Coping with drought, wishing for spring water

Dissosteira carolina

Ontario is experiencing its worst drought since 1965. We are not alone. The North American Drought Monitor map currently shows extreme drought throughout much of the US and severe conditions in southern Ontario. However, the map was last updated on June 30. We have not had significant rain for three weeks, so the situation has deteriorated further. Weird weather conditions strain local food security. Situations like this are bound to increase, so we must consider how to cope.

Anagallis arvensisOur garden still appears lush but only thanks to city water. In Guelph lawn irrigation is banned and we are restricted to watering gardens on alternate days from 7 to 9 a.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. The tomatoes and zucchini look healthy but their fruit are barely growing.

The local CSA was absent from Guelph Farmers’ Market on Saturday. The weekly newsletter from Backyard Bounty declared their watering program is keeping crops alive but barely. This is only the latest in bad weather conditions for Ontario farmers. Warm weather in March forced early growth, then April frosts damaged fruit blossoms and forage crops such as alfalfa.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has requested disaster relief from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). In response, politicians and academics are reminding farmers to protect their own interests with crop insurance. Meanwhile the NDP opposition warns consumers food prices are bound to skyrocket.

Melanoplus sp.Under these circumstances it is important to support local farmers even when those cheap imported supermarket tomatoes look tempting. Buying them only undermines local food security. We have forgotten what food really costs. Poor growing conditions provide a wake-up call.

In the novel Fifth Life of the Cat Woman, Kat O’Malley lives on a mesa in a secret place that can only be detected by magical means. Her sanctuary protects her from persecution. The mesa has two springs, one warm and one cold, which feed her orchards and gardens. Kat’s favourite job is routing spring water through irrigation channels.

Likewise, one of my favourite parts of the day has become the morning chore of watering the garden. Filling the trenches with water—rather than surface watering—is supposed to irrigate the raised beds from below, encouraging plant roots to dig deep. However, this entire year has been so dry that capillary action has not brought moisture to the surface of the beds. I have also had to surface water most plants.

One of the best long-term strategies is to plant drought-resistant varieties. Here are vegetables that have performed well in our garden this summer despite limited irrigation:

  • potatoes: although they require moisture to thrive, early spring planting allowed them to get well established, deep roots before dry weather arrived
  • sorrel
  • Mediterranean herbs
  • sweet basil was slow to get established, but once it did so it thrived on trench watering and has required no surface water (I was surprised by this, as I always considered basil a moist soil lover)
  • borage

The rain barrel sufficed for most of May and June, but for the past three weeks I have drawn exclusively on city water. Technically my vegetable garden is not sustainable. Even if I had three rain barrels they would only supply enough water for a week of severe drought. More weird summer weather is bound to come. I dislike being dependent on city infrastructure to simply grow a few vegetables. I wish I had a natural spring like the cat woman’s.

How is your garden surviving the drought?

[Update: last night at about 10:45 a steady rain started. One night of rain is unlikely to end the drought, but at least it is a start. I can hear the garden sighing.]

The photos show some visitors to our garden (from top): Carolina grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina), Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and probably pine tree spur-throated grasshopper (Melanoplus punctulatus).

4 thoughts on “Coping with drought, wishing for spring water

  1. I live in central Kansas and we are now termed a “Severe Drought” area. Excessively high temps (110 yesterday!) and very little rain are a lethal combination. We are watering our flowers and garden as much as possible but they look worse every week.

    1. Nancy, I hope the situation turns around for you soon. The rain we received here last night was a life-saver for many of our plants.

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