It's been a hot dry spring here in South Carolina. And since the day we've moved here and started building Weksny Acres, this has been the rule and not the exception. It seems that when the month of June rolls around, the temps soar and the rain all but stops. So how do you grow a good garden or crops in the field without installing expensive irrigation or standing out there with a garden hose every day? I've come up with a way of gardening that I am calling "Dry Farming- Southern Style".
If you do some reading about dry farming, you will learn that it has been widely used for centuries in arid regions around the world, including our very own prairie states here in the United States. If done well, dry farming will grow certain crops very well. If done poorly, the result is a repeat of the Dust Bowl of the early 1900s.
I've coupled the concept of dry farming, with some of the principles found in the "intensive gardening" method, as well as some permaculture principles. The result so far? Beautiful cucumbers worthy of any salad, pole beans that are putting out a bumper crop on 6 foot high plants, and an abundance of tomatoes ripening on the vine.
The first thing that I had to learn, was that I couldn't use every growing bed, every year. The beds need to produce for a year, and then rest for a year. This is a hard thing to swallow, because I have a very limited amount of space to feed my family, and still grow enough to provide a portion of our family's income. To this day, I still struggle making myself do this, but I know it's better in the long run.
Once you've decided what to grow and how much space you can use for it, the next step is to plant your crops close together. I realize this goes against conventional gardening wisdom, but adopting this intensive-gardening procedure will allow your plants' leaves to shade the ground, keeping it a little cooler so the roots don't bake in the hot dry ground.
The final trick to this little system of mine is to mulch, mulch,and mulch some more. Use leaves, compost, grass clippings, whatever you have...even the weeds that you pulled out of your garden once they are good and dry. Mulch helps trap the moisture in the ground where the plants need it. It also helps cut down on weeding, something we all want to spend less time doing.
I'll keep posting about this as the season progresses and let you know how it turns out. I can say that at this point, the produce that we've harvested has a much richer texture and flavor then it's heavily-watered counterparts. The vegetable or fruit may be smaller and/or less uniform, but the taste is more flavorful, in my opinion.
If you want to try this, take it one bed at a time and see what happens. It sure beats standing out there running the water bill through the roof.
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