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Gardening without irrigation — Dry Farming

Some months back I opened an Organic Gardening Newsletter email and something caught my eye right away: Dry Farming.

I’d never heard of this, so I immediately clicked on — read — was interested — and did even a little more research.

Come to find out — I’ve been doing this for 35 years! I just didn’t know it had a title.

You can read slight variations of the definition for Dry Farming, but in a nut shell — it’s growing things without watering them.  The plants are watered by rainfall only.

Disadvantages? (That depends on the garden or gardener.)

The article that Organic Gardening linked to was about someone dry farming tomatoes.  It was either in that article or another I read that they went on to tell what they felt the disadvantages were for not watering.

  • One disadvantage mentioned was that it increased the chances of blossom end rot due to fluctuations in watering.

I can’t say that I’ve never had blossom end rot — because I think everyone has at one time or the other.  But for most part my tomatoes are free from that.  This year — out of hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes, I may have had 6 with blossom end rot.  And — we had drought the entire month of April and then again in part of June and July.

  • Another disadvantage they mentioned was cracking and splitting if water fluctuations are drastic.

The only time I’ve ever found that a concern with my  tomatoes is if we have tropical storm or hurricane rains.  When hurricane Sandy was approaching us in October of this year, I harvested many of my large tomatoes so they wouldn’t crack.  I left that many again on the vines.  I did not have cracking on the ones I left — although I thought maybe I would.

  • They went on to say that dry farming can reduce yield size.

Hmmmmm— interesting.  I’ve been harvesting 1000s of tomatoes each year for the last 35 years.  I never have watered.  I think if the plants  gave me any more fruit —- I don’t know how I would handle it.

  • Another thing mentioned was that tomato plants may look straggly and start to wilt.

The only tomato plant that I’ve ever had look “wilty” in 35 years was the Opalka variety that I grew this year.  Come to find out — that is one of it’s characteristics.  My tomatoes are always my best looking plants during drought.

Tomatoes in drought this summer.

The Advantages

  • They did attribute dry farming as a known way to improve flavor of tomatoes.
  • And of course not watering saves lots of time and money.

Other articles I read mentioned that a lot of dry farming goes on in the Southwest where water has become scarce.

Many — if not most — of the fruit farmers started dry farming because they didn’t have water.  One couple just couldn’t afford to replace the irrigation pipes that watered the apple orchard and had resolved to let it die.  The weaker trees that needed to go anyway died off.  The others kept going strong and much to their surprise the fruit increased tremendously in flavor.   They were in business again!

Another fellow who had always watered moved the Washington state.  He couldn’t get enough water from his well to supply the fruit trees.  He went to the forest to learn.  He then heavily mulched all his trees with wood chips.  He got (gets) tremendous yields, delicious fruit, and hasn’t watered for 31 years.

Is it Gardening Suicide?

Most gardeners today think it’s gardening – suicide not to water.  And I guess it would be —- if you garden conventionally or traditionally —- with bare ground and all the many disadvantages of that method.  See my last post.

Interestingly enough, studies have found that most garden and farm managers over water (and over fertilize — especially when it come to nitrogen.)  Nature has a delicate balance and doesn’t like too little or too much.  You don’t have to know all the complexities. She’ll do all the work for you.

What Gardening Without Water Requires from the Gardener

Gardening without water requires more implicit obedience to nature’s laws, but it’s rewards are much greater.  Ground must be covered.  The soil must have organic matter — not only to supply nutrients — but to hold the water that the rain provides. Roots will be stronger.  Crops will be tastier.  And the gardener doesn’t have to work themselves to death.

Final Thoughts

Nature always wins.  Make her your partner and you can’t loose.

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Related Posts:

Watering Guidelines to Consider

Watering – It’s Overrated

Needs One Inch of Rain a Week.  Oh Yeah?!

Should You Garden if You Can’t Water?  Yes!

How is Your Garden in this Drought

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Organic gardening is easy, efficient, effective — and it’s a lot healthier.

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All content including photos is copyright by TendingMyGarden.com.  All rights reserved.

3 comments to Gardening without irrigation — Dry Farming

  • Sandra

    Theresa, This is a quote from a local gardening book from a beautiful historical garden in our area. They use all authentic (to that particular garden) methods of gardening. Here is what is said about watering.

    ” The ability or inability to water the garden has been the single most important limiting factor to gardening throughout history, particularly in southern climates.”

    The book goes on to say, “We have found, in our small 1/4 acre garden, that with hauling water from the well, filling up the cistern and using watering cans, the two of us can move 4,000 pounds (about 200 gallons) a day and still not keep up with our needs when summer stays dry.”

    Sure enough, when I visited last summer, there were a couple of people working tirelessly to bring water to plants in unmulched soil in the beautiful vegetable garden. It was so much work!!

    I had just learned from reading here (TendingMyGarden), to mulch heavily, and it was hard not to feel badly for them.
    Just thought I’d share this. It (mulching) has saved me much labor this last year.

  • Theresa

    Sandra — I put some thinga in parentheses in your comment — for clarity. Let me know if I was incorrect.

    Your story is amazing and sad — especially since — as you well know —- it’s not necessary to do all that. I guess they feel that it was done that way there originally and wanted to continue in the labor intensive way..

    I know I would not want to do that. Just carrying a few buckets of water to my plants in grow bags was more than I wanted to do.

    Thanks for the story.
    Theresa

  • Sandra

    Your additions clarify, thanks Theresa.

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