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June 2009 home page

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Useful Links
John Lenihan
Lynne Blackman
Frieda Reid

Dr. Linda's Water Diet Revolution
Linda Chisari, Crest
Pictures by Linda Chisari

My vegetable garden faces yet another challenge from nature this year.  In the past, I have helped it fight off great clouds of white flies and various wilting diseases that seem to come with an ocean view in this part of the world.  Now, with a sharply reduced water supply, tomatoes and eggplant, peppers and basil must somehow compete with  the demands of laundry, bathing and dishwashing. In our household, vegetables rank right after our mature trees and shrubs on the list of what gets watered. We’ve allowed our lawn to turn brown after a temporary green fling following the rains of March.  We can do without bedding annuals, but the vegetables of summer, grown in our home-composted soil, please our eyes and noses and nourish our bodies, too!


Vegetables are not, in general, drought tolerant.  Most of them are grown as annuals, even in our climate (asparagus, artichokes  and potatoes are exceptions).  They must grow a new root system quickly and this requires a good water supply. So how can we reduce the amount of water needed? The information that follows is based on observations in my vegetable garden and those of my neighbors.

Good compost, either home-made or purchased from one of our local green recyling facilities, enriches the soil with water-holding organic material. If the compost is dug deeply into the soil, roots of the vegetable plants can more easily grow down to any water that is present.

A surface mulch  helps  keep moisture in the soil.  I use Torrey Pine needles under my strawberries and tomatoes.  They keep the fruit off the ground and add organic material to the soil as they slowly break down. Bark mulch is available at many local sources. Newspapers and black plastic work well as mulch, too, although they are less aesthetically pleasing and don’t enrich the soil.

A vegetable plant which is seeded directly in the ground seems to use less water than one which began its life as a pampered pony-pak plant. …and seeds are much less expensive than plants! Tomatoes, pumpkins and swiss chard seedlings pop up all over my garden from seeds that were in the compost with which I amended the soil and they grow with very little supplemental water.

Many leafy greens, including chard, spinach, bok choi, chicory and lettuce, grow very well in part shade and need less water there.  I try to plant the taller vegetables south and west of these greens so that they can provide at least afternoon shade.  Closer -than- normal spacing of the plants also provides some shade and seems to provide a critical root mass that helps retain moisture in the soil.

Vegetables with deep root systems are the easiest to sustain on reduced water.  In this category, tomatoes come out the clear winners . Some gardeners even ‘dry farm’ tomatoes, that is provide no supplemental water once the fruit has set. This method sacrifices good-looking plants, but results in delicious fruit with concentrated flavors. Swiss chard and strawberries also develop deep roots.

Remember to water at night when the plants do most of their growing and the water evaporates much less quickly from the soil.

Finally, plant those vegetables and fruits which give you the biggest yield for the amount of water used. Tomatoes, swiss chard, zucchini, figs and the Mediterranean herbs are the clear winners in my garden!

Even if you decide to do without a vegetable garden this summer, take heart!  Late September is the time to plant your winter garden and, with its fewer hours of sunlight and occasional rains, winter is an easier time to garden with limited water.  Sugar-Snap peas, fennel, swiss chard and carrots started in my garden last October needed virtually no supplemental water, even though it was a relatively dry winter.

Useful links:

*Agriservices, Oceanside has wonderful compost and mulch available at a very reasonable cost. (www.agriserviceinc.com. click on El Corazon facility). I use ‘Humic Compost’ to amend the soil at planting time and ‘Forest Fines’ as mulch.

*www.Naturalgardening.com is my favorite source for tomato and pepper seedlings. The varieties that do best in our climate are described on their website.

*I have a personal preference for growing vegetables in raised beds so that I can water only the soil in which the plants are growing. This type of gardening is easy to water with drip irrigation or buckets of ‘warm-up’ water.
My guide to building raised beds can be found at www.vegetablegardener.com/projects/tag/raised-beds

John Lenihan, Klish Way

To conserve water, I do the following:
1) My garden is 20 x 20 and the North half of the garden has a lot of clay that seems to really retain water so I don’t have to use nearly as much.  The southern half is sandier and soaks up a lot of water. 
When I’m prepping my garden and tilling the soil in early Spring before I plant I transfer a lot of the clay in the Northern half to Southern half and visa versa.  It works great. 
2) I build mounds for each row and for individual tomato plants, strawberries, pepper plants, artichokes, etc. In between, I make swales.
The swales catch the water and direct it to the roots so I don’t have to use as much.
3) I have the special sprinkler that I think uses less water than if you were to water it by hand
4)  When it rains, I just smile and say thanks.  There is something that rainwater does to a garden that is completely different than water from a sprinkler or hose. Hard to explain but it just gives it more life.

