Gardening Without Irrigation: Or Without Much, Anyway
By Steve Solomon

More books about Vegetable gardening

9 chapters

2 hour read


7 minute read

First, you should know why a maritime Northwest raised-bed gardener named Steve Solomon became worried about his dependence on irrigation. I'm from Michigan. I moved to Lorane, Oregon, in April 1978 and homesteaded on 5 acres in what I thought at the time was a cool, showery green valley of liquid sunshine and rainbows. I intended to put in a big garden and grow as much of my own food as possible. Two months later, in June, just as my garden began needing water, my so-called 15-gallon-per-minute well began to falter, yielding less and less with each passing week. By August it delivered about 3 gallons per minute. Fortunately, I wasn't faced with a completely dry well or one that had shrunk to below 1 gallon per minute, as I soon discovered many of my neighbors were cursed with. Three gallons per minute won't supply a fan nozzle or even...

Chapter 1 Predictably Rainless Summers

3 minute read

In the eastern United States, summertime rainfall can support gardens without irrigation but is just irregular enough to be worrisome. West of the Cascades we go into the summer growing season certain we must water regularly. My own many-times-revised book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades correctly emphasized that moisture-stressed vegetables suffer greatly. Because I had not yet noticed how plant spacing affects soil moisture loss, in that book I stated a half-truth as law: Soil moisture loss averages 1-1/2 inches per week during summer. This figure is generally true for raised-bed gardens west of the Cascades, so I recommended adding 1 1/2 inches of water each week and even more during really hot weather. Defined scientifically, drought is not lack of rain. It is a dry soil condition in which plant growth slows or stops and plant survival may be threatened. The earth loses water when wind blows, when...

Chapter 2 Water-Wise Gardening Science

12 minute read

Like all other carbon-based life forms on earth, plants conduct their chemical processes in a water solution. Every substance that plants transport is dissolved in water. When insoluble starches and oils are required for plant energy, enzymes change them back into water-soluble sugars for movement to other locations. Even cellulose and lignin, insoluble structural materials that plants cannot convert back into soluble materials, are made from molecules that once were in solution. Water is so essential that when a plant can no longer absorb as much water as it is losing, it wilts in self-defense. The drooping leaves transpire (evaporate) less moisture because the sun glances off them. Some weeds can wilt temporarily and resume vigorous growth as soon as their water balance is restored. But most vegetable species aren't as tough-moisture stressed vegetables may survive, but once stressed, the quality of their yield usually drops markedly. Yet in deep,...

Chapter 3 Helping Plants to Need Less Irrigation

23 minute read

Dry though the maritime Northwest summer is, we enter the growing season with our full depth of soil at field capacity. Except on clayey soils in extraordinarily frosty, high-elevation locations, we usually can till and plant before the soil has had a chance to lose much moisture. There are a number of things we can do to make soil moisture more available to our summer vegetables. The most obvious step is thorough weeding. Next, we can keep the surface fluffed up with a rotary tiller or hoe during April and May, to break its capillary connection with deeper soil and accelerate the formation of a dry dust mulch. Usually, weeding forces us to do this anyway. Also, if it should rain during summer, we can hoe or rotary till a day or two later and again help a new dust mulch to develop. Without irrigation, most of the plant's water...

Chapter 4 Water-Wise Gardening Year-Round

7 minute read

West of the Cascades, most crops started in February and March require no special handling when irrigation is scarce. These include peas, early lettuce, radishes, kohlrabi, early broccoli, and so forth. However, some of these vegetables are harvested as late as June, so to reduce their need for irrigation, space them wider than usual. Spring vegetables also will exhaust most of the moisture from the soil before maturing, making succession planting impossible without first irrigating heavily. Early spring plantings are best allocated one of two places in the garden plan: either in that part of the garden that will be fully irrigated all summer or in a part of a big garden that can affordably remain bare during the summer and be used in October for receiving transplants of overwintering crops. The garden plan and discussion in Chapter 6 illustrate these ideas in detail. For the first years that I...

Chapter 5 How to Grow It with Less Irrigation: A-Z

46 minute read

As recently as the 1930s, most American country folk still did not have running water. With water being hand-pumped and carried in buckets, and precious, their vegetable gardens had to be grown with a minimum of irrigation. In the otherwise well-watered East, one could routinely expect several consecutive weeks every summer without rain. In some drought years a hot, rainless month or longer could go by. So vegetable varieties were bred to grow through dry spells without loss, and traditional American vegetable gardens were designed to help them do so. I began gardening in the early 1970s, just as the raised-bed method was being popularized. The latest books and magazine articles all agreed that raising vegetables in widely separated single rows was a foolish imitation of commercial farming, that commercial vegetables were arranged that way for ease of mechanical cultivation. Closely planted raised beds requiring hand cultivation were alleged to...

Chapter 6 My Own Garden Plan

8 minute read

This chapter illustrates and explains my own dry garden. Any garden plan is a product of compromises and preferences; mine is not intended to become yours. But, all modesty aside, this plan results from 20 continuous years of serious vegetable gardening and some small degree of regional wisdom. My wife and I are what I dub "vegetablitarians." Not vegetarians, or lacto-ovo vegetarians because we're not ideologues and eat meat on rare, usually festive occasions in other peoples' houses. But over 80 percent of our calories are from vegetable, fruit, or cereal sources and the remaining percentage is from fats or dairy foods. The purpose of my garden is to provide at least half the actual calories we eat year-round; most of the rest comes from home-baked bread made with freshly ground whole grains. I put at least one very large bowl of salad on the table every day, winter and...

Chapter 7 The Backyard

4 minute read

I am an unusually fortunate gardener. After seven years of struggling on one of the poorest growing sites in this region we now live on 16 acres of mostly excellent, deep soil, on the floor of a beautiful, coastal Oregon valley. My house and gardens are perched safely above the 100-year flood line, there's a big, reliable well, and if I ever want more than 20 gallons per minute in midsummer, there's the virtually unlimited Umpqua River to draw from. Much like a master skeet shooter who uses a .410 to make the sport more interesting, I have chosen to dry garden. Few are this lucky. These days the majority of North Americans live an urban struggle. Their houses are as often perched on steep, thinly soiled hills or gooey, difficult clay as on a tiny fragment of what was once prime farmland. And never does the municipal gardener have...

More Reading

3 minute read

Agricultural books, especially older ones, are not usually available at local libraries. But most municipal libraries and all universities offer access to an on-line database listing the holdings of other cooperating libraries throughout the United States. Almost any book published in this century will be promptly mailed to the requesting library. Anyone who is serious about learning by reading should discover how easy and inexpensive (or free) it is to use the Interlibrary Loan Service. Carter, Vernon Gill, and Tom, Dale. Topsoil and Civilization. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974. The history of civilization's destruction of one ecosystem after another by plowing and deforestation, and its grave implications for our country's long-term survival. Cleveland, David A., and Daniela Soleri. Food from Dryland Gardens: An Ecological, Nutritional and Social Approach to Small-Scale Household Food Production. Tucson: Center for People, Food and Environment, 1991. World-conscious survey of low-tech food production in...