ryland gardening used to be pretty common around here. I learned to garden that way and for the bulk of our gardening we practice dryland. It’s pretty easy for me to post about dryland gardening in June when IT IS WET here, so I thought I would take some photos of how the garden looks now.
In all fairness though, I do water some crops, and I will water on a as-needed basis. This summer when we had 100 ° F weather, I watered some crops. I post about stuff like this because I want people to know yes, you can grow a decent amount of food without a lot of water, just like yes, you can mob stock with a small herd. Like the grazing, most of dryland gardening revolves around planning. Crops that need water are planted close to the water source, plants that don’t need water are grouped together. Obviously in July I don’t want my seed crops and garlic that need drying down to be near something that needs watering. Likewise, since I have to water in the greenhouse, I plan for planting crops in the greenhouse that need or really benefit from frequent watering. I like the term the Nordell’s use – bio-extensive, as opposed to biointensive. Our farmstead gardening system is uses many different methods for different crops. Going with the flow or without it so to speak. Dryland gardening or farming is a good technique to learn. People always ask me why I don’t do rainfall collection since we have so much rain. I always ask (in my mind, since I can be polite) , why irrigate? It’s not the collecting of rainfall, it’s the storage and distribution that will kill you. Everyone has a different situation, I have worked diligently to learn what varieties tolerate this type of gardening. Some work, some don’t. Observation is the key.
In a nutshell, dryland gardening works best with wide row spacing and wider spaces between plants. If a plant is allowed to grow to its full potential it can find adequate moisture. The squash plant pictured above has funneled the dew right down to the new root shoot where it is needed the most.
Besides wide row and plant spacing I maintain a dust mulch. Steve Solomon writes about this extensively and why it works as opposed to a carbon mulch so I won’t travel that path here in this post. As you can see when I scratch the soil to the side with my boot the soil is moist several inches down. Like our grass, the vegetables are deep-rooted because we haven’t watered. We have not really had any measurable rain since early July and the soil is still moist in the plant root zone.
We also don’t use raised beds, that would be garden suicide for me unless I want to commit to watering all the time. What little heat I would gain early in the season becomes a nightmare once our dry hot weather hits. It takes even more water to keep raised beds happy.
Certainly the plants could look more perky, but if I am trying to grow nutrient dense, mineral rich food I should be
making allowing the plants to do what plants do best, look for moisture and minerals deep in the soil. Too much irrigation can wash the minerals down past the root zone where it may be unavailable to the very plant we are trying to grow.
Even though we are hot and dry, to add water to this squash would be foolish. I need the squash on the vines to ripen so they will cure and store well for winter. To that end, I have lopped off the runners and any immature squash that have no chance to ripen before the season ends. A wake-up call of sorts for the squash to stop growing and ripen.
So that is the state of our dryland garden. I’m not advocating everyone try to grow without water, but I want to put my results out there so you can see it is possible to grow many crops with minimal water. It may be something you need to consider in the future.