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Help! Short - Hot - Dry Growing Season

 
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Hello,
I love the idea of permaculture, but I just need to learn how to grow a garden first...
I live in Regina, SK … Zone 3
We can grow between June 1 and Sept 15

The last few years it's been hot and dry during the spring and summer.  During the winter, the ground is frozen between November 1 and April 15.
We have a really short growing season and short prep time..

I have been mulching like crazy.  When it rains the mulch holds the moisture nicely, but when it dries out, it dries out the mulch and then it's hard to keep it moist even with tap water.

I have two 1000 liter tanks to collect rain water, but they get filled up maybe once per season... so I am relying on tap water.

Last year, I planted into really nice soil.. lots of humus.... and it was so dry nothing really grew up...

I am certain that there are permaculture principles to learn... so I am asking for help on this...

It seems that on May 30, we need to hit the ground running, and have very limited growing time.. if we make mistakes the season is over quickly.

Any help would be appreciated..... thanks,
 
gardener
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In order for soil to be capable of holding onto water in draught type conditions you need two things.
1. The soil has to have lots of organic matter down to the second horizon level, this can't be done by mulching alone, you need to do a one time disturbance to jump start the soil.
2. Water holding structure needs to be present in the landscape so that rain water has the chance to soak deep instead of running off down hill. Swales and berms are one way to do this, Hugel culture is another method.

In Regina you might find that having a hoop house would benefit you greatly by giving you a longer growing season as well as helping with dry conditions during the growing season, along with reducing irrigation losses.

Redhawk
 
master pollinator
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My garden's ability to hold onto water improved dramatically after I installed buried wood beds.  https://permies.com/t/52077/Buried-Wood-Beds
 
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Location: NNSW Australia
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Compacting soil/mulch will decrease infiltration as well as evaporation.
Loose mulch can act like an evaporation wick during summer, I've found tamping down mulch as I apply it and water it to help a little in water retention.
Tamping soil firmly to hold water longer when planting seeds or cuttings is also helpful.
The loose soil of a raised bed really maximizes evaporation.

Growing your own shade can be helpful, I use a border of tall plants or a thick cover crop to keep seedlings shaded (see Gertrud Franck).
Starting seedlings indoors or soaking seeds can help to get a headstart on a short season.
 
Monty Loree
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Thanks...
I think what I'm seeing is that I need to study every water holding technique possible... hoop houses, mulch... hugelkultur... swales, berms  ….. every possible thing to control and hold water...

Thanks!
 
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We're a few hours north of you, and while we don't get the same level of droughtiness, I sure get it with the short season.

One thing we've noticed here is that mulch really needs to be applied the fall before the growing season.  That way, it absorbs the snow melt.  Otherwise, it seems to suck all the moisture out of the ground, making things drier than they would otherwise be.  We add as much straw as we can to certain beds each fall.  After a few years (3-5 ish), some of the mulch seems to get pretty well incorporated into the top bit of the soil, and everything seems to hold moisture better at that point.  Not so much in the first year, though, especially if the mulch is dry when you apply it.  I'm not sure if wood chips would be different, but I wouldn't think so.  

Buried wood or straw (under your growing beds, especially if you're not growing roots there) will also help hold on to winter/spring moisture through the growing season.  

Underground drip irrigation might help a bit, too.

We don't hill our potatoes, since that just seems to dry things out.  We dig a deep hole and plant them, then weed or mulch the surface.  We find the potatoes to be one of our most drought-tolerant crops when we grow them that way.  You have to work harder to harvest them, though.

It might be worth trying to shade your growing area, and if you live in a windy location, make a wind break.  We have a 4' pile of branches (from trimming our shelterbelt bushes) piled on the west side of the garden.  It slows the wind, and also allows snow to drift up on the garden through the winter, which gives us that much more moisture as a starting point.  If you live in a town, you'll have to come up with something prettier, of course, but it's worth considering how much wind you're getting, and from what direction, and maybe putting a low picket fence (or even a raised bed) on that side of the garden.  

