Drought-Tolerant Edible Gardening

At the demonstration garden at Petaluma Bounty, you can see a variety of irrigation techniques in action.  Some are more drought-tolerant than others.  Here is a quick tour through each of them:

Swaling and Mulching: I have started experimenting with swaling and mulching to sink more water on-site. I’ve dug small swales near some of my annual plants and mulched them with straw to prevent evaporation off the soil surface (pictured below). During heat waves, I can sink some water in the swales that should hydrate the soil and will offer some resilience to thirsty plants nearby while not drowning the roots. Leaving bare soil is the best way to waste lots of water. With annuals, you need to be careful about mulching with a carbon source because it can deplete the nitrogen from your soil, but the more you cover your bare soil, the better. Mulching not only prevents evapotranspiration, but also limits weeds, so will save you time on watering and weeding.


Drip irrigation: Drip irrigation is a real winner as far as water-conserving irrigation strategies.  I have emitters on all of the perennial plants at the demo garden and many of the annuals as well, including the zucchini plants pictured below.  The amount of water delivered to each plant varies from one gallon per hour to four gallons per hour.  On trees, it’s important to put two emitters on them – one on each side at least a foot out from the trunk so that the roots will spread below ground.


Soaker hoses: I’m also experimenting with soaker hoses.  They seem to sweat water out of the pores.  I’ve wrapped them around the base of many of my kohlrabi plants and snaked them back and forth where the squash, corn and beans are going to be planted (both pictured below).  This seems like a nice strategy for an area with many smaller plants that need water and it is more efficient than spray heads, which lose a lot of water to wind and evaporation.



Spray heads: This is really my last choice in irrigation and I plan to remove all spray heads by next Spring.  Spray heads and sprinklers are quite inefficient because the wind can carry much of the water away and it evaporates easily instead of making it deep into the soil where roots can drink.  I have them on my container garden (pictured below) and in the huge bed of greens as a temporary measure because the greens were planted before my irrigation strategy was clear.


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