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Dry farming has been a garden practice done for centuries in arid places.  With global warming, many will be using these ancient techniques to great advantage!  In Vietnam today, beans and peanuts, that restore the soil, and sesame, are grown season to season between wet rice plantings!  Watch this Vietnamese video, No Water Required! Dry Farming In Âu Lạc Vietnam

Dry Farming Video Vietnam - Beans, Peanuts, Sesame Restore Soil!

I’m sharing this paragraph of a past post on DRY GARDENING from the Oregon Biodynamics Group.  We hear about tomatoes being dry gardened, but have you ever done it?  Here are some practical tips from people who have:

When the homesteaders planted their gardens, they needed to feed their family for much of the year. They couldn’t afford to do raised beds or to develop irrigation systems. How did they do that? Part of the answer is to give plants lots of elbowroom. Space rows widely at about 8 times what we do with intensive beds. They also hoed or cultivated to keep a “dust mulch” between the plants. This technique is quite effective at preserving water so the plants can make it through the summer with only an occasional irrigation. Most of this class is directed at intensive gardening because we have limited areas for garden plots. But if you have the room, one can produce high-quality produce without irrigation. Vegetables must be able to send down deep roots so that they can draw in the water that is stored in the soil. Plants that work are root crops, brassicas, corn, squash, and beans. Ones that don’t work are onions, celery, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, radishes, and spinach. The plants need to get well established in June [Oregon] using the natural soil moisture. Then they can carry themselves through the dry months. It helps to give 5 gallons of compost tea every 2-3 weeks during July-August. Liquid fertilizer helps with the stress of low water.

When getting started for the season, farmer David Little of Little Organic Farm explains another way of dust mulching. To help people understand how dry farming works, Little uses the example of a wet sponge covered with cellophane. Following winter and spring rains, soil is cultivated to break it up and create a moist “sponge,” then the top layer is compacted using a roller to form a dry crust (the “cellophane”). This three to four inch layer is sometimes referred to as a dust mulch, seals in water and prevents evaporation.

Clearly, our SoCal weather is different than what the Oregon homesteaders had, especially in these times of climate change. I’m translating Oregon June to SoCal May. If you are a coastal gardener, or a foothill gardener, use your judgment how you will do your gardening practice. Plant your dry crops separately from your water-needing crops.  Plant your water lovers more closely together and mulch them well. Get plants going with a little water, then cut it off after a few weeks. As usual, seeds and seedlings Tomato California Dryfarmed Early Girlmust be kept moist at startup.

Soil choice is important. Dry farming in sandy soil, through which water drains easily, doesn’t work.

Dry gardening isn’t for everyone, ie, harvest is generally a tad less, or even only a third as much, or very dramatically, only 4 tons of tomatoes compared to 40 tons from watered plants. But they say the taste is superb! In fact, At Happy Boy Farms, near Santa Cruz, sales director Jen Lynne says “Once you taste a dry-farmed tomato, you’ll never want anything else!”  And people shop specifically for dry farmed tomatoes in areas where they are grown!

Useful pointers if you want to try your hand at it:

