How to Garden in Water Restriction Periods

January 30, 2017

Many people have been asking me how one goes about gardening, particularly food gardening (as I am doing a monthly workshop on food growing - clickityclick to see the events page) in periods of drought or when water is restricted as it is in our South African summers. So, here are a few options and I welcome contributions and questions. 
Please get in touch if you'd like help or advice implementing any of these. 


Mulch 
If you only do one thing for your garden  - put down a 5cm layer of mulch. It insulates the soil, preventing the plant roots from baking and keeps moisture from evaporating. It also has many other benefits for soil, plant and visual aesthetic - click HERE for those and what materials to use as mulch.  
Left: Thirsty times! Note the mulch. 

Build the soil
When the soil is too sandy it either becomes hydrophobic (sandy, coastal gardens) or the water just drains right through, leaching nutrients away.
If the soil is heavy clay it contracts and expands depending on temperature and moisture content, snapping tiny feeder roots responsible for absorbing nutrients and water. Although clay is often very rich in nutrients, the structure of it makes it unavailable for plants. 
The answer to both the nutrient and water availability of different soil types is always compost. Buy it, trade for it, make your own—or all of the above! When in doubt? More compost! A deeper, loamier soil encourages deeper roots which are better drought survivors. Always add compost when you plant a new bed. Go with a minimum 5cm layer worked in to a spade's depth. 

 

 

Plant Choice

Most South Africans are aware of the term Water-wise landscaping or Xeriscaping. What you may not know is that it doesn't necessarily mean a gravel and cactus garden, although that can form part of it. Contracting a horticulturist that can assist with plant choice will go a long way towards making something beautiful that will thrive under your particular circumstances (thus saving on plant loss). DIY enthusiasts can also request a planting plan or plant list and implement it themselves. 
Right: A good water-wise plant choice 

 

Lawns
When a lawn looks good it's very very good, but when it looks bad it's horrid.  
You know how much water (and mowing and and and) it takes to keep it looking good, but you may not know how to have something beautiful that can still serve the purpose of having a place for dogs and children to hang out. I am seeing a big increase in artificial lawn -  but you can also plant low ground covers like Penny royal, Lilly turf, Dymondia.
Buffalo and Kweek grass is more water-wise than the usual Kikuyu. You could also have much less lawn - concentrating it around the house and replacing the larger areas with water-wise plants and ground covers.  



Plant Combinations
Careful consideration of plant combinations is part of the Permaculture approach to food gardening. Food gardening for maximum sustainability and efficiency uses a biomimicry type polyculture as opposed to a monoculture of plants. Different species planted together assist each other by repelling each other's pests or providing something the other lacks. It is a deep and fascinating topic which I have been immersing myself in lately. The application for water-wise planting is, for example, planting something tender like lettuce in the shade of a larger plant in mid summer so that it needs less water. I will be sharing more on this exciting topic in my workshops.
Right: Lettuce under the lemon in my garden. 

 

When to plant
Much of gardening is just common sense. I often find myself talking to a client and they already know what to do, but just needed some reassurance. Obviously if you plant in the height of summer, in the middle of the day... there'll be less chance that your plant survives than planting it in the cool season when it will have time to establish itself. In my home food garden, I am currently (summer) planting veggie seedlings in the early evening so that they can recover a little in the cool part of the day before being exposed to heat. 
 

 Bore holes, well points,rain water harvesting and grey water systems  
Self sufficiency and ensuring that as little water as possible leaves our properties will ultimately be the way to go.
Bore holes are the most costly, but an important investment for estates and farms.
Well points are cheaper as, if they are possible, they only go down a few meters. You'll need a professional's input to determine the possibility of either. 
Rain water harvesting and using grey water (from washing machine, shower, sink) can be done DIY, or get help to maximize efficiency. Bare in mind that the latter will require a move to biodegradable soaps - also not a bad thing. 


Irrigation
We can't irrigate right now if we are on potable water, however, if we're using bore hole/ dam water, or when the restrictions lift, having an irrigation system is more efficient than not as it directs the water to exactly where it must go. It is usually on a timer, ensuing that you don't leave it on longer than necessary. You can set it to run at night when there is less wind or evaporation. Drip systems deliver water to the plant roots, significantly reducing the amount of water needed. They can be attached to the aforementioned grey water or rain tanks. And on and on. It is definitely more efficient to have automated irrigation.   

Clever Landscaping
The art of successful landscaping involves maximizing efficiency by addressing issues like water scarcity while creating something beautiful that feeds your soul. From an hour's advise consultation to the Full Monty of landscape design and construction, it is my great pleasure and honour to be involved with your home or site in this way. Get in touch HERE

 

Happy Gardening!

 

 



Happy Gardening :-) 

 

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