With what you guys got last summer, though, I don't know that anything you can do would really make much difference.  That was brutal.  Some years, you just have to shrug and hope the next year will be better.  
 
pollinator
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Monty Loree wrote:Hello,
I live in Regina, SK … Zone 3
We can grow between June 1 and Sept 15.

I have been mulching like crazy.  When it rains the mulch holds the moisture nicely, but when it dries out, it dries out the mulch and then it's hard to keep it moist even with tap water.

Last year, I planted into really nice soil.. lots of humus.... and it was so dry nothing really grew up...

I am certain that there are permaculture principles to learn... so I am asking for help on this...

It seems that on May 30, we need to hit the ground running, and have very limited growing time.. if we make mistakes the season is over quickly.

Any help would be appreciated..... thanks,



I live an hour east of Regina. So same weather.

Plant earlier. Some seeds can be planted before the end of april. Carrots, peas, lettuce, and spinach can all be planted into very cold soil and they use the moisture left from snow melt to germinate and start growing.

Corn, potatoes, and beans need warmer soil, in a sunny spot, you can probabaly plant around May 15th, feel the soil with your hand, it should be around 10'C when you plant.

If you grow tomatoes or peppers they need to be started inside and are typically safe to transplant on the May Long weekend. You do need to check the forecast for transplants before planting though.

The season also extends longer into the fall than you think. Many things do die in the first few frosts, but I have picked bouquets of sweet peas for thanksgiving gatherings. At my family farm thanksgiving company also usually assists in digging carrots, potatoes, and beets. The carrots especially do a ton of growing in the fall.

Keep mulching like crazy, this and zero till are the best ways I have found to hold moisture. The last two years have been excessively dry, so my garden has also been very disappointing. Lets hope 2019 has average rainfall.

A few things with watering technique. I use a gravity fed hose, the mulch is mostly not wetted with this. Any kind of sprinkler or mister would not wet soil, only mulch. Also watering in the evening tends to be more effective, I guess the plant has the night to use the water before the sun and the wind start sucking the moisture out of everything.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Monty Loree wrote:Thanks...
I think what I'm seeing is that I need to study every water holding technique possible... hoop houses, mulch... hugelkultur... swales, berms  ….. every possible thing to control and hold water...

Thanks!



The best resource I have found for this is  https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

 
pollinator
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Location: Sask, Canada - Zone 3b
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It seems you have managed to rally all the Sask people to this thread. Good work, Monty :)

Everyone's given you plenty of good advice already to start with, so I'll just add a few small observations. When I first started using mulch on rows, I placed it in an 8 inch radius around the plants. However, the 30'C sun heats up all the ground outside the 8 inch area which ended up drying the soil under the mulch as well. To combat this issue, I go mulch an extra 3 feet around the edge of the planting area, along with the walking paths which also helps reduce compaction/weeds.

Then there is covercropping, which I leave to the mallow&alfalfa to take care of in order to prevent any bare hot spots from occurring in the garden. Though if you wanted something more conventional, you could grow clover in bare areas which is also leguminous. Mallow explodes in grow in the heat of summer, is easy to chop&drop or just pull out, and if you are adventurous it tastes pretty good in soup&salads.

There is also a technique from the tropics known as Banana Circles, which I adapted to create Tomatoes Circles. Having alternated between rows and circles for 4 years now, I won't ever use rows again for Tomatoes as the evidence is clear to me that circles are more productive. (at least in an outdoor environment)    

Lastly, note that mulch can be a double-edged sword, as from what I've seen any rain less than 0.8 inches will barely dampen the first inch of soil, so you need to be diligent with checking how dry the soil is around your plants and water appropriately.

Bryant RedHawk wrote: In Regina you might find that having a hoop house would benefit you greatly by giving you a longer growing season as well as helping with dry conditions during the growing season, along with reducing irrigation losses.  