  • If it is an option, store water for summer use. Set up a grey water system.
  • Prepare your soil with well aged water-holding compost, manure, worm castings.
  • Plant out of a drying windy zone. If that’s all you have, plant subshrub barriers or build porous windbreaks.
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  • Select plants or plant varieties suited to summer, tolerate heat and being dryer.
  • Choose plants that mature more quickly so they will have the early season water.  Plant those that need less water in the latter part of the season.
  • Grow only what you need.
  • If you don’t need volume, but rather a steady supply, plant high producing dwarfs and minis, like many container varieties, that need less water for smaller leaves.
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  • Plant further apart, at least 1½ times or greater the spacing distance recommended on seed packets, 8 times further if you have been doing intensive planting practices. But, do give seeds and seedlings all the water they need until they are established
  • Make furrows and plant IN the bottoms of furrows, not on the peaks that drain/dry out.
  • Thin out seedlings on time.  No wasting water on plants you won’t use and that will slow others that need all the nutrients and water they can get.  Use scissors; don’t pull up soil causing the other plant’s roots soil to be disturbed, even expose the roots, to dry out, killing that plant too.
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  • If you don’t go the entire dry gardening route, but want to use less water, mulch deeply early on. It keeps your soil from drying out and blocks light germinating weed seeds from sprouting.
  • Self mulching:  plant in blocks, rather than rows. This creates shade for roots and reduces evaporation. If you are home gardening, maybe plant 4 to a block, put the blocks in different places to avoid disease or pest spread.
  • Dust mulching is simply soil cultivation to about 2 or 3 inches deep. Cultivation disturbs the soil surface and interrupts the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation.  Do it after rains or irrigating.
  • Remove water-using weeds. Don’t let them seed.
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  • When you water, do it by drip or trickle, deeply, early AM if possible, when wind is low and temps are cool. Plants drink during the day.  This is a good time to invest in a ‘hose bubbler.’  They deliver water slowly without digging up your soil.
  • Cultivate 2″ to 3″ deep before a rain to capture up to 70% of the rainfall! Cultivate afterwards if a salt crust (from manures) has built up.
  • Give your plants tasty compost tea, equal parts water and aged compost. Compost tea delivers rich soluble nutrients directly to the plant roots.
  • If water becomes critical, consider planting only a couple of containers with vegetables.
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  • Harvest on time at peak flavor and texture, using no more water than needed.
  • When your harvest is done, turn the remaining plants under, especially legumes, like beans, that feed your soil.

Amy Garrett, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University says ‘for each 1% increase in soil organic matter, soil water storage can increase by 16,000 gallons per acre-foot of applied water (Sullivan, 2002)! Many people think of grains and beans when dry farming is mentioned, however farmers in the western region of the U.S. have dry farmed many other crops including: grapes, [cucumbers,] garlic, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes, winter squash, potatoes, hay, olives, and orchard crops.’

After years of trial and error, David Little now considers himself an expert.“It’s very challenging because you have to hold the moisture for long periods of time, and you don’t know how different crops are going to react in different areas,” Little says. Much of the land he farms is rolling hills and valleys, which present additional challenges because they hold and move groundwater differently than flat land.

If you decide to dry farm all or part of your garden area, know that you and your land, your plant choices, are unique. Don’t give up, find your own way. Also you can do as David did, search for people who were known dry-farmers. He even made the rounds at local bars, asking older farmers about their experiences! He said they humbly shared their stories and gradually he picked up the important details. That’s dedication!

Be water wise, sleep well, eat hearty, share the bounty!

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Fat Pumpkins & Fun Hay Rides, Lane Farms, Goleta CA

 Happy Halloween! 

  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites!
  • Pumpkin flowers are edible.
  • Pumpkins are 90% water. 
  • Pumpkins are used for feed for animals.
  • Pumpkin seeds can be roasted as a snack.
  • Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine.
  • In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.
  • The name ‘pumpkin’ originated from ‘pepon,’ the Greek word for ‘large melon.’
  • Pumpkins contain potassium and Vitamin A.
  • As of Oct 2009, the largest pumpkin ever grown weighted 1,725 pounds!
     

DollarWise – From Grocery to Garden!

Adapted from Pat Veretto’s article…. 

Beans, Garlic, Tomatoes and more

Beans being beans, you can plant the ones that come from the grocery store. Eat half the beans, plant the rest! Beans are seeds and seeds grow.  So do whole peas, raw peanuts, popcorn, wheat berries, raw untreated spice seed (celery, anise, sesame, etc.)… well, you get the idea. Vegetables like peppers, tomatoes and fruits like watermelon, have seeds in them that will grow. Eat the food, then plant the seeds of the food you like!  

Note: Green beans of any kind, or peas in the pod bought at the produce counter, will not grow. They’re “green” – immature seed.  

If you don’t know the general planting rules for a vegetable, read seed packet at the nursery, or check online.  Easy.  

  In addition to seeds, the grocery store is a source of tubers like potatoes, yams and fresh ginger, sprouting plants like garlic and onions, and plants you can sometimes regrow, like celery, cabbage and carrots (carrot tops only, for edible greens – you won’t get another carrot).  

