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What Should We Plant in a Drought Year?

I found out that “nothing” is the wrong answer

I started to think about planting some vegetables and then it occurred to me that maybe we should not plant anything this year, because water is expected to be very scarce.

My garden consultant, Jody Main, reminded me that home vegetable gardening saves water, because commercial farming uses much more water per plant than organic home growing.

Jody says that gardeners who grow fruit, herbs, and veggies at home will “SAVE the world’s water.” 

She advises enriching the soil with lots of and with a layer of straw or leaves several inches deep, because the mulch helps keep water from evaporating from the soil, and the compost helps the soil hold water. A garden with compost and mulch will use far less water than a garden with bare clay soil. Also, with rich soil, you can put plants closer together.

In a drought year like this one, it pays to be mindful of which plants are thirstier than others. This might be a good year to skip corn and pumpkins.

Think about the plants that grow well in southern Italy—most of them don’t need a lot of water: tomatoes, herbs, beans, chard, and spinach.

For ornamentals, this is a good year to think about water conservation. Perhaps you could try some natives—they need water to get started but then they grow with no water at all.

And maybe it is time to yank out a few of your more thirsty plants.

As usual, I have been neglecting to do my watering. Now I am going around the yard and seeing what has survived my neglect. Some plants are doing fine, some not so much. I find differences even within the same family of plants: one fern looks good and a fern right next to it has expired.

Rather than rush in with water to save the plants that are suffering, I am letting them return to the earth. I’m putting them in my compost. In their place I will add a few hardy vegetables, mixing them in with my ornamentals.

Chard comes to mind as my first choice for a drought year. It makes good sautéed greens and awesome soup. I have seen chard surviving in fields that have not been watered in decades.

About This Column: Pam Walatka explores sustainable life in Los Altos Hills. Contact Pam at pamwalatka@yahoo.com or see Pam Portugal Walakta Writings on FaceBook.

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