I will be growing a majority of my tomatoes and peppers in a roughly built Walipini created last Fall out of frustration. $1/square foot is chump change compared to missing out on a season because of unpredictable weather. I will be enjoying hot peppers in 2019!
 
Jess Dee
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Jarret Hynd wrote:

There is also a technique from the tropics known as Banana Circles, which I adapted to create Tomatoes Circles. Having alternated between rows and circles for 4 years now, I won't ever use rows again for Tomatoes as the evidence is clear to me that circles are more productive. (at least in an outdoor environment)    



Jarret - I am quite intrigued with your tomato circles.  This would solve a couple of problems for me (what to do with greywater from the kitchen sink, and also growing tomatoes, as we don't generally water our garden, and they don't do well for us because of it).  Can you elaborate on your technique?  How many tomato plants do you put in the circle?  Do you plant a root crop similar to the taro in the article?  What else do you plant in that patch?  Do you rotate crops in the circles (or would you?) or keep the same plant set there each year?

Thanks!
Jess.
 
Monty Loree
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wow... I am impressed that there are many innovative people from Saskatchewan on permies.com  very cool...

I will try the suggestions... I think that I'm seeing that I'm going to have to build some green house type things...


YES!!  I put six inches of wood chips on my yard 3 years ago... when we had reasonable moisture... they worked well and decomposed nicely...  they held the moisture in the ground
Over the last few years of really heavy dryness, the woodchips worked against me.... they dried up and kept the top layer of the soil really dry...

PHONE CHAT?
I would be interested to have a phone chat with any of the Saskatchewan Permaculturalists…   As you can imagine... a year goes by easily and it's hard to learn all of the lessons in the one year...
This dry weather is going to make it so that it will take many years to learn basic gardening, and how to deal with dry...

The one thing that I did well last year:
I planted 50 tomatoes... and by each tomatoe, I put in a 6-8" length of weeping tile... - 4 "  perforated pipe.  So I was getting water right by the roots..
I cut 50 pieces of this pipe... and it worked well for the tomatoes... I was watering 1 hour per night... which got to be tiresome.. but the tomatoes were well watered...
I will probably have to do something like this for the rest of the garden...

Thanks again, and I'm glad to see
 
pollinator
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Hi there and I sympathize with you about the dryness.

I live a LONG ways south of you in zone 6b, but we get a drought year about one out of every 5-7 years or so and I know the miserable feeling it brings.  It reminds me of the reasons drought was so often mentioned in the Old Testament, and really makes me feel for those poor souls who went through the dust bowl years.

My solution was to install a drip line for irrigation.  There is some work at first, but once installed, only a small amount of water is needed to thoroughly water your crops.  I opted for the slowest flow rate so my plants would not get flooded and they dry out.  I also always leave the water line under both soil and mulch of some sort.  I have had very good luck while using very small amounts of water.  Of course, you will have to adjust your water flow to your soil type.  Mine is heavy clay that is heavily amended with organic material.

I ordered mine from Dripworks.com and I think they have a very good product for a modest amount of money.

Best of luck and keep us updated,

Eric
 
Jarret Hynd
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Jess Dee wrote:Jarret - I am quite intrigued with your tomato circles.  This would solve a couple of problems for me (what to do with greywater from the kitchen sink, and also growing tomatoes, as we don't generally water our garden, and they don't do well for us because of it). Can you elaborate on your technique?  Thanks!
Jess.



I actually experimented with the concept before I even knew what permaculture was, because I had found an old trampoline frame at the landfill and figured I could make it work as a trellis. The first circle was just tomatoes planted about 8 inches apart and everything was mulched within the trampoline space - there was no pit involved. That was a great year overall with a bumper crop of all produce, so it's hard to draw conclusions from that year.

