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Dry garden -- first attempt (summary)  RSS feed

 
Posts: 92
Location: Utah
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This year I tried a dry garden test, with the goal of watering only every other week. So not technically "dry" farming, but a start.

I have an area to the east of my house that gets approximately 7 hours of direct sun. The only things growing there are a couple of concord grape vines, so I decided to do a double test. (Dry garden, and no irrigation on the vines--previous years they have been watered deeply once a week.)

The area has no supplemental irrigation unless I bring it in. My water tanks are there, so I used them for watering. The "soil" is sand and rock. It was lawn up until a few years ago when I stopped watering it. Why bother watering lawn when no one uses the space and no one can see it? Last year I dug down into the ground in June or July and it was bone dry at least two feet down. "Organic" matter is limited to approximately the first inch of soil, with nothing below. This area is an old river bed.

So last fall I covered it with a thick layer of leaves. In the spring I planted probably close to fifty seeds. I used seeds from a pseudo-dry-garden test last year, where I just dumped the seeds in the ground in an area that got some overflow from the lawn sprinklers. So I planted second generation seeds that had accidentally been selected for dry conditions. About half came up. Some of my seedlings were killed by insects, some by frost. Of those that came up and survived, nine have actually fruited. Another two currently have female blossoms. Those that survived and fruited will be my seed for next year.

I watered between two weeks and one month apart.

Conclusions:

Better to start with drought tolerant seeds if you can, but I just used what I had. Squash was probably not the best option for a first test. I made some mistakes with the watering and shade, meaning I planted the majority of the plants in an area with only 7 hours of full sun (which I thought would be sufficient). The sun made much more of a difference than I expected, and many of the plants are just getting their first blossoms. Those in full sun did much better. Mid-season I also started watering exactly two weeks apart, without paying attention to the plants, so I think they got more water than they technically needed. Water the whole area if possible rather than spot watering. They did much better with a sprinkler than a hose, probably because much of the water drains straight down with the hose. You want to water the whole root-mass if possible.

Those that have fruited:
Two mini pumpkins (1 pumpkin on each)
Three zucchini (still bearing, mostly on one plant, in flushes, four to six at a time)
One butternut (1 squash, now ripe)
One spaghetti squash (1, ripening)
One watermelon (1, ripening)
One winter squash (1, ripening)

In most cases the fruit are ripening faster and smaller than expected. The pumpkins are the normal size for the variety.

I consider this a qualified success, but certainly enough to try again next year. At this point the Concord grapes are ripe and they smell amazing! :)

***Next year I'm considering tepary beans for my dry garden, but I've never grown them so I'm hesitant. I don't know their habits. I still want to find something that can grow "dry" in that semi-shaded area where I did most of the dry garden this year.
DG-Zucchini.jpg
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Dry Garden Zucchini
 
pollinator
Posts: 10111
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Very useful information, especially the amount of sun exposure needed at your latitude.

 
Posts: 567
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Lauren, this is great information.  And it's good to embrace where we are, the soil we have, and the conditions we are given.

Something I learned from Permaculture is to use extra thick mulch, like 6 inches that will shrink down to 4" and maintain that thickness. 

For perennials and tomatoes it is good to get the water to go straight down, get it as deep as possible, then it is "stored" and the roots will go down after it.   But I see you are noticing that shallow watering everywhere is working for the squash.

Are you using manure?
 
Lauren Ritz
Posts: 92
Location: Utah
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Cristo Balete wrote:Lauren, this is great information.  And it's good to embrace where we are, the soil we have, and the conditions we are given.

Something I learned from Permaculture is to use extra thick mulch, like 6 inches that will shrink down to 4" and maintain that thickness. 

For perennials and tomatoes it is good to get the water to go straight down, get it as deep as possible, then it is "stored" and the roots will go down after it.   But I see you are noticing that shallow watering everywhere is working for the squash.

Are you using manure?



The mulch was a foot deep in the fall, mulched down to about 3 inches. Mostly compression. I'm hoping the earthworms will find their way back to this area and start working on it. There were earthworm mounds in the spring about 20 feet away, so I can hope. :)

Dry farming is primarily about root mass. The plants have to spread their roots out to find the water that exists. It also helps if the soil has something in it to hold the water. This "soil" is primarily sand, with a good percentage of rock, so that makes a huge difference in the hold and spread of the water. If I had better soil the center watering would probably work. I just noticed that for me, in this situation, the overhead watering of a larger area worked better.

No, I'm not using any kind of fertilizer. Just the leaves. At this point, in the third "selection" generation, I want only the strongest to survive and produce seeds for the next generation.

When everything dies I'll compost the plants, leaving the roots in the soil, and cover with another layer of leaves.
 
Posts: 94
Location: Golden Valley, AZ 86413
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There are many gord-type plants that grow along the highways in Arizona. The pavement acts as a water collector, an unintended rainwater harvester.

Squash plants provide their own shade to prevent the drying action of the direct sunlight away from the soil. I would be interested to hear how your dryland squash fares in the full sunlight.

For water hungry plants, you could consider adjusting the 'lumpiness' of your garden to direct the natural rainfall to areas where you plant varieties that require those 'little extra' amounts of water.

See Brad Lancaster's excellent series of books on Dryland Rainwater Harvesting techniques. Available on Amazon and at permaculture sites everywhere!

https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/about/
 
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