8 Tips For Gardening In A Drought

This week, I would like to talk to you about gardening in a drought.

This might seem like a surprising topic from a blog about mental health and conscious travel, but growing your own food is one of the best things that you can do for yourself and for the planet.

Why is growing your own food so important?

Well, you can be sure that your food hasn’t been sprayed with toxic chemicals which cause cancer in people and the collapse of pollinating species. You don’t have to choose food wrapped up in plastic from the supermarket, and you can’t get lower food mileage than pulling a juicy carrot from the earth and sticking in straight in your mouth. It is far cheaper than buying food in a supermarket and there is nothing as delicious as a meal cooked with ingredients that you grew yourself.

You can also protect your family from any external shocks to the food systems that empty supermarket shelves. (We all thought it was impossible until COVID panic cleared the shelves in a day.) And, if you needed any more reasons, reconnecting with the cycles of weather and the earth does extraordinary things for your mental health.

Photo by  Couleur

In case you think that growing is for the privileged few, I’d like you to know that everyone can grow food. You don’t have to spend hours out in the garden slaving over a small holding, just growing a few potatoes in a big pot is a good starting point! Even if you live in a studio apartment in London, there is always a way.

Seriously. Syrian refugees are currently producing an abundance of fresh vegetables from abandoned foam mattresses in the middle of the desert. But I’ll save tiny space gardening for a future article, if you’d like to find out more!

Today, I would like to offer you some tips for gardening in a drought, which I have learned from extraordinary people all over the world. From the rocky island of Lismore off the coast of Scotland, to the hills of Arkansas, the lush valleys of Germany and the sweltering south of France. From Africa to Vietnam, I have stayed with so many remarkable families on my slow travels through the world, and they have taught me so much about cultivating the Earth with respect, even in the most challenging circumstances.

So without further ado, I would like to offer you 8 helpful tips for gardening in a drought.

1. Water at dawn or dusk

It is extremely wasteful to water your garden in the middle of the day. 

Instead of soaking deep into the soil, the majority of the water evaporates in the midday heat. What’s more, the cold water had an adverse effect on the warm plants. Just like any living being, a drastic change in temperature causes shock and illness. 

If you do have to water in the middle of the day for any reason, don’t do it with cold water straight from the tap or spring. Leave any cold water in a bucket or watering can in the sun, until it is tepid to the touch. 

Ideally, you should water your garden early or late in the day, when the soil and air temperature is lower and evaporation will be limited. 

2. Cover the soil with vegetation 

Bare soil dries out very quickly in the heat. 

To remedy this, you can lay vegetation like cut grass or tree cuttings all around the base of your plants. This will create cooling shade, and prevent water loss through evaporation. 

The plant clippings will also feed your soil as they rot, and prevent weeds from growing as they deprive the bare soil of light. 

3. Choose appropriate seeds

Some seeds can thrive in hot, dry conditions. Here are some good vegetables to grow in a dry year:

  • Beans
  • Melons
  • Peppers
  • Leeks (plant the seedlings with plenty of water. Afterwards, they will be fairly drought resistant)
  • Eggplant (Aubergine)
  • Sweet potato
  • Tomatoes (particularly hybrid varieties like Early Girl Tomato, Celebrity Tomato or Sweet 100 Tomato)
  • Onions
  • Turnips
  • Potatoes

Hybrid seeds often do very well in drought conditions. The crossing of two pure varieties gives the hybrid fruit or vegetable more resilience and strength. This doesn’t have to be an invasive or chemical process, it just involves applying pollen from one plant to the flowers of another. 

In fact, it happens in nature if you sow different varieties close together. 

However, you can’t collect seeds from hybrid varieties and sow them with the same result. Instead of having the same hybrid yield the second year, you will have either the male or the female variety that was originally combined.

Image by MonikaP

4. Avoid raised beds 

Raised beds can be very beneficial for some plant varieties, particularly in areas with poor, rocky soil. However, they do not retain water very effectively. 

Water drains quickly from the raised bed into the soil below, leaving the bed dry. You can avoid this by sowing directly into the ground, though some plants don’t do as well this way. 

Here are some vegetables that do very well when planted into the ground (aka direct sow):

  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Peas (But they need a lot of water at flowering time)
  • Lettuce
  • Radish
  • Squash 
  • Spinach
  • Turnip

5. Repurpose water

It’s amazing how much water you can repurpose when you put your mind to it. 

For example, you can save water drained from boiling pasta or vegetables, and use it in the garden when it has cooled down. 

You can also use plant based washing up liquid when washing your dishes, and use this water on the garden too. Do be careful about the type of washing up liquid that you use in your garden, because you don’t want to pollute your soil. 

Of course, rainwater should be collected and stored too. make sure you close the water containers or leave a long branch in them to prevent thirsty wildlife getting trapped and drowning. 

6. Direct Watering 

It’s important to water plants directly at the base, instead of sprinkling water all over your vegetable garden. 

Firstly, this means that you are watering your vegetables and not the weeds! Secondly, it will save a lot of water. 

7. Look out for pollinating insects

Pollinating insects are a vital part of a healthy garden. Without them, our entire food system would collapse. 

As  the weather gets hot and dry, many pollinating insects like wild bees will struggle. You can leave out a dish of water in your garden to help attract insects, but make sure you leave plenty of twigs floating in it so they can land safely and drink without drowning.

8. Remove fruit from young trees

My final tip for effective gardening in drought conditions is to quickly remove any young fruit from trees the first year that they bear fruit. 

By removing the fruit as soon as it appears, the tree will refocus its energy on strengthening and deepening its roots instead. Although you will miss out on the apples or pears in the first year, you can help give your tree a better foundation to thrive in the coming years.

At the same time, don’t overwater any young trees. This will also prevent them from growing good deep roots, because water will be easy to find at the surface. 

Limit watering to a minimum for the first year, and the tree will do better in the long run. 

I hope you enjoyed this article! If you have got any tips of your own, please share them in a comment below.

More blog posts:

If you found this article interesting, you may want to check out the Highly Sensitive Nomad Book.

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