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Gardening Through A Drought

For a homesteader, gardening is a crucial element of living off the land. If you grow your own food, a drought can be a scary and trying time. However, droughts are a fact of life, and depending on where you live, may be a fairly regular occurrence. That’s why the best way to garden through a drought is to plan ahead. Water is, and always will be, a limited resource. There is only so much water to go around on this planet, and you need to use yours wisely. With proper planning, especially in drought-prone areas, you can minimize the possible losses that a drought can cause. Even with good preparation, there are steps you need to take during a drought, like using your water efficiently that will mean the difference between saving and losing all of your garden.

  • Make A Plan. A good, drought-resistant garden starts with good planning. If you have yet to start a garden or have not completed one yet, take some time to make a plan before you go any further. Consider where your plants should go to help conserve water as well as the types of plants you will grow. Plan to put those that will need the most watering closest to the water source and group plants with similar water needs close to each other.
  • Use Good Soil. The quality and content of your soil has a lot to do with how well it holds on to water. If your soil is high in clay, it will not absorb water very well and you will end up with a lot of useless runoff. On the other hand, if you have a lot of sand in your soil, the water will soak in immediately, but it will also drain right out again. For soil high in clay, you should add in organic ingredients like peat or compost. With sandy soil, add peat moss, manure, or compost. Add organic material every year to keep the soil in good working order. These additions will break up dense soil and allow roots to grow deeper, but will also give your soil the right balance of absorption and retention.
  • Plant The Right Plants. What you plant is crucial to surviving droughts. If you are gardening to live off the fruits of your labor, you may have to stretch and plant some things that use too much water. However, in general, you should be able to find plants that are suited to surviving waterless times. If you are purchasing plants for your garden, look for those that are labeled as drought-resistant. These are varieties that have been bred to tolerate poor conditions. Another way to ensure you get hardy plants is to stick with native species and varieties. These types of plants evolved in the conditions in which you live and are well suited to survive in the local climate.

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  • Plant At The Right Time And In The Right Way. The soil and the type of plants you use are important, but only two pieces of the drought-resistant puzzle. When and how you place your plants can make a difference. When you put in new plants, they need a lot of water initially. This helps them to establish roots in their new location. If you do this in the summer, you will be providing much of that water from your own faucet. Put new plants in during spring and fall, and you can rely more on rainfall to help you establish your plants. Also consider how you plant them. Putting plants together in groups is more water-efficient. When putting in large plants like trees and shrubs, dig a little moat around them to catch water that runs off during a rain or when you are watering them.
  • Use Mulch. Mulch is a wonderful thing for water conservation. A good layer of mulch all around your plants help to keep moisture in the soil where your plants need it. Without mulch, much of the moisture that sits on the surface after a rain or a watering will simply evaporate away. This is especially true when it is warm out. Besides retaining water, your mulch will also help you prevent weed growth, regulate the temperature of the soil, and reduce erosion. Mulch can be compost, pine needles, leaf litter, rocks and gravel, or chipped wood. Decide which will work best for your garden and your needs.
  • Use Water Efficiently. Despite your best efforts to plan your garden, to control moisture with soil amendments and mulch, and growing native and drought-resistant plants, you will need to water your garden from time to time. When you do water your garden, do so with the utmost efficiency. Refrain from creating a fixed schedule for watering. Only do so when you see that the plants need water. Check the soil to see if it is dry or moist before watering, as some plants will look droopy only because it is hot out. Timing is important too. Water early in the morning because you will lose much of your water to evaporation in the heat and light of the day. Water your plants deeply and less frequently. This means taking time to really let the soil absorb a lot of water rather than giving your plants a quick spritz every day or so. Deep watering encourages the plants to grow deep roots, which means they will tolerate future droughts better.

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  • Limit Your Lawn. The lovely, green grass of a well-manicured lawn looks nice, but it is a terrible waste of water. Keep your lawn to a small plot by creating beds of native plants. Also consider letting your grass go dormant when water is scarce. If your lawn is well-established, you can stop watering it and let it turn brown. It will bounce back when the rains come again.
  • Check For And Repair Leaks. Leaks in hoses and irrigation systems are a huge source of water waste. Even a small defect in a hose or irrigation pipe can cause you to lose a tremendous amount of water. It may take time and effort to do so, but you will be glad you did this chore. Take the time to search out any leaks and to repair them correctly. You will save gallons of water in the future.
  • Save Rain Water. A rain barrel is an old-fashioned tool and one that you can bring back to be more efficient with your water usage. Having barrels full of water can be a life saver for your plants during a summer drought. The idea is a simple one: place a large barrel under a downspout on your house and watch the rain fall into it. You can build your own barrel for catching rainwater, or you can buy barrels made specifically for this purpose. You want something large enough to collect plenty of water and that has a tight fitting lid. There is no point in collecting the water if you can’t store it. You can even get rain barrel systems that are quite sophisticated and involve pumps to get the water from the barrel to your irrigation system. However you do it, just make sure that you do. Collecting rain water is a very important part of sustainable living. The water you collect should only be used for watering your garden unless you have ensured that it is not contaminated from your roof or gutters. Even then, you would still probably want to purify and/or filter the water before allowing any animals to drink it.

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