Dry Gardening

scarletdaisies(6)April 12, 2010

I bought an ebook off the internet called Dry Farming and it told how people can dig to the second layer, or the most absorbent layer to catch water for their garden the whole growing season and never need to water.

Has anyone ever heard or seen of this type of gardening?

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Hmm, this does not sound like the best system - it seems to only be used where there is no alternative.

From Wikipedia:
Dryland farming is uniquely dependent on natural rainfall, which can leave the ground vulnerable to dust storms, particularly if poor farming techniques are used or if the storms strike at a particularly vulnerable time. The fact that a fallow period must be included in the crop rotation means that fields cannot always be protected by a cover crop, which might otherwise offer strong protection against erosion.

Where do you live that you would want to employ such a system to your garden? If you really want to conserve water and not irrigate and you live in an arid climate, I'd suggest trying a sunken garden (the opposite of a raised bed). On a small garden scale this makes more sense. If your subsoil is clay this will work fairly well, but if you have sand it will not.

I would dig out 12" of ground where you want your garden and use this soil to create a berm around the perimeter. Then till in a lot of organic matter into the hole, tilling a few inches into the clay and then filling the remaining hole at least 8" deep. The berm will direct rainfall into the sunken bed, the organic matter will absorb the water and provide nutrients, and the clay subsoil will prevent any excess water from draining away too quickly. I'd plant the berm with drought-tolerant groundcovers so it does not erode away. I'd mulch with a few inches of straw or shredded leaves or even shredded newspaper to keep the moisture from evaporating from the soil (do not use wood mulch if this garden is for veggies - too acidic).

Again, this is a lot of work, and only worthwhile in an arid area. Since this would be on a small garden-scale you would still be able to grow crops like tomatoes because during extremely dry times you can still do a limited amount of irrigation either with a drip/soaker hose or even a watering can.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 9:10PM
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Scarletdaisies, I just glanced at your blog - Please do NOT add any more sulphur to your garden!!! You are KILLING all the beneficial organisms - especially the worms! Very, very bad stuff, especially the amounts you have been using. You seem to have lots of leaves - till them into the soil and that will help acidify it over time (I'm assuming you have alkaline soil).

Where do you live? If you have so many leaves I find it hard to believe that you actually have alkaline soil at all. Usually only very arid areas have alkaline soil (and very few trees). I'm in the Northesast, and in temperate forested regions the soil is naturally acidic because it was created by the forests that dominated for thousands of years (even if it is no longer forested).

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 9:28PM
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I bagged up leaves from my dad's house and put them on the garden, about 50 large bags. We have trees, but get very little leaves from them for whatever reason. Probably the type. I got an ebook about methods of Dry Farming, and wanted to know if anyone has ever used them.

It basically tells you how to grow food in a desert. I have thought to go the route of sunken beds, but changed my mind. It can get very wet and damp as well. I need something that can handle both, dry and wet, which means neither a raised bed or a sunken bed.

I just wanted to know if anyone does this type of farming or gardening. I thought it would be interesting.

As far as my soil is concerned, it grew yellow pumpkins, bad soil needing sulphur. If the ph were low, the sulfur would be damaging, but it's too high, so it's safe. What I may have done wrong is plant too soon after sulfuring, but for what didn't grow, the bugs and slugs more than likely ate the seed. I have some in pots about to go out to replace what didn't sprout.

It's a general question, but if I were to dig troughs about 2 feet deep at the end of a growing season, to collect rain water to the lower soil, then cover them up with soil to preserve it, wouldn't it need less water?

I've truly had success with ground cover, no doubt, still with bad soil that had nothing to do with ground cover. I will never ever plant without ground cover, and tonight I'm transplanting clover in parts of my garden. It preserved a lot of water and the plants lived as long as there was something growing next to it, I guess it aerated the dirt. I weeded, it died immediately. Lost my cucumbers, made my okra turn a little limp until it grew back, obvious signs the ground cover was doing something a important.

I just wanted to know if anyone had experience using this, mulch around the plants is good and another suggestion in the book is rake the mulch back so the rain can get to the soil, then rake it back around the plant to preserve the rain.

It had simpler suggestions, but with all the different types of regions and gardening methods, someone here is probably living in a region where this is done. They even cover their garden with a white cloth to coll the ground off. Two years ago, we were in water restrictions, so it could be I could grow the most beautiful garden plentiful and perfectly balanced with ph and nutrition, and a water drought would occur where I would have to let it die.

I take the water droughts seriously and catch rain water in buckets. It's proven to be useful to catch rain water as well, no I don't live in a desert. Thanks for the advice, the worms are rampant! When I dug I always find about 5 or 6, so the worms are fine!

They didn't get in my compost pile, which is not where I put the sulfur anyways, that was strange, but it looks good.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2010 at 1:42PM
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spiced_ham(z5 OH)

I guess I do it. I dug down through the clay-pan layer to the moist layer underneath (about 2-3 ft) and back filled with sticks and leaves, original soil and compost. I don't have to water.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2010 at 8:24PM
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Do you leave it open to collect water for how long? You add compost to it last? That's interesting and the book says it makes no difference to the plant whether you water from top or from the root.

You can root water too saving lots of water, but time consuming unless you have an underground watering setup. I'll bet it saves a fortune.

I've seen t-handle shaped thin pipes with a point at the end to drive it in dirt faster, you hook your hose to the t-handle taking the water to the root. That would be very slow watering unless only a few plants.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 4:34AM
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david52 Zone 6

This part of the country is considered 'high desert' with an altitude around 5500-6000 feet, and annual precipitation around 13". There are two parts of the county, irrigated and 'dry land'. The original homesteaders out in the dryland did this dry gardening, much as spiced ham describes it, with a large basin around the hole filled with organic matter and top soil, so that all the snowmelt / rain would run into the hole.

I know people who grew up doing it - sort of established garden/holes, now they don't bother. But one friend says they grew strawberries that way.

As a side note that I find fascinating, this area was once full of the Anasazi people who built all the cliff dwellings in their latter years before moving on, their descendants now in the Pueblos of New Mexico. One of the archeological research groups here invited up several elderly Pueblo indians who remembered the traditional ways of planting, and had them plot out maize, squash, and bean gardens. They pretty much looked at the terrain, and knew, from the sage/rabbit brush growing and the terrain, where to plant stuff. A whole other way of doing things.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 10:39AM
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scarletdaisies -
Where do you live? That bit of info is critical when you are asking for gardening advice.

What works for me in the burning desert is not going to work for you, which is obviously a colder wetter climate.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 11:32AM
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How do you go about doing this? How long do you leave the hole open to collect rain? You sound like it's composting underground, so you won't have to at least manure.

I would imagine it would take equipment to do this, but I was curious as to who and where uses this method. I've seen desert garden photos and they can grow just about anything.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 2:36PM
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    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 8:28PM
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I'm sorry I misled you. I bought an ebook about dry farming, I don't live in a dry climate, I'm in zone 7 with an occasional water drought, but I wanted to know if anyone used the methods described in the books, if they thought the methods were useful, and would anyone recommend them.

I'm not having a problem with water and it even rained for a month straight killing my tomato plants last year.

I'm in Northwest Tennessee near Clarksville, but not any where near the city.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 8:22PM
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