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Low/no irrigation victory garden and food forest?

 
gardener
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I do a bit of community organizing around growing food, especially with religious groups. A few have contacted me saying they are having a hard time keeping foodbanks stocked, and with the economic fallout of the virus continuing,  they expect to get worse.  

But, they are low on money themselves and can't afford a high water bill. With enough mulch brought to bear, does anyone think fruit trees and vegetables could survive with little irrigation during a Pacific Northwest summer? We have a dry season in summer. Rainwater collection might be possible down the line
 
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I’m sure the trees will be fine. Just give some water if over 100.
 
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That depends on a lot of factors. If the fruit trees are well established, than they can survive with less water (but no water in summer exerts stress on the tree and might equal less successful fruiting).

Mulch helps retain water but could be more expensive than watering, unless you have a source for it (such as perhaps church members with a wood chipper and thus free wood chips).

Watering under the surface helps prevent evaporation of any water that is used, but obviously irrigation lines would be another expensive option. For free, you could use 2 liter bottles with small holes in them as a makeshift olla (the traditional ones are terracotta and I’ve heard of using clay terra-cotta pots with the drain hole plugged fully and the saucer placed over the top as an olla). This puts any water at root level.

Deep watering less often is more effective and can use less water than frequent shallow watering.

There are also plants that will be more or less effective in a xeriscape scenario, so choosing varieties that are tolerant of less water would be important.

All that aside, in the PNW if they have plenty of planting space, potatoes grow a lot of food per plant. They do need to have sort of an even amount of moisture to avoid growth problems (true of all root veg as far as I know).

Shade cloth might help reduce plant stress in the hottest parts of summer, but again it might out cost water.

I would suggest searching for xeriscape info, I don’t have  a lot to offer.

Hugelkultur will sponge up water in the wet season and keep it stored in the soil for an extended period without watering. There is a lot of information available about it, but for a large scale plot, it would take a lot of wood, compost and effort. I have heard fruit trees grown on a hugelkultur berm can go without additional water.

Newly planted fruit trees need frequent watering their first year to put out good roots and are unlikely to bear fruit in a helpful time frame.

Sorry for the mish-mash list of thoughts, hope some of it helps.
 
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Depends on where in PNW for sure, and how this particular summer goes. I don’t think watering a larger garden necessarily equates to a high water bill. Turning on the sprinkler daily, sure. But if you only water in the morning, after several dry days, when the soil is dry a few inches down, at the base of each plant, and water deeply it doesn’t need to be that much. Mulch will help retain the water of course. They can also do easy water collection now: 5 gallon buckets below downspouts are a start. As is re-using gray water from kitchen and bathroom sinks. You can also try to offset garden watering by reducing in-home water use with shorter showers, only running full loads in the washing machine/dishwasher, and so on.
 
pollinator
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James Landreth wrote:With enough mulch brought to bear, does anyone think fruit trees and vegetables could survive with little irrigation during a Pacific Northwest summer?



Not in the 1st year. In their 2nd and 3rd year, they can get by on less water, and eventually nearly no water (except what they pull from the ground) apart from the worst of summer heat/drought where they should be supplemented a little. Depends on your annual rainfall, and how water-retentive your ground is under the surface.
 
gardener
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Depends a bit on soils of course but it's possible. I have a food forest that is still in it's early stage in an area that used to be a gravel parking lot. First I got a hugelkultur hedgerow established around 2 edges of it (the food forest is currently shaped like a rectangle), then I fully sheet mulched the whole area to eliminate the existing grasses. At this time the ground was so hard I could barely pound in a t-post or u-post. I kept everything mulched without planting for a full year and then planted 3 hazelnuts and 4 fruit trees the following spring after about 1.5 years of the site sitting with just mulch (fall leaves) on it. At this time the soil had improved enough that I could fairly easily dig in it with just a shovel. I got the trees in and the following year (last year) I added more shrubs and more mulch plus some logs and woody debris to mark the boundary between paths and growing areas.

Everything is doing great and I don't water it--the area is too far away from my house to stretch a hose to it. With no watering the fruit trees all grew a ton during their first year and now (start of 2nd year) are leafing out well and I hope will add a lot of growth. No fruit so far but lots of growth.

With the heavy mulch the site never dried out despite the summer heat--I would check the soil under the mulch ever so often and it was always moist.

So if you're able to prep the site well then I think it would be fully possible to not need to water trees during their first year. But without a good site prep I would expect to need to water though some fruit trees like plums are very hardy and might do fine even with minimal site prep. I have one plum that I stuck into a pasture with just a ring of mulch around it. I never water it and it's growing and doing fine though it hasn't fruited yet but it's still too young to really expect fruit.
 
steward & bricolagier
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A weird option to consider: use a ditch witch to make trenches as deep as you can, fill them about halfway with wood chip or chunks or branches, any kind of organic debris, or fist sized rocks, or just back fill them with their own dirt if you absolutely have nothing you can put in there. Then fill them the rest of the way and plant your trees near them. What you are basically doing is making an underground water storage area in the soil. The rain water will seep down there and tends to hang out, the plants alawys have deep water to access. Keep mulching up top too, and the trees will flourish.

This is a desert gardening trick, for where the rain comes infrequently, but tends to flood when it does.
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