Drought is the worst nightmare for gardeners as it drastically affects the crop yield. The water resources are diminishing quickly, and those of us relying on our own vegetable crops are left asking ourselves ‘how long will we be able to feed our families with fresh and nutritious vegetables?’
It is always tough to maintain a vegetable garden in a water-scarce environment. However, you can still make your vegetables grow in drought conditions by following water conservation practices. There are some ways to cut short the use of water and still manage to grow a healthy vegetable garden.
Tips for maintaining a vegetable garden under drought conditions
Here are a few tips for growing a healthy vegetable garden under drought conditions.
1. Soil preparation
There is no alternative to healthy soil as it plays a vital role in the healthy growth of your plants. The success of planting lies with the use of the right soil. The selection of good soil for planting a vegetable garden in drier conditions is the key to guarantee success as it incorporates plenty of organic compost that will help to retain moisture and will favor deep root development. Plants that will grow their roots deeper in the soil will obtain more water and nutrients from the soil. Adding biochar in the soil will not only increase soil fertility but it also helps to conserve moisture in the soil.
2. Planting time
It is better to plant earlier in the spring season or later in the fall. Planting the vegetables early in the spring season reduces the exposure of plants to high summer temperatures where as planting later on in the fall will reduce the use of supplemental water and gets the benefit of seasonal rains.
Vegetables that are grown early in the season will have plenty of time to establish in the soil before summer arrives. Once the vegetables are established in the soil it will help them to grow well and survive during the hot days of summer.
Covering the soil with 3 to 4 inches of mulch can help to reduce the water use to one half. It will also reduce the weeds that compete with the vegetables to acquire water and minerals. Another advantage of mulching is that it reduces the rate of evaporation and keeps the soil temperature down during the summer season. Dry leaves, sawdust, shredded bark, rice hulls, grass clippings, and pine needles are natural mulches that are used to cover the soil. Mulching also reduces the risk of erosion and adds nutrients to the soil.
4. Use a smart planting layout
The selection of a smart planting layout can help to conserve water. Plant your garden in such a way that the vegetables with similar care and water needs are grouped. For example, squash, cucumber, and zucchini have similar water needs so they can be grouped. Here are 2 planting layouts that are quite effective to block the heat and reduce the use of water.
Grow your vegetables in a hexagonal layout instead of growing in straight rows. In a hexagonal planting system, the plants are grouped close to each other. There are several advantages of the hexagonal planting layout, some include keeping the soil cool, reducing the loss of water, and creating shade.
Companion planting is the growing of vegetables in groups for mutual benefit. The method of companion planting has been in practice for more than 2000 years. The native Americans have been practicing the ‘three-sister’ approach of planting squash, bean, and corn together which is a great example of companion planting. In the ‘three-sister’ approach the tall cornstalk provides support to the climbing beans. Squash spreads over the soil and serves as a mulch layer to keep the soil temperature low and the beans increase nitrogen contents in the soil. A few other examples of good companion vegetables include tomatoes with basil, spinach with thyme, and strawberries with onions.
5. Pick the right vegetables for planting
Always select the right vegetables for planting that can produce an abundant crop under drought conditions such as peppers, onions, okra, squash, eggplants, and potato. Keep the planting density low to conserve space and water. If you aim to conserve water, you must avoid growing cauliflower and broccoli in your garden. These vegetables are water hogs that will deplete water quickly from the garden soil.
Pick the vegetables that can thrive well in a hot and dry environment. Smaller vegetables that are bred for container gardening can produce abundant yield per plant under drought conditions. There are several great examples of drought smart vegetables that you can grow in your vegetable gardens such as Sage, Thyme, Cucumber, Eggplants, Okra, Peppers, Parsnips, Beetroot, Carrot, Mustard greens, Asparagus, Broccoli, Roma tomatoes and Rhubarb.
6. Water your vegetables at the right time of day during a drought
It is best to water your vegetable garden early in the morning or late in the evening. The cool temperature in the morning and evening reduces the loss of water through evapotranspiration. The high temperature at noon or afternoon causes rapid loss of water. Therefore, it is imperative to water your garden at the right time to maximize water use efficiency.
7. Water your vegetables efficiently
If possible, use a drip irrigation system for watering your vegetables because it is more efficient than overhead irrigation such as a sprinkler system. Drip irrigation system offers several benefits as it reduces the use of water by 50% and is therefore recommended to install a drip irrigation system in your vegetable garden. Grow the vegetables with a similar watering requirement in a single drip irrigation row. You can install a drip irrigation system in your vegetable garden on your own or seek help from a professional service.
8. Check for the peak watering times for your vegetables
The correct knowledge of the watering needs of your vegetables will help you to conserve water and avoid overwatering. Each vegetable has a critical period of water demands. The vegetables need more water in the early growth stage but once the plants become more established in the soil their watering needs keeps on decreasing until the fruit setting stage arrives. Providing the right amount of water at the right time improves the taste and texture of your vegetables.
9. Feed your vegetables with a balanced fertilizer
Fertilizers supply supplemental nutrients to the vegetables that help them to grow luxuriantly. Fertilized plants need more water, therefore, do not apply excessive fertilizer to your vegetables. Feed your vegetables with a balanced dose of fertilizers and strictly avoid an overdose. Applying a high dose of fertilizers increases the chances of burning your vegetables in drought conditions.
10. Remove any weeds
Weeds are notorious plants that compete with the main crop for procuring water, nutrients, sunlight, and space in your vegetable gardens. It is highly important to remove weeds from your garden before they start taking hold of the entire garden space. Weeds can be removed manually by simply pulling them out with nothing but your hands as soon as they are spotted. Keep removing the weeds regularly. In case you do not want to remove the weeds manually you can always use a weedicide to keep their growth checked. Apply weedicides carefully to avoid damaging your vegetables.
11. Garden size
Grow the right type of vegetables with the right planting density. Avoid growing a lot of vegetables that are more than the required quantity to cut short the surplus produce. Growing only the required quantity of vegetables will help you to utilize the available water resources efficiently. If you had a surplus produce in the last year then you can cut short the number and bad quality vegetables you are planting this season.
12. Install a rain barrel in your vegetable garden
To make the best use of rainfall you can install a rain barrel in your vegetable garden to store water for future use. It is particularly beneficial to gardeners who are living in a zone that experiences rainfall occasionally. The water stored in rain barrels can be used to water your vegetables during drought conditions.
13. Grow your vegetables in a shaded area
The winds can dry the soil quickly if you are growing your vegetables in an unsheltered location. It is advisable to grow your vegetables near a building, fence, or tall-growing plants. Growing your vegetables in a sheltered location will reduce the loss of water through evapotranspiration.
Though vegetable gardening in dry environments is a challenging job, it is can also be very practical. I have shared with you several water conservation strategies that can help you conserve water and obtain healthy and nutritious produce. If you follow these simple tips you can grow and maintain a healthy vegetable garden at home easily under drought conditions. Enjoy growing fresh vegetables at home and share them with your friends and family.