Skip to comments.Growing in a drought
Posted on 08/31/2011 1:08:20 AM PDT by EnglishCon
I have lived in many countries over the years, and have always had a vegetable garden. Not just for cost, as many of the countries I have lived in have had what we considered dirt cheap food, but for the quality. Nothing compares to the taste of veggies fresh from the garden.
Recently, some friends told me about the bad drought in Texas. Their gardens are blackened and burnt, with food only coming in, grudgingly, thanks to heavy watering every other day. It immediately took me back to two of the hardest places I have ever tried to raise food.
Kenya and Botswana. Both places have no rain at all for months and months, then an entire years worth of rain in about 6 weeks. The temperatures, especially in Kenya, make the current Texas heatwave look like a refrigerator. Water sources are unreliable, even in the towns. Yet both places are stuffed with families that grow not only enough to feed themselves, but enough to sell too from their personal gardens, not from farms.
So how do they manage that?
The technique involves three separate things, all of which are easily made by anyone with the ability to use a shovel, hammer or a trowel.
Raised beds. When we rented our home in Botswana, in the yard behind the house was a series of concrete troughs, roughly 4 foot wide, 2 foot deep and 15 foot long, running North to South. Concrete base, concrete sides, they looked like fish pools. In the corner of the yard was a pile of soil. Red, dry and fairly lifeless. Those were the raised beds, designed to keep every drop of water you added to the soil from disappearing into the parched earth. You would fill them with soil during the rainy season and plant your seeds. Drainage holes about 16 inches below the top of the beds would prevent the seeds damping off, and ensure a goodly amount of water for the initial growing. One improvement we made was to use each trough in turn as a deposit for any vegetable waste a three inch layer of chopped vegetable waste or cow manure in the bottom of the trough would rapidly compost down and improve the soil immensely. At the end of the dry season, when you had harvested the crops, you would shovel out the soil and let the sun sterilize them for the next crop.
Shade netting. Every 3 feet in the troughs was a hole, just the right size to take a ¾ inch PVC pipe. Most people used branches, but the PVC pipe was more stable and used by anyone who could afford it. Horizontal pipes across the top turned the uprights into a frame, to which you would attach the shade netting, a fine mesh nylon weave. You have seen it before, if you have seen a stone building being renovated it costs about $30 for 100 yards of 5 foot wide and cuts down the light to the beds by about 40%, according to my very old light meter. One length tied to the top of the frame, and one length on the Eastern and Western side which could be raised or lowered, depending on the day. Our drying evening winds invariably came from the West, so lowering the side flap and tying it down until sunset prevented a lot of wind drying of plants. Then raising it again and Tieing down the Eastern side, just before bed, prevented the plants being scorched by sunrise.
Thread watering. Watering plants is the biggest problem during a drought. For some plants, the watering can came into play, but for others like bean vines, pea vines, tomatoes, zucchinis, pumpkins and squashes, we used a technique called thread watering. Along the top of the shade netting frames for these beds ran three PVC pipes, capped at one end, and attached to a gallon lidded bucket at the other. Each pipe had holes drilled in them very small holes, less than a millimeter across. At each hole location, you would tie a coarse thread about 6lb test fishing line size, and run the thread down to the base of the plant, pegging it into the soil with a 6 nail. Fill up each bucket every night, and the single gallon of water would irrigate the whole row for 24 hours with minimal losses. The lids did dual duty of preventing evaporation and preventing mosquitoes breeding.
You may want to try it, you may not. But I thought it would be interesting for those who are in the drought to see how people who are always in a drought feed themselves.
Great stuff for avid gardeners and some good tips for gareners in areas where there are dry spells even up north.
That variant of drip irrigation you mentioned. The pvc pipe using threaded wicking action. The thread or line you mentioned I assume wasn’t nylon. Did that thread or line go to the depth of (2’ down) of the raised bed or go down just a few inches ? Were these pipes placed north to south and placed on the walls creating the raised bed lengthwise or east to west across the raised bed ? And were a number of these pipes installed equalling each row of seed ?
What about another prayer by the Governor. Normally that works. If you are sincere it always works for me and many others on this site...........
Each pipe had holes drilled in them very small holes, less than a millimeter across. At each hole location, you would tie a coarse thread about 6lb test fishing line size, and run the thread down to the base of the plant, pegging it into the soil with a 6 nail.
