October 13, 2019

Lessons Learned from a Hot Dry Summer

I wish our seasonal weather was predictable. Climate change aside, Dan and I live at a latitude where the weather can go either way - hot or not. We've had rainy summers and dry summers. We've had cold winters and mild winters. We never know which way it's going to go, and that makes it tough for planning what to plant and when.

For the past several months I've been paying attention to what's managed to produce in spite of our hot dry summer. Our last rainfall was 0.7 inch last August. I know everything in the garden would have done better with more rain, or at least more frequent watering. Even so we still managed to get  an acceptable harvest. The survivors:

Watered the least:
  • cushaw pumpkins
  • Ozark razorback cowpeas
  • collards
  • lacinato kale
  • Jerusalem artichokes
Minimal watering:
  • candy roaster winter squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • black turtle beans
Watered the most:
  • tomatoes
  • pumpkins
  • melons
  • peppers
  • rice

Cucumbers started out well, but succumbed to pickleworm. Corn, okra, and green beans were a complete fail, so they aren't included.

We had more collected rainwater this year and everything was well mulched, so that helped. But towards the end we ran out and I was left to observe how long things survived on their own.

I can't predict next summer, but what observations have I made that can help me in years to come?  One is where things are planted. I rotate plantings, and usually try to take into account companions and foes when planning the next rotation. But this past summer made me think it would be easier if the things that needed the most water could be planted in the same section of the garden. That would make it quicker and easier to move the hose and drip pipe.

The terrain of my garden is another factor. It's on a gentle slope. The beds at the top of the garden always dry out more quickly than those at the bottom. The swale beds help there, so I need to continue making more, focusing on the top of the garden first.

Another observation is that while the raised beds in the hoop house dried out first, I was able to keep my potted plants near the back door watered. I found the pots easy to water with cooled cooking water or the water we catch in a bucket while waiting for hot water for washing dishes. Or dirty goat or duck water. That's got me thinking I should experiment more with container gardening. I've never done especially well with potted plants, but my success this past summer has been hopeful. Plus I've had some excellent inspiration from two Australian bloggers, Chris at Gully Grove, and Tania at Out Back (scroll down to see her large container garden.)

Our summer heat finally came to an end last week. The garden has been so dry that I haven't attempted to put anything in the ground yet. Rain is in the forecast for soon, so hopefully I'll be able to get on with the fall garden then.


Ed said...

One of the strategies we have employed to overcome the variable weather is to preserve enough in good years to last us through the bad ones.

Jeff Anthony said...

I tried containers for herbs this year and it worked out fabulous. Peppermint, oregano, thyme, horseradish. Less weeding but depending on the potting mix you will have to water more often. The plants are beautiful!

Cockeyed Jo said...

Strangely enough as close as we live to one another, we only had a month of no rain. It's even raining again now. Closer to storming. I looked back and we've had 6" this summer. Rain harvesting is the best for the gardens and livestock.We have a system that catches over 1K worth of rain water and looking at expanding it to 3K worth and 5K would be the ultimate. Food production is my #1 on my list of importance. Infrastructure can be done anytime as time allows.

My elevated raised beds and garden tunnel always require more water than our in ground plantings because of lack of soil to hold extra water (raised beds) vs in ground. In the tunnel, they don't have access to the rains. There's problems with any growing method. It's what it means to be a "farmer."

Leigh said...

Ed, exactly! With this year's problems, that point is emphasized to me all the more.

Jeff, good point about soil. I've been mixing my own, but I need to consider ways to improve that. I may start adding wood chips to my mix in hopes they'll help retain some moisture.

Jo, you can never catch enough rainwater! We up to about 3,000 gallons now, but even that was all used up this year. That's one of the reasons I took the poly covering off of my hoophouse - to let rain water it. But that's assuming we get rain! Part of the problem is how quickly moisture evaporates from the soil, either from sun or wind. So we're still planning for more.

Judy said...

Leigh - Have you looked at any of the books by Steve Solomon? If I remember correctly he explains Dry Land farming/gardening and how to lay out a garden in zones so that everything that needs water is together with concentric zones of less and less irrigation to the outside zones that have none. As well as spacing your plantings so they can take advantage of what soil moisture there is.

MaryContrary said...

We live in town in one of a four unit town house style building. All we have to garden on is a cement patio so I use only containers. I have a mix of large pots, medium pots and five gallon buckets. They have done fairly well for me though I am no longer growing tomatoes or peppers--the fence around the patio concentrates the heat and the blossoms don't set well. I tried a trick I saw on some site a good while back. When I put drain holes in the new buckets I put them several inches up the side instead of at the bottom. That leaves a reservoir of water that can help prevent drying out. Hope you find a mix of techniques that help you.

