Friday, July 17, 2009

Drought and heat resilience

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?


MN_homesteader said...

We re trying rain harvesting, but it only works when it rains which is has not for a week or so. We have 9 rain barrels which is about 540 gallons of rain water storage, but they are all empty right now :(

Wendy said...

Well, I'm not a "hot and dry" gardener, but I am a "cold and wet with a very short growing season" gardener, and over the years, I've (finally) come to the realization that some things just won't do well in my garden, and I have to stop wasting space on them. Things like any sort of melon, which need much warmer temperatures for much longer periods.

In the end, I figured that if the plant needs a lot from me (like watering and all kinds of special ferilizer treatments requiring things that weren't natural to my area) then I probably shouldn't try cultivating it, and I've limited my efforts to things that do well with my short season and cooler temperatures. The bottom line (for me, anyway) is if it can't grow from start to finish from seed - outside - then I probably have no business trying to grow it.

I know that probably doesn't help much, does it? :)

Lewru said...

You might try the extension service, but when I've looked at their recommendations they're almost all hybrids. I did some research on varieties that set fruit in the heat a couple of years ago and I'm not sure what happened to it! :) I'll have to do some looking. Part of the change will have to be adapting to things we probably don't eat but is edible here. Try this site for more info:

And adapting your own seed eventually will work, too! It's all trial and garden hasn't been so hot this summer either (well, it's been too hot, but you know what I mean!)

Chile said...

We've come to some of the same conclusions here in the dry desert. Our CSA farmer grows enough food, though, for 3 or 4 CSAs, restaurants, and farmer's market and he's in Phoenix which is hotter and drier. The difference is that his soil is better than ours.

We're looking at getting a lot more organic matter into the soil as well as mulch, and hoping that makes a difference. We already get mostly hot season plants from Baker Creek and Native Seeds/SEARCH.

Gavin said...

Hi Hausfrau. Sounds like you're getting similar weather patterns to us here in Melton Australia. Scorching hot in summer (47C). We have to put the mulch on thick, water twice a day and put shade cloth over each bed to reduce the heat and UV. Sign of the times unfortunately.


Anonymous said...

Frau-we can deliver a trailer load (16ft - approximately 4 yards) of fully composted horse manure to your beds for a $200 - contact @ - also you need to put books of hay between rows and use drip tape - you can see what we are doing in okc to battle heat at the happyeggs site - besto

Anonymous said...

Upping the Stakes
Forget Shorter Showers

Why personal change does not equal political change
by Derrick Jensen

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?


I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.

Read the rest here:

Tricia said...

I'm really interested in the ollas and even more interested since you said you plan to "make" some. That would be a fun workshop! *hint hint*

I've been mostly disappointed with this year's garden. I think I'll post an overview soon at