I don't quite understand. Is the string threaded through the hole in the pipe? Or just tied around the pipe at the location of the hole? Approx. what diameter of pipe, noting that the reservoir is only 1 gallon?
And, just want to add that a large part of Oklahoma is also experiencing severe drought, not just Texas.
Used to live in NW OK so I know what hot, windy & dry is all about. Live in WI now where we measure drought by weeks, not months & years. Anyway, I'm expanding my hosta garden into an area not covered by the sprinkler system and in under trees where it gets very dry. Using moisture crystals with the new plantings. I've noticed that when I lift a hosta to move it to another location that the roots are clinging to the moisture crystals so I think they like them! So the MC's are another tool in the water conservation box.
I re-read your piece about using the threaded line and understand for your vine crops (beans etc) set the pipe on your sun screen which is above the raised bed . The threaded line would also train the vine to grow on the line while irrigating it and it was stuck in the ground a few inches deep.
Ping to the Gardening list!
Weekly Gardening Thread
You-Know-Who can use this advice for when he is removed from office and deported to his native Kenya.
You are a clever fellow!
Good stuff! Thank you.
We tried growing three tomatoe plants in Global Buckets this summer.
Our tomatoe plants never grew more than a foot tall. When we finally gave up and put the plants in the ground the grow bucket (the dirt) was packed with root. Long thick ponytails of root had grown down into the resevoir bucket.
Each tomatoe was a different variety. Each plant came with it’s own tomatoe worm investation which doesn’t have anything to do with the buckets, obviously. But, another problem we had with the G.B.’s, is I think the water in the resevoirs was over heating because of our three digit heat.
We moved them to partial shade but I think the root problem was too advanced.
These poor tomatoes have had a rough summer. Doesn’t look like they will recover before fall.
Eastern New Mexico is in the severe drought along with the rest of you.
Now that takes gardening to a new level. We are so spoiled as a rule we would not think of doing this. Thanks for posting.
This is just fascinating to me! As a gardener, I am in awe of any other gardener and their location (how they garden to the climate/soil instead of forcing a garden that isn’t suitable). Even with common issues like a large population of deer, I am interested in flowers/plants/shrubs that are deer resistant (even if you add some of your deer yummy favorites... it isn’t a bad idea to keep a garden intact). It is no different than choosing full sun plants for sunny areas and not choosing shade only plants. Good job, Englishcon! Love the post!
thanks for posting
Thanks a lot for this. July this year was unusually dry for us, as well as unusually hot. We use our air conditioner water, and spring rain water saved in barrels, to avoid using the well water, but we had to prioritize the perennials, and didn’t have enough for some of the vegetables.
This is a very useful idea. Thanks again.
I moved to SC where we have sand down as far as I can dig. No good dirt whatsoever. It was 95 100 degrees for days on end with not much rain. I used 4 gallon pots (like the thin pots you get plants in ordered online) buried in the sand. I cut the bottoms out of the pots and put about a foot of compost below the pot then potting soil in the pots. I put the pots only about an inch apart in a row. I then cut ¾ pvc pipe into 5 sections and set them on two sides of each pot so that I had a row of stakes on each side of the pots. I put T connectors on the top of each stake and cross pieces to make a top that I could attach a shade cloth to on top. It worked great and I had tomatoes all summer. I hope I explained this well enough.
Never thought I would learn to hate trees! Trees, concrete, blacktop, weeds that grew in solid matts, root eating critters, and rats that invaded my garage in broad daylight!
For all that, one of the best gardens I've grown was in the heat and sand of El Paso, TX !!! Fun stuff, huh!?!
LOL Dont give me more credit then I earned. I was still at ground level so the hole was only a shovel handle deep. But yeah its been interesting. A much different gardening learning curve then where I grew up in Iowa. I lived for 20 years in Orlando so learned a lot there.
The thread - which as mosesdapoet pointed out is not nylon but cotton or jute - is just tied around the pipe at the site of the hole. One thing I did find is having the plants offset from the hole slightly, so the thread is about 5 degrees off vertical works better in terms of water delivery. You can always hang more twine for the vines to climb!
The pipes run the length of the bed, so North to South, and are, if memory serves, half inch diameter. Filling up the whole thing - pipe and reservior - takes about a gallon and a half of water first time, and about a gallon a day there after unless it is incredibly hot and windy or you forget to put down the side shades morning and afternoon.
