The drought. We are all trying to save water. I haven’t bathed in weeks. I barely flush the toilet. But dammit, I am growing a garden this year. Why?
Because I’m part of a farm tour.
I’m growing my own vegetables this year this year precisely because there is a drought. 80% of a California’s water is used for big agricultural operations. Almonds. Grapes. Oranges. Rice. All water hogs–and much of the harvest is sold overseas. By planting a diverse garden that will feed local people, I am saying: this is the scale that is sustainable.
Small farms care about tending their soil, building their soil. One of the biggest benefits of healthy soil is less run-off during irrigation. In Deborah Koons Garcia’s documentary, Symphony of the Soil, scientists at the Rodale Institute showed that conventional agricultural-use soil doesn’t retain water, it just runs off, causing erosion and making the soil saline. But in organic or deeply mulched soils, that water is held in the soil, to be better accessed by the plants’ roots.
A small urban farm can also draw upon local resources in order to water–eg the washing machine. It’s legal to use washing machine water in your garden if these 12 guidelines are followed. You don’t need a permit. We use a special laundry soap (Oasis) so we can water our fruit trees with washing machine water. Our household of six people does about 3 loads a week, meaning 120/gallons a week go toward watering our 29 fruit trees.
There’s also a method called dry farming–basically torturing your poor tomatoes, squash and potatoes by withholding water. But as a salty old French grape farmer told me once, “We make our grapes suffer, and they taste better for it.” Same principle with your veg: mulch and add compost to your veggies, water the plant until it sets fruit, then stop watering completely. You’ll get a smaller yield, but better tasting produce. Note that this will only work if the plant can reach way down into the deep soil–it doesn’t work for container gardening.
Ok, that’s my spiel–what are you doing to save water, and garden at the same time?
P.S. This Sunday, May 31, I’m on a panel for Oakland first Book Festival!! 1:30 at Laurel Books in Frank Ogawa Plaza. Come on by, I’ll be giving away some plant starts.