Goatldi said...

I love your post when you are analyzing and planning a strategy all in one. What is most beneficial is your ability to not take it personal and press on.

Is there more somewhere about your catch system for the kitchen sink ? That drives me nuts. I have the instant water heater convo with myself multiple times a week. But I always end up feeling that is not the solution.

Quinn said...

In my experience, taking the time early in the season to set up an elaborate drip system, bury a leaky bucket in the center of a round bed, mulch heavily, etc., is the most likely way to guarantee a wet summer.
Thank you for your comment on Comptonia, Leigh. LeShodu will be very much missed, and her absence is a big change to the herd. I can't predict how the dynamics will shake out and at this point I'm trying to just keep an eye on everyone.

Leigh said...

Judy, no, his name doesn't sound familiar, but the concept does, so perhaps I have run across his system. Definitely looks worth looking in to. All ideas welcome!

Mary, that's a very good idea. In fact, Dan and I were talking today about getting some 55 gallon drums to half as large planters. That would be the way to make drainage holes in them.

Goatldi, thanks! But I don't know any other way to do it! ;)

My catch system is extremely primitive. I just keep a bucket near the woodstove and any time we want hot water, we catch the cold water in the bucket until the water heats up. This summer we used the water mostly for watering plants, but when we're getting plenty of rain, we empty the bucket into the washing machine. I really need a second one for the bathroom shower.

Quinn, I find the same thing. If I don't get it set up early, it likely won't get done. I'd not thought about burying a leaky bucket, but I did find a book at the library about how to use less water for the garden. One of those ideas was buried clay pots called ollas. They seem to need to be installed before planting, so it's something else I'm going to try next year. That's assuming I can find enough terra cotta pots! Most of the ones sold around here are plastic.

Cockeyed Jo said...

Leigh, Heavy mulching and wood chips. When it rains, they get saturated and leach out water as needed. It also allows for less water evaporation from the soil. That's what we do. It carried us through the drought of 100 days without rain a couple years ago. We watered once a week.

Leigh said...

Jo, yes. That's what I've done in my swale beds and why I think they need watering the least. The wood chips are excellent at holding moisture.

Susan said...

I find it difficult to adjust to the change in climate - we have such extremes now. But adjust I must. I appreciate your posts so much - you do all the heavy lifting for a lot of us!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, one thing I have had accidental success with is wood bedding pellets. I use them for my indoor rabbits and change the litter boxes twice a week. I dump it all in my gardening areas. It really adds to the mulching effect (and in my case, I get the benefits of the trapped urine, rabbit pellets, and hay).

My only problem with container gardening is that in my experience, they dry out so fast.

Lady Locust said...

I'm not very good at containers but am working on it. I know I have to put them somewhere easy to water or I forget. Have you ever made "French Fries" from your cushaw? Delicious!

Leigh said...

Susan, it is so challenging to deal with extremes. I feel like we've got a double dose considering where we live. You're right, though, adjust we must! The only other option is giving up, and that just isn't me.

TB, that sounds like an excellent resource! Perfect for the garden. I have the same problem with containers, which is why I'm hoping keeping them near a water source will help!

Lady Locust, that's exactly my problem. But Dan and I are discussing strategic places for the containers, i.e. any place we need to dump dirty water.

I've not roasted the cushaws as fries, because that's how we usually eat our sweet potatoes. But I did try the candy roaster roasted. Excellent!

Karen thisoldhouse2.com said...

We had a very iffy summer garden here in Connecticut, it was dry, then it was very wet, then dry again. The fall foliage is stunning this year, I suppose the right condition for that, at least.

Leigh said...

Karen Ann, when we lived in the mountains the local news used to give fall color reports for potential tourists. What struck me was that in wet years they said experts predicted there would be beautiful color because of all the rain. In dry years they said experts predicted there would be beautiful color because of how dry it had been. Made me start to question their idea of experts! LOL

M.K. said...

The drought got us this year too :( Plus, we were gone from home for long periods for family stuff.
I'm also planning to use containers next summer, primarily for tomatoes. I've planted them in too many overlapping spots in the garden, and this year it really showed. New soil, in pots, near to the house. I'm hoping for a better crop.

Leigh said...

M.K. that sounds like a good plan. I'm going to try my kitchen garden in containers near the house, and plant the main garden for canning and storage crops. I suppose next summer we'll have a we one. lol but I still like the idea of having fresh veggies right outside the back door.