If you’d like to save tomato seeds to plant, first remember that tomatoes from the grocery are hybrids, unless you get heirlooms. Hybrids  mean the plant and tomato you get may not be what you expect (but it will be a tomato!). Scoop the seeds from a cut tomato and save with the liquid surrounding them, or mash a whole tomato and let it set at room temperature two or three days, then rinse gently and dry for storage, or plant them right away.  

Peppers, cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, and eggplant should be allowed to mature before using the seed, as the seed matures along with the vegetable. Planting these can be an adventure, as it’s not possible to know with what or if they’ve been cross pollinated, but try it anyway.  

Garlic will grow happily in a container on your windowsill or in the ground. Buy fresh garlic and use the largest cloves to plant. Put the unpeeled clove, pointed side up, in light soil with the tip just showing. Keep the soil damp and in a few days you should see a green shoot. You can eat this top, but if you let it grow, it will eventually turn brown and dry up. That means the garlic is “done” – you can dig it up and you should have a whole bulb of garlic, from which you can choose the largest clove and start the process again. If you plant garlic outside, you can leave it over winter for a spring harvest, or plant in the spring for a late summer or early autumn harvest.  

Root Crops from the Produce Department

Did you ever sort through one of those tubs of “onion sets” looking for ones that looked alive? Then you know what a bonus buying onions that are already growing can be! Green onions, the kind packaged or rubber banded and ready to eat, can be put back in the ground and grown to full size onions. Look for onions that have a round bulb because flat or thin bulbs may be another type of onion that never grows any larger, like a winter or spring onion. Set the onions upright in two or three inches of water for a couple of hours before planting, then keep the soil damp until the roots have been reestablished. 

  Most full sized onions will regrow if you cut the root end off along with an inch or so of onion. Plant the root in good ground, and keep it watered. It will begin to sprout within a few days and you’ll have green onion shoots, and sometimes a new onion bulb.  

About the only difference between “seed potatoes” and the eating kind of potatoes from the grocery store is the size – government specifications are between 1 ½ and 3 ¼ inches diameter. Other than that, the rules are that they can’t be affected by nematode injury, freezing or various rots, soil or other damages… I truly hope that the potatoes we buy to eat are of such high quality.  

Some potatoes are treated to keep them from sprouting – you’ll want the ones that sprout. Look out for the radiation symbol on the package. Irradiated potatoes are dead – they won’t grow.  

Most sprouting potatoes can be cut to get more than one plant. Just be sure to keep enough of the potato flesh to nurture the sprout until it can develop roots. Plant potatoes when the weather is still cool, barely below ground in light, sandy or straw filled soil.  

  Is it cost effective to buy groceries to garden with? Well, you’ll usually get enough seed from one squash to plant 15 to 20 hills. One potato is enough for three to four plants each of which should produce at least a meal’s worth in a poor season. And remember the “seed quality” beans? How much does it cost for a whole pound of beans?  Buy local – farmers market, roadside stands – for seeds adapted to our area.  Buy organic for untreated seeds!  Once you grow your own, harvest the seed of your best plants, specifically adapted to your very own garden! 

Creative Home & Garden ideas says ‘If you buy some foods, such as horseradish, with the tops (or at least part of the top still attached), you can cut off the top, plant it in the ground, and it will reproduce another horseradish root just like the one you bought. The next year it will divide, and soon from only one top you will have an entire patch of horseradish.

And that’s a bargain. When was the last time you bought something, ate it, and still had 200 of them left over?

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A simple tasty summer recipe!
Keep picking your beans; keep them coming!
     

2 pounds green beans, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, dill, your herb of choice, or 2 teaspoons dried
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste     

Or, spice it uP!  Sprinkle with sesame seeds, add almond slivers, throw in some red pepper bits or shallots, crumbled bacon! Or change the flavor entirely and toss with ginger and Hoisin sauce!  Whatever makes your taste buds happy!  Be creative, they’re your beans!  🙂     

Serve either as a hot dish, or immediately chill the beans in ice water after cooking and serve cold! Add any leftovers to a salad later.     

Summer Garlic Green Beans Delish!

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