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Dry garden -- first attempt (summary)  RSS feed

 
pollinator
Posts: 174
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
 
master pollinator
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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: 626
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
pollinator
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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.
 
pollinator
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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/
 
gardener
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Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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I live on the Pacific Wet Coast, so the "sun" season is also the "drought" season. When we moved here 20 years ago, the former owner irrigated most of the property constantly. I knew I had neither the time nor the will to do so, but didn't want to kill the fruit trees. I started to water them less often each year, but made sure that when I did water, I watered slowly overnight so that the water went deep, and now it is rare that I water the apple trees at all - maybe once in the middle of the drought period if it's a particularly long one. The plum tree I planted needs more organic matter in the soil and is in a *very* dry spot with competition from a cedar hedge. Even so, I only watered it twice this year, but did so deeply. Mulch has its downsides here, because we get a lot of moisture as dew in August and Sept before the rain usually comes. That said, I'm going to try to expand on its companions (a friend just gave me some comfrey roots which will be part of that), and try to get wood chips incorporated into the soil.

From this experience, I see irrigation as a balance - none and I may get no harvest, daily and I waste time, water, and the energy to pump that water. If I watered more, I know I would get more and larger fruit on some of the trees, but that said, I also think that trees that have to work to make their fruit are likely to produce fruit with more flavour and micro-nutrients. I'd rather plant more trees and use less water to get the volume of food, rather than have large, anemic produce.

Lauren Ritz wrote:

I have an area to the east of my house that gets approximately 7 hours of direct sun.

Sun is a huge factor! I live beside a huge cedar and fir forest and I'm constantly watching exactly where the sun is at what time of the year. Many things that local friends can grow just don't get enough sun on my land, so I have to choose carefully what to plant. That said, east sun is particularly helpful, and west sun can cause overheating and worse drying out, at least in my ecosystem. Some plants are more tolerant of that west sun and more appreciative of the heat. Your observation of your plants is just as critical as the continued improvement of the soil, and your goal of drought tolerant seedlings. Keep up the good work!
 
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