When I think about having a productive garden in spite of the weather, I think about the dirt (soil preparation), what’s going into it (drought tolerant plants), and what’s going on top of it (mulch). Although it seems drought-like today, it could rain torrentially this weekend and everyone will forget about the D-word. In fact, let’s call it “The Parch” instead of “a drought.” That way, it will seem like a mild frat-party hangover, with only one missing shoe. Similar to Alpha Gamma Rho on a Saturday night, that’s how things are in nature; unpredictable, but not impossible.
It isn’t possible to control the amount of rain a garden may receive, but it is possible to increase the soil’s ability to hold water by thoughtful preparation. Every garden needs at least 3 inches or more of compost each year to provide a continuous supply of nutrients for the dirt. Once upon a time, everyone had a few chickens and maybe a cow and they had a convenient supply of truly organic compost for their home gardens. Some people are going back to those old ways and that’s good. I’m making my own compost from vegetable scraps in a tumbler and it’s still slightly imperfect, so this year, I’ve worked about 10 cubic feet of bagged organic compost into the vegetable section of my Hampton Victory Garden plot (14 by 12 feet, approximately). I mixed it in earlier this spring, to a depth of about 12 inches. This compost will help the dirt retain moisture and will encourage deep root-growth.
While there are many different brands of bagged compost, I prefer a locally sourced product that is approved for organic growers by a reputable source, such as MOFGA. When I’m closer to home, I buy Little River Compost because I know where the things in the bag come from; here in New Hampshire, Coast of Maine bagged compost can be found at most independent nurseries; it’s reliable and affordable. I saw some at Dodge’s Agway in Hampton Falls on Saturday and the price was right.
Drought tolerant plants
Careful garden planning can increase garden success in spite of limited water. By planting vegetables that produce a lot of edibles for their relative size, you can maximize the water available. Tomatoes, squash, peppers, and eggplant produce more meals per plant than vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, which take up a large amount of space, need a lot of water and don’t produce a lot of vegetable matter.
Plants like corn, tomatoes, peppers, mustard greens, spinach, chard, snap beans, pole beans, eggplant, and okra need less water and can be considered “drought tolerant.”
The topic of mulching is so deep and dense; it’s like mulch itself. Mighty mulching is an important technique for conserving the moisture in the soil and it smothers weeds, keeps plant roots cool, and builds up the organic matter in the soil. Mulching helps keep pests down, too. If you’re like me, mulch can look messy and thus problematic. I like my garden to produce, but I also want it to look neat and tidy; I want a pretty garden. This summer, I’m going to have to get over it, because from what I’ve read, mulch is what is needed to help a garden survive a hot and dry year.
There are two kinds of mulch – organic and inorganic. Organic mulch would be things like leaf litter, grass clippings, twigs, straw, pine needles, seaweed, shredded newspaper, cardboard, chipped wood, leaves, rocks, and gravel. Hay is organic, but unless it’s been over-wintered, it contains a lot of seeds which will sprout up in your garden in unpleasant and detrimental ways. Inorganic mulch would be materials like black plastic and landscape cloth. I’ve used black plastic on my Maine garden tomatoes and it did a good job of keeping the soil moist and the weeds down. Black plastic makes it harder for water to penetrate the soil, so some people use landscape cloth. In a small garden, I think both are possible options and I’ve even cut up my used compost bags and pinned them down as mulching material.
This year, I’m going to try many different mulching techniques, including seaweed. There is an abundant supply of it around here and I can bring it to my garden a little bit at a time. This article gives a great summary of how to use seaweed as mulch in your garden.
No matter which material you mulch with, apply it in late spring after the soil has warmed. Applying mulch too early will delay soil warming and plant growth. Don’t be afraid of doing it wrong; once seeds germinate and plants pop up; arrange your mulch of choice cleverly around them. I’m going to work on neat and decorative mulching this summer and I’m sure I’ll have more things to share as I learn them.
For more exhaustive information about mulching, this article is very good. Mulch on, dudes and dudettes.
What are you going to do if you get “The Parch” this summer?