If you make your frame using PVC connectors rather than tying the frame together, the shade frame should survive wind gusts. In Kenya, they get similar sudden strong winds and the frames normally survive just fine. If you have a high frame, you may want to anchor it, but setting the poles in 2 feet of concrete is normally enough to hold them.
Here's something simple that might work for you. I've got 24 water carrots, and it took some fiddling to get them to work. AND I didn't bother setting them up the last couple of years. First I learned not to jam them down into the soil but take a very large screwdriver I have and ream out the hole in a circular motion a little deeper and wider than needed for the carrot.
When I say carrot, I mean they are just orange plastic cones that screw onto bottles, the bottles being upside down facing the ground. The carrots are the cheapest but others are available.
Next I learned to put a little sand in the bottom to act as a filter thanks to a tip from someone. That kept the drip hole from getting clogged so much.
Then I screw them to a 2-liter bottle with a hole cut in the bottom (used a woodburner tool with the hot knife tip), purpose twofold. No hole, water won't flow. The hole lets the water flow. Also I can go along with the hose and fill them up again.
And I could have cut pieces of nylon screen to filter out junk getting into the 2-liter bottles and secure it somehow.
I found this easier than a too heavy, too long soaker hose my neighbor loaned me. My smaller soaker hose with laundry tube attachment for correct reach worked well but you can't turn it on too strong or the bottom of your plants will get scorched.
Water isn't rationed here, drought is but not like TX, but dragging the hose got to be such a pain I don't bother.
I used to grow tomatoes just fine on the east side of the house. That shielded them from the afternoon sun and conserved water; one cherry tomato climbed 15 feet at least. On the beefier tomatoes, maybe the yield wasn't as good but it worked. Now too many trees shade where I used to grow them so that limits what can be planted there.
The only thing about the carrots is they require close monitoring for stuff that still drops in there, bugs, clogs, but maybe better than other solutions. Sometimes I had to ream out the drip hole with a needle, they are a bit of a pain, too, but helped getting some perennials a good start their first year.
I learned the hard way with a milk jug, can't remember how I set up the drip in the pouring part. But I noticed it caved in on itself if I didn't punch a hole in the top. How did I set those up, didn't have the carrots then? Oh, I remember. They had the drip holes in the bottom of a gallon jug with the cap OFF. I forgot I did that. In a way that's easier and more portable than the carrots, but had to haul them arount to a faucet to fill them. They do work fast to save plants.
I have to do everything myself or hire it done, so making raised beds would be too hard for me. I'm learning the lasagna method. I'd like a rain barrel, a couple actually and not gonna get them. I also need to rig up more stuff plants can climb on without being too unsightly, I guess the skinnier rebar teepees would be the easiest for most stuff.
Also I use an awful lot of chicken wire in my gardening. It's ugly but plants soon hide it.
Moisture crystals are so useful, especially in hanging baskets, that I’d encourage every gardener to at least think about using them for every plant they put in.
I tend to use them in pots and hanging baskets only, as it is handy if I get working and forget to water them! Our garden soil here is heavy clay that rarely dries out. Been conditioning it with compost, lime and a lot of digging for 20 years so far, and the good stuff is still only about 18 inches deep!
As far as the heat goes, you just get used to it. Light and loose clothing and doing the midday siesta helps a lot!
I have used a similar product to the carrots you described, though mine were home made, and was told to fill them with pea gravel to stop the seep holes getting clogged. They are a handy way to provide constant water. In the south of Italy, where my in-laws live, people use pieces of drainpipe - 4 inch diameter, driven 4 feet into the ground, to water in new olive trees or grape vines for the first two to 4 years. Just go along with a hose (or buckets, which isn’t too good for the back!) and fill up each pipe.
Have you thought of using tree branches for your climbers? They look very nice, especially for peas or sweetpeas, and can be had for free from most people.
Luv, Master Gardener might be interested in looking at this.
Valuable thread, many thanks.
Yes, I've been saving my white birch bark branches, but they aren't tall enough or strong enough. But reinforced with skinny rebar, maybe I could make something attractive with those. I never thought of using rebar to make them tall enough; they'd cover them in no time. And I'm not as creative as some what I've seen on the web.
No nice straight branches for me, have to go to some woods to find some strong enough.
I'll see what I can put together with that this winter. Thanks for clarifying my thoughts.
I might just use the gallon jugs again. When all is said and done, I think they're easier than the carrots. Only drawback is they don't deliver water down deep.
Thanks Taz! Maybe he’ll read it if I ping him! We need all the help we can get!