The 2nd time I tried it this year though, I made some smaller circles that were 3 feet in diameter with some kind of junk garden fence I found - it's a little stronger than chickenwire. I dug a hole 1 foot deep and put some "paper" logs (those that are very decomposed) in the middle. It's hard to say if this recent changes to the circle were better or not for Tomatoes, because of a freak hail storm on July 10th that pretty much flattened everything. Before that point I was sure I'd be enjoying peppers and tomatoes by the start of August as fruit was already forming.

Jess Dee wrote:  How many tomato plants do you put in the circle?



The 1st year I planted about 40 of them, but by mid-season there were 20 big ones crawling all over each other. I also added potted tomatoes in a few spaces, but they did not perform nearly as well as the ones in the ground.

The 2nd year for some reason I didn't grow many tomatoes, so I think only 8-10 got planted into each circle.

Just to note: It's interesting that in the article a very important stat isn't mentioned, which is mentioned in the PDC videos by Geoff Lawton. An Australian University compared the production of conventional rows of Bananas found in plantations vs that in Banana Circles, and the Banana Circles were 81(?) times more productive when you consider inputs and outputs. But then again, that's in a climate that's best at growing bananas, and Sask is not the ideal place to be growing Tomatoes outdoors. If I ever get the chance, I'll try a Tomato Circle in a greenhouse.

Jess Dee wrote:  Do you plant a root crop similar to the taro in the article?



You mean within the Tomato Circles? I probably would try carrots, but I struggle to grow them for whatever reason - Hutterite carrots are fairly cheap and good tasting anyways. Remember that the Banana Tree is huge and can reach far out for nutrients which leaves enough space for the taro to grow in. I feel as though many root crops would just compete with the annual tomatoes in our already rough conditions, but experimenting never hurts.

Jess Dee wrote:What else do you plant in that patch?  


Tried herbs last year such as marjoram and basil, but they didn't seem to work well because of the way tomato circles grow they end up getting shaded out. I'm going to be planting a lot of parsley this year as it was one of the few plants that was unharmed by hail, loved being in the natural soil (unlike most herbs which need pots) and is reasonably shade-tolerant. I'll be trying fennel this year as well, so we'll see how it goes.

Jess Dee wrote: Do you rotate crops in the circles (or would you?) or keep the same plant set there each year?


I'm not sure what to think of crop rotation, though with most of the above-ground veggies I still do use the technique, so yes the circles are moved each year.

But, my guess is that my 2nd year hugel which I'm using for potatoes will work out fine for years to come, so I see no reason why any plant should have to be moved around each year as long as the microbes in the soil are in a good balance.

---

I still have a few years of testing to go before I can say anything concrete about the "proper" settings for Sask Tomato Circles.

I have started to do ground-level, densely planted potatoes in recent years - talked it here. This may seem counter intuitive-based on what you originally explained, but the results I was getting from the traditional method were piss-poor at best. Note that I do not baby any of my plants at all once they are in the ground. Ex. The hugel potatoes got watered 4 times last season, but it was a real drenching/deep-watering.

I take our increasingly changing weather patterns seriously and am trying to prepare/adapt accordingly.  

Monty Loree wrote:This dry weather is going to make it so that it will take many years to learn basic gardening, and how to deal with dry...

The one thing that I did well last year:
I planted 50 tomatoes... and by each tomatoe, I put in a 6-8" length of weeping tile... - 4 "  perforated pipe.  So I was getting water right by the roots..
I cut 50 pieces of this pipe... and it worked well for the tomatoes... I was watering 1 hour per night... which got to be tiresome.. but the tomatoes were well watered...
I will probably have to do something like this for the rest of the garden...



Good work, as it takes a lot of dedication to water every few nights.

Watering is something I hate spending so much time on, but I'm also trying to use the least amount of plastic possible. I have 100' of drip irrigation and lots of scrap 3' pipe laying around I could use, but my goal is to create a food production system anyone can use without having to buy a lot of stuff. Of course I had to suck it up and admit that the use of some plastic is unavoidable here.  

