its hottest, and water needs are at their highest, the leaves will be large enough to shade the ground and keep it moist, like a natural mulch.
I will be following these tips this year, while hoping for the best. Do you have any water saving tips to share?