Why I Am Growing a Garden This Season

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.

Just joking.

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.

7 responses to “Why I Am Growing a Garden This Season

  1. Reblogged this on Suburbhomestead and commented:
    Dry farming is a skill needed again in todays climate.

  2. I live in Southern California and relate well to the idea of barely bathing! My water conservation methods are getting quite creative. Your perspective on growing a garden greatly interest me because I had made the decision that this year it just wasn’t practical. We do get a lot of our produce in a weekly CSA box supporting local organic farming, but I will miss my home grown tomatoes. I’ll have to reconsider. Very interesting!

  3. I shower with a bucket and use the collected grey water for my garden. I was worried that my shampoo residue might adversely affect them, but so far so good.

  4. I grew up in Oakland and lived through several droughts and always had wonderful fruit and vegetable gardens. It wasn’t the kind we solely lived off, but just the same, it was do-able with making wise choices. We took ‘Navy’ showers (you need a shower if you are in the child bearing years!!). We had no lawns to water, we were frugal with our water usage (at the last drought EBMUD allotted us 200 gpd, which was way more than we would have used if not conserving) and the last drought we had incredible tomatoes, apricots, Eureka and Meyer lemons, grapefruits, almonds, Bartlett pears and prune plums. My alstromeria, rock roses, tagetes and iris did just fine. The roses thrived on gray water and four humans and two cats survived, The readers of this blog are thinkers and creative people. I just don’t get how ‘the others’ out there,( who can’t live without their swimming pools and gardeners and daily 20 minute showers) are going to survive in this world. Keep up the good words, Novella. You are an educator of the human race.

  5. Here in Spain it is common practice to withhold water to peppers and you can get dramatic results. After planting the pepper from a plug, water normally for a few days until the roots establish themselves a little. Then don’t water for about 3 weeks. When you give the water again they grow like crazy because they have pushed the roots down along way in search of water.

  6. Concerned about goats on Martin Luther King and 8th St. Does anyone know what is going on with these goats? I haven’t seen them out of their pen in two weeks.

  7. This post and the comments have given me so much to think about and look into. I live in the northeast where we aren’t having a drought, but that’s no reason not to make smarter choices.

    I’m curious what you’ve set up so you can save all that laundry water.

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