Lynne Blackman, Nogales Drive

I have been planting vegetables in flower beds. This began because, due to the trees, I lack many sunny areas in which to plant.  I put the eggplants, artichokes, and peppers in sunny spots that contain ornamentals in order to get the heat necessary for them. I like mixing anyhow, because they look good together. I will probably do more of this. Pretty and practical.

I have actually added fruit trees. Some old ones are being over shadowed by pines and crowded out by pine roots so are producing less and may gradually be let go. I planted new ones as punctuation in flower beds. I may do more of this, gradually replacing ornamentals with fruit trees. This is a good use of space for people who don't have much. (We have space, but not much sun.) Six of our apple trees are espaliered in one fashion or another. This is a very thrifty use of space and easy to do. I'd encourage more gardeners to try this! Two apples are on the tennis court fence and produce well. Why not use apples along a driveway or walkway where there might be a narrow 2' -3' strip that is otherwise sunny and useless? We like them; grandkids are delighted by them. Pineapple guavas produce well in a drought; learn to appreciate the fruit. Figs are undemanding and easy to manipulate (but watch the roots.) Dwarf citrus are ornamental and produce. Ditto dwarf stone fruit.

I kept the thornless blackberries. They are tied over a small arbor made of rebar and wire and watered in a trench by drip. Yummy!

We have vegetable boxes built to your plans. They are watered with a grid of drip lines on timers that we can adjust. This is efficient. If we were nearer the house, we’d pour shower and kitchen water in the beds, but ours are ‘out back’.
We have 4 boxes, one is extra-long.  This is almost too much space. (If we had sun, it would be.) Half of one box is devoted to asparagus. Last summer, I had so much growing in the boxes that needed tending, that I spent most of the season back in veggie-land with the butterflies and cat.
Consider what you plant. Is it worth the effort? What do you like? How will you use it? Can you buy it? There’s nothing like a freshly snapped asparagus stalk. I do not bother with sweet corn e.g.  We can buy excellent corn and it takes up significant space. Ditto melons. We have a box of fingerling potatoes again this year. We harvest a few at a time while plants continue to grow. Peas: sugar begins to change within an hour of picking, so these are a treat I cannot buy. Baby veggies and Chiogga beets are special. Onions and shallots do well. Garlic: I can grow types not available and tasty. Salad and herbs are easy. I strew and don’t worry about neat rows. Volunteer tomatillos come up as tomatoes are finishing, because they like more heat. Beans: stagger plantings or they’ll all be ready to pick at once. Two zucchini plants (special Italian var.) are enough for any family!  I have a Tahitian pumpkin (a sweet squash that we love) in a tub. Huge sprawling vine, so usually let it go in the mulch pile or orchard where we won’t trip over it. When the grandkids were small it was worth our while to devote space to pumpkins. Sunflowers: I have planted different sizes and colors among the ornamentals and in the veggie garden, too. Birds like them.
This year I put in fewer tomato plants (6). (Well, maybe a couple of Romas later…J) They all get ripe at once, but roast and freeze easily.
Take time to learn what and which varieties grow well here. If you love it, figure out where to fit it in and be creative in your thinking. There are no rules: edibles can be ornamental. We sit under our grapevine all summer and make jelly in the autumn. (I dug the parent vine out of a deserted building site where it survived on winter rains only.) My point here is to consider the return on planting before expending water, seed, and labor.

Culinary oregano crowds the cracks in our stone paths.  It is cheerfully promiscuous, requires less water than most of our succulents, and smells a whole lot better.

Pots: A few herb or plant pots by the kitchen door make sense to me. They serve as a good reminder to carry rinse and cooking water outdoors rather than dumping it down the drain.

Freda Reid, 11th Street

My husband and I have decided to eliminate most vegetables and have, instead, planted more fruit trees. We feel that, if we’re going to use water for edibles, we should concentrate on those that give us the biggest return.

We are irrigating our fruit trees with 1/2” drip irrigation tubing laid in circles around the drip line of each tree.

We have planted Swiss Chard among our flowers. It provides leafy greens over a very long season and requires less water than spinach.

Our herbs are also mixed in with the flowers. Those that are Mediterranean in origin (Rosemary, Oregano, Sage, Thyme and Italian (flat-leafed) Parsley seem to be quite drought-tolerant.

I use ‘warm-up’ water from the kitchen sink to water our herbs.

We keep a separate tomato bed. Tomatoes are quite drought-tolerant and provide a large amount of fruit from each plant. We do occasionally give them extra water.

We have a grinder through which we put all of our landscape clippings to make a fine-textured mulch. We compost the mulch and then use it around the base of the plants to help retain moisture in the soil.


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