Dry weather gardening tips

Barbara Hootman

Because of recent afternoon thunderstorms, most local residents are not suffering from lack of water. Still, Buncombe County is still classified as suffering from severe drought.

Some local gardeners were prepared to bring their gardens through drought and have been  generous with suggestions. Becki Janes, an experienced gardener at Becki’s Bounty in Black Mountain, is one of those people.

Kate Shawgo waters vegetables in her garden when the weather is dry. July thunderstorms have helped the local gardens.

“Use drip irrigation,” she  said.  “There are many products that use water very efficiently by dropping the water right at the plant.  This conserves water and allows you to water your plants with less water.  I have found Berry Hill Drip Irrigation to be a good company."

Mulch, mulch and mulch some more, she said. "Mulching retains moisture, controls weeds and makes weeds easier to pull up, she said. She suggests gardeners collect rainwater by setting rain barrels beneath down spouts of their guttering systems. "Create an overflow system so that when the barrels fill, the overflow can still go into the garden and not be wasted," she said. "Reserve the full water barrels for the dry weeks."

Janes doesn't think all weeds in the garden are bad .

“Let some grow," she said. "Some plants, if allowed to grow beside your crops, will help retain moisture.  Allowing chickweed to grow in your lettuce bed is a good example.  If you have chickens, they appreciate the chickweed.

"Water right before it rains," she said. "If you are confident there will be a rainfall and it has been very dry, watering before it rains will increase the uptake of moisture in your garden.  Plant in raised beds and follow the contour of your garden site.  Create beds in such a way that water is retained and held and doesn’t simply drain out of the garden.”

Kate Shawgo has a beautiful garden that shows little effects of dry weather during prime growing time.  She said she watered during June to keep the garden healthy and growing. She agrees with Janes in using generous amount of mulch.

“I compost first and then mulch over the top of the compost to fight weeds,” Shawgo said. "Compost amends the soil and helps hold the water better and prevents dusty dirt from forming.  When you mulch over the top of the compost, you help the soil hold the water rather than letting in run off.  This is the best combination that I have found to date.”

A long row of raspberries grows along the front of Shawgo’s garden.  She started with six raspberry plants and propagated from the original ones, ending up with more than a dozen bushes.

“The raspberries liked the dry weather," she said. "They started bearing in early July and are still producing fruit,” she said.  “I remove about a foot of leaves from the bottom of the cucumber and tomato vines. Removing the leaves also seems to help control mildew.  Any rain that falls can get to the soil easily and down into the compost.

"Peas were hurt by the dry weather in June and didn’t do well for me this year," she said. "It just wasn’t a pea year. I’ve also learned the positive benefits of watering in the morning."

Shawgo feeds an average of six people each week from her garden.

Michael Crowley is in his second year of serious gardening and is pleased with the production of vegetables. He double dug the garden area in March and worked the soil into mid-April.

Michael Crowley picks tomatoes from his garden in which he used the double dug method of soil preparation in early spring.

“Last year I had to water the garden almost daily, but since I double dug the dirt before planting, I have watered about once a week even during the driest times,” Crowley said. “I read about double digging in John Jeavons' book ‘How to Grow More Vegetables’ and used the old way of digging up the garden by hand.  It was hard work and took a lot of time, but it has really made a difference.”

Double digging allows the roots of the plants to grow more freely. It must be done by hand.

“When using the double digging method of preparing the soil, you wind up with garden beds that almost tend themselves through growing season,” Crowley said. “ I plan to continue using the method in all my gardening efforts.  It enables the gardener to produce more vegetables in a small space.

"I’m passionate about this method because I think we can learn to feed the whole world and not destroy it in the process.  I do not use any insecticides and I use organic fertilizer. I didn’t mulch this year and that was a big mistake that I won’t make when planting the fall garden.”