My fourth year ever as a gardener brought the driest May, the hottest June, an even hotter and drier July, and only a teasingly rainy August. What can I say?
There are unknown cards in every hand, but one has to make the most of it. The learning opportunities and chances to improve are as endless as the changing weather forecasts. This year we learned an extremely important aspect to gardening, the need to utilize water most effectively. We have had the driest year yet, the second crop of hay in New England is almost non-existent, residents lawns have been brown most of the summer. Ponds, streams, and even rivers have dried up completely. We have had to learn to adapt to this change of weather patterns, what else can you do?
This year brought a very big learning curve for us regarding water management with our gardens. Our house well has been very dry for the whole summer, so we’ve been unable to use that as a water source. Luckily on the farm there is a separate hand dug well that had a lot more water in it for us to use for the garden. We then went ahead and dropped a hose down in the well and hooked up an electric pump to it which was connected to a series of hoses to reach the garden beds. After hours of trying to get water to flow out of the well we came to the conclusion that the pump wasn’t strong enough to lift water up from that deep in the ground, so that water source was now no longer available. For a few weeks thereafter, we left the gardens alone hoping for the best while we tried to figure out a solution.
In our previous years of gardening we went about water management a bit differently. At that time, we started exploring the wood chip gardening method, we were a bit naive about all the work of transporting the wood chips all over the ¼ of an acre space. It is a huge investment in labor that we overlooked in the beginning, but looking back we really appreciated the experience with working with the wood chips. It’s a totally different way of gardening that uses no machinery and almost no water usage. During that year we only used water in the beginning of the season to help out with seed germination, other than that we used no water the entire growing season. And our vegetables were outstanding, their water content was tremendous! I’m not sure if that would of worked in a year like this, with so little rain but it sure is an amazing solution to using water the most effectively.
This year completely caught us off guard, we concluded in the beginning of the season that it wasn’t profitable for us to use all that labor in putting down wood chips again, over an even bigger area this time. So we came to the question of whether or not to cover the soil, we decided that we couldn’t bare to see the precious topsoil exposed to the elements and hurt the earthworms and living organisms to the brutal heat of the sun. We purchased a large amount of straw for the garden, which hit our wallets hard but we figured it was worth it. We covered about half the raised beds in the garden plot and left the rest of the soil to be worked into permanent raised beds. We decided on the raised beds for a couple of reasons, better drainage, the soil warms up faster in the springtime, no soil compaction, higher yields, and most importantly for the soil building effect. As the season rolled along we noticed a huge amount of weed seeds germinating from the new straw we had put down, a huge disappointment considering the big financial investment we put into the straw for the purpose of protecting the topsoil and helping to keep water in the soil instead of being evaporated. The water holding properties of straw turned out to be almost non existent, and the soil underneath looked just as dry as the other beds without the straw cover. It may have worked if you dumped tons of money into more straw to be able to layer more thickly, but we were not in that position to do that and were happy we didn’t. In the end, straw for us was not a viable answer for our aspiring market garden.
In July, Tim bought a water catchment tank for the farm and we started brainstorming different ways to utilize this new system. We were blessed to find out that the electric pump that had not worked for the deep farm well ended up working for pumping water from the water tank to the garden. We are currently researching different ways to transfer that water with different types of piping systems to be most efficient with our time as well. We are thankful to now understand a more sound way of capturing and utilizing rain water in a year like this one, and for the future to be able to walk this Earth with a lighter footprint.