Doing the different types of earthworks as you mentioned before (hugels, swales, etc) seem to be a necessary starting point for any Sask gardener though.
 
Jess Dee
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Thanks, Jarret.  I have a ton of half-rotten branch trimmings that would be perfect to toss in a hole to soak up water, and am at the point of being able to explore hugelcultur in a significant way, so this might be my starting point, especially since all of my warm/sunny/protected spots are sandy, and therefore require a lot more watering than I am willing to do.

Jarret Hynd wrote:

I have started to do ground-level, densely planted potatoes in recent years - talked it here. This may seem counter intuitive-based on what you originally explained, but the results I was getting from the traditional method were piss-poor at best. Note that I do not baby any of my plants at all once they are in the ground. Ex. The hugel potatoes got watered 4 times last season, but it was a real drenching/deep-watering.

I take our increasingly changing weather patterns seriously and am trying to prepare/adapt accordingly.  



Interestingly, I started experimenting with growing potatoes on the surface with straw mulch (last year).  It looks counter-intuitive on the surface, but is actually probably working on similar principles as burying the seed potatoes - it's all about covering the soil and conserving moisture, I think.  Our 'straw potatoes' didn't produce as much as our buried ones, but the straw beds were in a shaded area up under some bushes, and additionally were on sandy soil with a skiff of compost, covered in straw that was dry at planting time.  I'm hoping that leaving the straw over winter to soak up the snow melt will resolve some of the issues.  If they were planted in a real hugel bed, I would think they'd have done much better.  It's on my list of things to try soon.  We're pretty fortunate with potatoes, though - they are one of our most reliable crops (along with squash).
 
pollinator
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Maybe consider some early spring hoop houses? They would extend your season by probably a month.

Early crops (peas, carrots, onions, etc) can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. Once it's thawed, it's game on. With a hoop house you can make that happen earlier. In my environment it's about a month, sometimes two depending on the weather. Your greens can also be planted as soon as the soil thaws and the seeds will just pop up when the circumstances are right. Don't expect your early garden to get going quickly, but seeds will sprout when they are ready.

For the drought issue, consider planting in pits, and mulch shouldn't be anything that the wind can blow around and suck moisture out of. Your soil is probably staying slightly wetter than without any mulch at all, but not enough to make a difference. I use leaves, and last year I buried half my yard in wood chips. It was interesting to see the difference. I did it in two batches, since that's when I was able to get the chips, and after the first I planted a few squash just along the edge of the woodchip mounds. Those things sprang out of the soil and had blossoms on them when the frost hit (planted in early September, watered once a week). The ground (primarily sand and rock) was dry enough that the grass died, but under the woodchips it was damp enough to support that kind of growth. I also did my parkstrips under wood chips in the same soil, and watered only every other week for five minutes. The watermelons went crazy, and I got a small harvest from an experimental sweet potato.

Don't till, since the tilling releases all that soil moisture that winter obligingly planted for you.
Parkstrip-watermelon-2018.jpg
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I have a long, cool growing season, but we also have summer drought. A pile of wood-chips that sits out all rainy season will hold its moisture a long time, but here the experts specifically say that you're better off watering *under* the mulch.
One bed I really wanted to keep going I used a soaker hose that I turned on every 3rd night and let it run on low all night. Deep water + deep roots = less water overall
In several places, I've made "fake it olla pots" - I picked up used terracotta pots, used silicon to "glue" appropriately-sized objects into the drain holes, found mismatched plates to fit the top, and buried them in the center of a group of plants like squash/tomatoes/beans. I'd fill the pots with water and the plants found it - evaporation was minimal and it encouraged the roots to go deep. This is not as good as a long-term permaculture solution of holding water on the land, but it's better than starving until the soil's built up enough to cope with drought. It's also *very* easy to tell if the plant needs water - if the pot's empty, fill it.
In some locations, I've used flat rocks to "mulch" a plant. The rocks will modify the hot sun if it's followed by a cool night which could also help in extending the fall weather. They won't create water, or hold spring water in the soil as long as wood chips will, but once your chips are dry, pushing them away and placing rocks for the rest of the summer might be an experiment worth trying.


