As I write this, we've just had a crazy deluge, complete with lightning and hail, in my part of Oklahoma City. For the four weeks prior, however, we've had nothing but sun, sun, and 100+ degree heat. My poor garden is scorching, even though I have mulched it with straw and water it every morning.
I am getting a handful of Roma and cherry type tomatoes every day, the Swiss chard and okra are still growing, and the sunflowers are 12 feet high (!!) but so far bubkes from the zuchinni, pole beans and just one or two lousy jalapeno peppers. It also appears that the butternuts have stopped growing. Strangely, the malabar spinach I planted has never really gotten started. I think most of the seeds were washed out in the early spring floods we had.
If we are going to stay in Oklahoma City, we are bound to encounter this type of weather more and more often, along with other freakish weather shifts. So if I ever hope to get anything out of my garden, I am going to need to put in a little more resilient design effort. Otherwise I may end up with nuttin'. Here are some ideas to drought and heat proof my garden:
1. Add more organic matter. I need to get a load of horse manure and cover my raised garden beds with it. This will help my soil retain more moisture. And this fall I will switch from regular composting to trench composting in the garden (wherever there happens to be room).
2. Mulch with newspaper and straw. I have already done this, but plan to get more next year so I can get better, deeper, coverage.
3. Try to find more heat and drought resistant or even loving plants. For this, I might try calling the OSU-OKC extension service.
4. Plant a big, late garden. I am going to try to plant a mid-summer, early fall and late fall garden this year, if I can find the room. I will try to plant short-season faves like beans, zuchinni, and greens along with fall regulars like the brassicas and garlic. If this year's heat is any indication, this may end up being my "main" time to garden. Last year, if I remember correctly, we pulled the last tomatoes out in late November.
5. Use ollas. Ollas, which are large buckets or pots buried in the ground, deliver water right to the roots of the plant as needed. Often, people can just water the bucket/pot a few times per month and just let the water slowly seep out. I planned to make some ollas this year, but somehow it just got away from me...
6. Rig up shade protection. This year, I interplanted my butternuts with sunflowers, thinking that it would be like a "two sisters" configuration. However, I didn't figure on the fact that they are both very hungry plants. I think they may be competing. Still, the general idea is good. The Swiss Chard that is getting some shade from a bean trellis seems to be doing well.
7. Invest in rainwater harvesting. In the case of drought, restrictions may be imposed. Occasionally that will even extend to gardens. Having a backup plan will help make sure I can keep my garden watered - and supply backup water in the case of municipal water interruption (pipe breaks, etc.). I have about 800 gallons of water storage, enough to supply water to my family (at 6 gallons per day) and a garden for a few weeks.
How about you other hot-and-dry climate gardeners? Can you give me a few tips?