In the Garden
Growing Food in a Drought Year
- How much available water will I have for a food garden?
- How much food do I need to grow and can I grow it with available water?
- What supplemental water is available and how safe is it for edibles?
We need to educate ourselves about the water needs of various crops and stages of plant growth that require irrigation. In this regard, we should explore crops and varieties that may be new to us, but are drought-tolerant.
The Food Gardening Specialists (FGS) group is offering an action plan for food gardeners as well as suggestions for drought-tolerant plants:
Food Gardening with Less Water
Drought-Tolerant Crops and Varieties
Coming soon: A Technical Look at Food Gardening with Less Water. This document will describe some of the science-based information behind the action plan and will include how water is stored in the soil, how plants use water, formulas for determining available water and how much garden space might be irrigated, projecting runoff for rain catchment, etc. In addition, the FGS will be conducting five workshops throughout Sonoma County: Spring Food Gardening in a Drought Year. As dates are confirmed, details will be posted on the SCMG Workshop Calendar.
Harvesting & Preserving Garden Bounty
Food Garden Tips
Eliminate early emerging weeds before they go to seed and while the ground is soft: hoe or pull by hand. In a drought year, do not allow weeds to compete with your food garden for water.
If you grew a cover crop, cut or mow it down and till it into the soil.
Flush and test the drip irrigation system; identify/repair leaks; clean the water filter. If you hand-water, check the condition of hoses and nozzles; replace old washers to prevent drips. For more information about drip irrigation, click here.
If you have never started seed indoors, start a favorite variety of tomato this month to set out when the danger of frost passes in early May. Because there may be water issues this year, consider growing a variety with fewer days to maturity (an early variety) so that you have fewer days to irrigate before harvest. For advice, see: Growing Vegetables from Seed.
Certain crops may benefit from row covers (e.g., to protect shallow seed from being washed away by spring rains we hope will come and to protect tender seedlings from insects and birds). Row covers also can collect dew that falls on the soil – a strategy to consider in a drought year. Light weight covers can be laid over the rows and secured with irrigation staples or bricks; or draped over PVC hoops and secured to the ground.
Encourage bees and good bugs to visit you garden by planting beneficial-friendly plants near your vegetable bed. Nepeta (catmint), Rosmarinus (rosemary), Salvia, and Lavandula (lavender) and Echium are just a few. Many perennial Mediterranean herbs are loved by beneficials AND are low-water.
Thin root and salad crops so that they do not become overcrowded.
Fertilize fruit trees. Applying two inches of aged compost is ideal – or, alternatively, apply a 7-1-7 organic fertilizer in the spring. If mature fruit trees did not put out sufficient shoot growth and/or good fruit set last year, the UC ANR recommends applying half of a nitrogen fertilizer in March or April and the second half of the treatment in July or August.
Applying one- to two-inches of aged compost to your ornamental and vegetable gardens and lightly turning it into the soil will improve soil tilth and plant nutrition. In a drought year, plan to add three to four inches of mulch to the top of the soil to keep it cool, retain moisture and to inhibit weed growth.
Plant citrus in early spring to give tree roots the longest possible time to become established before it is exposed to frost. For UC’s guidance on citrus, click here. If you’re in a locality with water restrictions, it may be best to wait until next spring.
Prune one-year old grape vines when growth just begins in spring so that new growth will avoid damage from late-spring frosts. Refer to UC guidance on growing grapes.
Most grape varieties are susceptible to powdery mildew. Once it appears, it is too late to treat. Powdery mildew is controlled during the growing season by spraying with water-soluble sulfur. Begin applying treatments when all buds have pushed. Thereafter, repeat at ten-day intervals in the spring if disease pressure is high.
Inspect crops regularly throughout their growing season for early problem diagnosis and resolution. Refer to University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site. If we have a warm March, aphids may be making an appearance on vegetables and ornamental – control with insecticidal soap. Normally, we suggest a water blast from the hose – but there may be restrictions on hose use due to the drought. What about a hand-held car vacuum? We hear it works great.
RHUBARB, Dec-Mar, C, D/T, 1 yr maturity from roots, 3 yrs from seed
ASPARAGUS (crowns), Jan-Mar, C, T, 2 yrs to maturity from roots/crowns
PEAS, Jan-Apr, C, D, 60-80 days to maturity
ONIONS, BULB, Jan-May, C, D/T, 100-120 days to maturity
ARUGULA, Feb-Mar, C, D/T, 30-40 days to maturity
BOK CHOY, Feb-Mar, C, D/T, 40-60 days to maturity
SPINACH, Feb-Mar, C, D/T, 40-50 days to maturity
TURNIPS, Feb-Mar, C, D, 30-55 days to maturity
GREENS, ASSORTED, Feb-Apr, C, D, 35-45 days to maturity
RADISHES, Feb-Apr, C, D, 20-60 days to maturity
POTATOES, Feb-May, C, D, 100-120 days to maturity
LEEKS, Feb-Jul, C, T, 120-150 days to maturity
SWISS CHARD, Feb-Aug, C, D/T, 60-80 days to maturity
LETTUCE, Feb-Oct, C, D/T, 50-60 days to maturity
BROCOLI, Mar-Apr, C, T, 60-80 days to maturity
CABBAGE, Mar-Apr, C, T, 70-100 days to maturity
CAULIFLOWER, Mar-Apr, C, T, 80-90 days to maturity
KOHLRABI, Mar-Apr, C, D, 60-70 days to maturity
BEETS, Mar-Aug, C, D, 55-70 days to maturity
CARROTS, Mar-Sep, C, D, 70-90 days to maturity
ONION, BUNCHING, Mar-Oct, C, D/T, 70-80 days to maturity
KALE, Mar-Nov, C, D/T, 65-75 days to maturity
*NOTE: Planting dates are approximate for Sonoma County; weather patterns, microclimate and other growing conditions must be considered when direct seeding and transplanting. “Days to maturity” is approximate and depends on the vegetable variety and your garden’s specific growing conditions. This information will facilitate planting dates that lead to successful production before the growing season ends.
W = warm season crops that grow best in soil temps of 65-80 degrees and air temps of 75-90 degrees and little cooling at night.
W+ = warm season crops that need extra protection to keep them warm if planted early in season.
C = cool season crops that grow best in soil temps of 60-65 degrees and air temps of 65-75 degrees.
D = seed is usually sown directly in the garden
T = crops are usually planted from transplants
D/T = seeds can be planted directly into soil or transplants can be used
Selected Kitchen Garden Recipes
Dilled Cucumber Soup
Bok Choy Stir-Fry
Carciofi alla Romana
Classic French Omelet with Herbs de Provence
Fennel Pollen Update
Fennel-Pollen Crusted Halibut
Grandma's Herbed Triscuit Hors d'oeuvres
Grilled Padron Peppers
Honey Fig Jam
Lemony Rice and Shrimp Salad
Other Fennel Recipes