 
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That is a difficult situation to deal with.  What are the environmental factors causing the drying out?  If it is high winds do consider shade cloth on the windward side and begin to plant a windbreak.  I have farmed in many dry climates, mainly in Mediterranean climates around the world so i know its not the same context but you may want to try a combination of both raised beds and sunken beds as suggested in this article i wrote.  https://treeyopermacultureedu.com/chapter-9-earth-working-and-earth-resources/sunken-beds/ I did farm in a similar situation in argentina in the mountains there where frost was possible any month of the year.  Extremely arid.  And while the soil looked good because of its dark color it was actually devoid of organic matter and the color was more an indicator of the base volcanic rock.  However we had an endless supply of water because of a canal.  So i would also ask what is your soil made of?  So sunken beds might be a good choice for you summer crops and cooler crops on raised beds.  
 
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While I have a much longer growing season, it is all very hot and dry.  It is generally like a switch goes off, no spring, just winter to summer, and we get absolutely no rain for the entire growing season.  My soil is also a sandy loam, so no clay to hold water.

I work on adding organic matter and bio-char.  Do not let the name scare you , it is made when the wood burns in low oxegen, so it gets made at teh bottom of a spring burn pile that burns down under a layer of ash, or in the woodstove when it is turned down.  Or you can purposefully make it, easy to look up how.  

The second thing that helps is mulch but not wood chips or dry straw, partially rotted mulch holds water better, so you can put REAL DEEP, like Roth Stout deep over the winter so it will still be 3-5 inches when you plant, or an easy way is to leave the beds regular mulched or cover cropped, and buy the bales in the fall and leave them outside for the winter, then you pull off flakes in the spring that are starting to break down, have some white fungal action starting, nice and wet, and lay these slabs down thick on the garden beds and transplant into it.  I mostly transplant, but for carrots, pull the mulch back for that section.  I have used these overwintering bales as a seasonal cold frame, the whole bales for the cold frame wall, with a window on top, that way I get use as insulation all winter while the bales get ready to be mulch.  Lately, I just use goat stall cleanings, I let it pile up all winter and clean it out straight onto the beds in the spring.  SO this is alfalfa stems they threw out of their feeder that has goat pee and poop in it.  Again, this is not a dry mulch.  

The third thing is to never let the beds get dry soil.  The mulch should be real thick, 2 inches in minimum, could be more 3 or 4, and the kind of mulch I have been talking about will dry out on top, but will be wet in the bottom, and the soil will stay damp.  I water every day.  the entire bed, I do not want "islands" of wet soil just by the plant surrounded by a sea of desert, this will draw moisture away from the plant, worse than it just being in a pot. When you lift the much edge, and touch the soil, it should always be damp, not soggy of course, but damp.  Depends how large your garden is, with good mulch doing it daily, I can water 900sq ft in about 1/2 hour or less, if I recall.  

As someone else mentioned, you can kick start the beds by double digging once, and digging supplements in the first time, after that the mulch and sheet cmposted mulch over winter should do it.  You can look at recomendations in the book "How to Grow More Vegetables ... "  By John Jeavons if you dont do a soil test, you can do the basic recommends, but you might want to start out with a soil test, you can buy a soil test kit at the gardening stores.  There are resources here to tell ou how to double dig, it is free, look at part3b.  This should be done once, then never step on the beds and sheet compost.  Otherwise, you could have a compacted layer under where you have loosened that is contributing to your soil not absorbing enough water.  https://johnjeavons.org/video.html/   http://growbiointensive.org/Self_Teaching.html  The Ecology Action site in Willits California is very hot and dry.
 
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