What happened to the soil in your garden during the last heavy rain? Did mini gullies form? Did you notice topsoil thinned out? Were any of your garden beds washed out, or sprinkled with silt from a higher hill? Where did the water go from your land? Did it wash away to flood local roads or join larger rivers?
And now in the summer months, are you experiencing a drought?
If only all that water had remained in the soil, ready to be used in drier times! So often drought-challenged areas experience hard rain falls that wash away the moisture-saving topsoils that gardeners so depend on. A double-whammy!
Protect Your Soil
It’s impossible to make it rain more, but an attentive gardener can prevent a drought from causing too much damage. One of the biggest challenges is to keep excess water from flowing away when it does rain. Levelling the ground can help, as can building the soil to absorb and retain more water. Sometimes, reserving sections of the garden for grass or trees helps with this – they stabilize the soil. Other times, choosing varieties of vegetables that are more drought resistant may be necessary.
We find that better irrigating is consistently under-championed as a tried and true method to resist drought hazards. As well as levelling a garden bed, it helps to build water-spreading structures, contour furrows, or pits and mounds.
The Magic of Organic
New soils tend to contain much more organic matter. They are much more drought resistant than well-cultivated soils, because they absorb water so much faster and hold it for longer periods. When organic matter gets used up and washed away over time, a number of things happen: if it is a “tighter” soil, it loses its granular structure and starts together, making it harder to absorb water. If it is a sandy soil, it may become so loose that water runs right through it.
Increasing the amount of organic matter in any soil helps conserve against drought. Leaving behind stalks, straw, and stubble from harvest to till them back into the soil is helpful. Farmers often actively plow the residual parts of harvest back into their soil. (This is also why it’s good to leave grass clippings on the lawn when you mow.) Layering compost, seaweed, dry leaves, and cut grass in beds through the winter helps.
Every soil is different, and may require some experimenting to find what works best to capture and maintain moisture in dry periods. It is a sure bet that with the right attention to water conservation, irrigation, and garden maintenance, your crops will grow as big as ever, even in times of drought.