I never realized how much water I used on my yard and garden until I had to haul it myself. Ordinarily, I use TID water, which is pumped to my property by our community
water district. In past years, I took
for granted that come early May, I could turn on the valve and an unlimited amount of irrigation water would be available 24 hours a day until late September or early October. I had an inground watering system installed in the front yard which is difficult to water any other way and laid miles of soaker hoses everywhere else. The irrigation water was not metered, so I used what I needed without much thought as to how much that was.
In mid-July, TID abruptly shut off the water for this year. What to do? Unlike those of you with city water, I am unable to use domestic water which comes from community wells that are not producing enough for normal use this year, due to the continuing drought. That leaves water delivery or haul-it-yourself. Since the water delivery services are over-subscribed this year, I had little choice but to make the trek out to the Medford Water Department and drop quarters in the meter. There is only so much gray water I can capture from showers and washing.
I must admit I was unprepared for the magnitude of the problem this water shortage would cause, despite the fact I knew it was coming. Mostly, I’m concerned about my trees, which are young and still getting established. So, I have become a member of the bucket brigade, hand watering my extensive landscape.
More recently, I have added an electric ½ HP pump to distribute the water. I spent the past week hauling water using my neighbor’s truck and now I know it will take about 800-1,000 gallons of water per week to keep my trees, landscape plants and vegetable garden alive. That’s not to say they will thrive on that, and it is, I am chagrinned to say, much less than what I used in previous years. With the smoke, excessive heat, fire danger and lack of water this year, (I can’t believe I’m saying this…) winter cannot come soon enough!
But, I also know that this drought is not a one-time thing. It has actually been with us for many years, and we are now feeling the effects of long-term drought. According to NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, most of Oregon has been in a more or less severe drought for the past 20 years (at least), with only a few exceptional years of normal rainfall and snow pack. This summer, we have had the most severe, prolonged drought conditions of the past 20 years. I don’t have a crystal ball, but it probably doesn’t require one to see the future.
While it is true that I need a more permanent, reliable source of summer water than TID, I also need to use less water. I am seriously considering how to “edit” my plantings to fit the conditions. This year I pared back my vegetable garden, but it, too, could use some further reduction. Although I am reluctant to eliminate roses, I do have 63, and well, I guess, maybe, possibly I could do without so many. I love them, but they really love water. Sigh…
What gives me hope is that there are many lovely waterwise alternatives, including the natives in JCMGA’s own native plant nursery. Recently, I stopped at Chipotle in Medford and as I passed through the parking lot, the xeriscape caught my attention. They have some of the nicest grass landscape plantings I have seen. If you’re curious about how low-water grasses can be artfully used in a landscape, also check out the plantings around the new Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Garfield Street in South Medford.
Turning to September in the vegetable garden, this is the month to get your fall garden in the ground if you haven’t already. With the unusually hot summer, you may have delayed planting some vegetables. Hopefully, early September will bring some respite and enable you to get good germination from direct sowing leafy greens such as arugula, corn salad, garden cress, lettuce, kale, mustard and turnip greens and spinach. Use shade cloth overtop if temperatures are still high and keep the soil moist. Lettuce requires light to germinate, so don’t cover seeds with more than a light dusting of soil. If you are going to plant a cover crop of fava beans, now until mid-October is the time to do it.
If you sowed seeds for transplanting, it’s time to get broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage and Pak Choi in the ground. Ditto for shallots, garlic, and onions (both to use as green onions and for harvesting next June or July).
Cooler weather is coming and eventually rain and snow. But how much? Probably not as much as we need. This fall and winter are the time to prepare for our “new normal” – hotter temperatures and less water. What changes will you need to make in your garden? Although the cities in the Rogue Valley have not yet rationed water, that could happen. Having lived in California for 42 years, I remember water rationing. Get ready. Be ready for next year by editing your garden and trying something new like xeriscaping, natives, ground covers in place of your lawn, and who knows what else. Doing nothing is probably not an option for most people. I’d like to hear what you decide to do.
I don’t know how to interpret this summer’s weather other than to say climate change is not coming, it’s here! Since mid-June, the temperature has climbed to over 95°F every single day at my house. I’ve been without A/C since June 23, so I sympathize with my plants, which are wilting or burning up. The broccoli limped across the finish line in July, giving me one of the sparsest crops I have had in years, and so far, I have not seen any side shoots. I may as well pull it out. The peas had barely begun to produce when the vines turned to crispy critters. The poor carrots fainted and bolted in the heat. I quickly picked the lettuce and wrapped it in wet paper towels and put it in a Ziplock bags to preserve a small number of heads. Thanks to steady watering, my tomato plants are still green, but the flowers dry up without producing any signs of fruit. It’s just too hot for them to set. It is safe to say that the eggplants and the peppers are the only plants that are (relatively) happy and producing.
Although August is usually the month to direct seed many greens such arugula, collards, corn salad, Oriental greens, Swiss chard, cress, lettuce, endive, kale, kohlrabi, mustard and turnip greens, I can’t imagine how they will fare in the excessive heat once they germinate. You may want to wait to sow some of these delicate greens until late August or even early September when it often cools down substantially after Labor Day. Unfortunately, I won’t even get to try for a fall vegetable garden because TID water went off in mid-July for the season! If you are lucky to have garden irrigation the latter part of this summer into the fall, you can sow for later transplanting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage and Pak Choi. You can also direct sow daikon radish, beets, peas, parsnips and rutabaga. If the hot weather persists, planting onions (as you usually can do for next year’s crop) would be a waste of seed as they do not geminate well in very hot weather.
If your beans are producing, be sure to pick them regularly so that they continue to produce. They may also need some fertilizer and more water to continue production. Fertilize vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers while they are in heavy production. If you planted corn, this is the month for your corn feast. Early in the month, give your corn another shot of fertilizer to get it across the finish line. You can also try hand pollinating for fuller ears. When the ears start to appear and the tassels are yellow-transparent, strip the tassels on top of the plant of their pollen and shake it onto each ear. Whenever I do this, I am pleased with the results.
August is usually when I start canning and preserving what my garden produces. Peaches usually ripen now and they can be frozen, dried or canned. For several years, I have been making what I call vegetable pasta sauce which is simply a medley of whatever vegetables are ripe at the time together with tomatoes. My very favorite canning recipe book is The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. I love their recipes! Every one I have tried has been perfect for me.
We are in the brave new world of climate change.
I would welcome your comments on how gardening is changing in the Rogue Valley and tips on how we can adapt to still produce the fruits and veggies we all love. I’ll include your tips in this column in the coming months.