Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Desert of the Ozarks

The last few years (at least three, if not four) have been really bad moisture-wise for us here.  When we first decided to move here, I thought our biggest problem would be the rocks.  I didn't consider having to garden in such an arid environment.  The only good thing I can say about our lack of rainfall is that I haven't had to mow the stinking lawn very often.

Hay prices are still way up there and my gardens need daily watering during the hottest days otherwise they'd be brown and crispy the next day.  I think I'm going to have to seriously look into Desert Farming and get some tip and tricks in order for our garden to be productive, let alone survive.

I've lost another two blueberry bushes.  I think we've lost seven or eight since I planted them several years ago.  I thought that they would do well here as we have a huge blueberry farm just outside of town.  And it's not like I'm not watering them, I just think the heat is just too much for the younger plants and they just give up.

My strawberry bed is starting to scorch and even though they are way past berry-producing time, I've been watering them.  Or should I not be?  This is our second season with them and I'd hate to see them die because they did so well.  I think I'm also going to have to thin out the bed as they have gone bonkers and shooting out runners like crazy.  When do I snip off the runners and what do I do with them?  Do I just put them in "storage" somewhere until fall or next spring?  Do I plant them someplace else now?

We have a well so we haven't had to deal with exuberant water bills during these droughts, but there's always the thought in the back of my head that our well will one day run dry.  Getting rain barrels and gutters are in the hopefully-no-so-distant-future and maybe even a cistern below the house.  But we're planning on putting a metal roof on the house (cha-ching!) so the gutters & water collection would wait until then.

My new I-was-going-to-wait-another-year garden is on a slope, so water runoff is a problem.  I heavily mulched around the new apple trees, raspberry/blackberry canes and hazelnut bushes, but a lot of water still runs downhill.  I put in four mounds of cucumbers directly downhill from the trees in order to catch some of the runoff.  And when they get bigger, they'll be able to climb up the fence surrounding them.  That is, if the whatever it is ate two of the cucumber plants last night don't continue their salad buffet.  I've been making little earth dams surrounding each of the vegetable plantings and it helps, but I'd eventually like to make a long terrace using cedar logs or something under each row.  When I dug holes for the squash with the tractor auger, instead of smoothing out the circular mound of dirt/rocks directly around the holes, I left it there.  Then I filled the holes up with "dirt", compost & goat poo, but left it below the level of the mounds so when I water there's a depression where the seeds/plants are to contain most of the water and prevent it from washing away.

So far, the new garden area has sixteen mounds of summer squash (zucchini, yellow straight neck, patty pan), four mounds of butternut squash, four mounds of acorn squash, the rapidly-disappearing cucumber mounds, a few watermelon seeds stuck in random places and a 40' row of yellow wax beans.  Since I really do want this to be a Permaculture kind'a garden, I've got two types of butterfly bushes and some Iris to plant in there.  If I can find some lavender on sale at the nursery I'll buy a couple of those and stick them somewhere in there too.  I want to encourage pollinating insects.  We haven't had many honey bees around so I haven't even been killing the wasps as I know they are doing a lot of the pollinating around here.

My herb / rock garden is doing well, but I actually think I may be over watering some of the plants.  The lavender and oregano aren't growing as much as the basil, mint and cilantro.  I also have three volunteer watermelon vines meandering around the herb garden and there are even tiny little baby watermelons on the vines.  As long as the stupid chickens don't find them and peck them to death, we may actually have watermelon before winter!  Last year our watermelon crop was late.  We had watermelon ripen when I actually had to fire up the wood stove one October evening.  Strange to be eating a slice of fresh watermelon next to the fire.

Just checked the weekly forecast and no sign of rain.  Again.  Guess Rhiannon & I will be going to the library and checking out some books on desert gardening.

Or going to the lake.


  1. Woah, I don't even know what to say considering we have been under water for 3 weeks and now we have hot and humid hell. I was going to say you should definitely invest in rain barrels, but you already have that thought. One suggestion though, try and install a pump in the rain barrels when you build them. It will make your life WAY easier. I wish I had done that...

    The blueberries, dude, I have no idea. Mine look like sad weeds, so I don't know what to do about them. Strawberries, I know that a lot of people actually mow them down after they are done producing, so you may want to look into that.

    As for the lavender and oregano, don't water them as much. They will thrive in weather like yours, so cut that back a little. If you have rosemary, do the same.

  2. Sorry to hear about the crappy gardening conditions there. Kinda sounds like here! I always plant my squashes in a depression, those mounds must be for places that get lots and lots of rain. We even plant beans and tomatoes in trenches here to help hold the water. I didn't even put in a garden this year because of the time involved with almost-daily watering. Well, that and trying to keep ahead of the stinkin' tumbleweeds! Grrrr...
    P.S. I vote for going to the lake! :)

  3. Have you thought of drip irrigation or soaker hoses for your garden, problem I have with some of the drip irrigation is the nozzles get pluged with dirt. If you use soaker hoses you can connect with splitters to guide water to different rows. Then plant in long mounds with path in between rows.

  4. Up in the Central part of the State we have been getting tons of rain. At least an inch a week. In fact we got over an inch last night. My rain barrels have not even gone dry this year yet. My barrels are a good three foot elevation above my garden so I run a hose out to a 50 gallon storage tub I have halfway buried out there and do almost all of my watering by hand from that point. It allows me to place just the right amount in just the right spot.

    I let the strawberries go and once the bed is full either use the runners for a new bed or pinch em off. The Blueberries I have had zero luck with as well. You might check and be sure the blueberry farm isn't using a hybrid type that works in Missouri soil better. Even with amendments ours last a year or three at best and then peter out.

    Hope you get some rain soon.

  5. We've had great rain but too much maybe. Good for some things but I lost seed as they got washed away early on. Rain barrels sound good.

  6. Carolyn,

    It's been a while since we had rain. Then on Sunday we got 3.5 inches, Monday about 1 inch, and today 3.2 inches. I wish I could send the rain your way to help out. Tomorrow the rain lessens and then it turns dry again.

  7. We lost most of our garden this year. 17-18 days straight of rain, followed by that last awful storm that took my barn roof. I may have to add sand to my garden to help it drain off water next season.

  8. Gardening is not for wimps, CR. So you should be just fine. :) I would put the rain barrel towards the top of your list - I have been relying on mine for over a week, since all we've had is heat. I still have 2/3rds of a 55 gal. barrel left. Am hoping we get some rain soon, but who can tell anymore. Guess the new 'normal' weather is abnormal weather.

  9. It's 101 here and it's water, water, water!

  10. Our garden year has been wonky here in SC too. Too much rain, then poor air quality oppressive heat. Your story of eating watermelon in Oct. made me think of the year composted pumpkins ripened in the heat of June. Weird eating pumpkin pie in summertime. Thank you for your comment about butternut squash. I see here that not only do you plant those in your 'summer' garden, but also the acorn squash. I'll have to add those too! Thanks again.
    PS you are also right in that they seem more resistant to squash vine borers, as they've already taken out my yellow squash and zucchini - but not the butternut, yet.