This summer has been a drought-filled doozy in Chicagoland, redefining the phrase “hot damn” and killing unsuspecting annuals and vegetables in gardens across the Midwest. Our temperatures have matched Santa Fe, New Mexico’s heat and until mid-August we were inundated with drought. Believe me, we front lawn garden vigilante’s have a watering bill that rival our air-conditioning bills. Looking at the photo above, I am sure you are wondering why I have the giant smile plastered across my face after such a difficult season.
Simply put – this season I had a few secret weapons which helped my garden survive when many others did not. To the right you see a photo I took of a local vegetable garden; this is what a lot of the gardens in my region look like after drought. Below is a photo I took yesterday of my front lawn vegetable garden and it is looking pretty good thanks to my secret weapons.
MY SECRET WEAPONS TO GARDENING SUCCESS IN A DROUGHT -
- SOIL – For three years I have been building the soil in the garden. I have added a mix of composted manure (both bison and cow), regular compost, and organic soil. The first year I tilled the soil under. Since then I have practiced a no-till policy, simply layering the new organic soil amendments on top of the last. Strong soil means strong microbes for the plants to interact with and it also means more water holding capability.
- MULCH - Every year I mulch the garden. Mulch helps hold moisture in the soil below it and eventually rots down into the soil, marrying with the complex soil system. I prefer mulching one to two inches max for the vegetable beds and I primarily use natural mulching products; leaves and chipped wood. This year I added pine bark mulch from Midwest Trading and have found it remarkably water retentive.
- WATERING - For the first time ever I have added a dedicated hose system to the front lawn garden. Usually I use rain barrel water, but without rain, there was no filled rain barrels. I have two over-ground sprinklers which helped to maintain the plants. I noticed that no matter how much I watered via the hose system, the garden did not grow significantly until a good rain soaked the soil, so some of the tropical plants I have are a bit stunted. Overall, however, it has been good. I water before 10 AM and after 6 PM to help prevent evaporation during watering. Also, it is better to water for a longer period at a time so you can build deeper roots. Watering every day is not necessary, but having a long drink helps the roots grow deeper and stronger.
- SOIL ADDITIVES - In the spring I mixed in Worm Castings with the vegetable garden soil to help attract worms. Having worms in your garden means the soil is going to be better aerated and absorb water more readily. During planting I added Actino-Iron, a soil additive which helps build a stronger relationship between the roots and its surrounding soil microbes, thereby strengthening the plant and allowing it to absorb more water. I applied Actino-Iron when planting and a second time in July. Organic fertilizers included Jobes All-Purpose Organic Fertilizer, which I apply only to a few selected plants and only twice through the summer.
If you want to see the full on design and planting schematic details so you can grow a similar garden, please go to this LINK.
My best advice to all gardeners is to prepare your garden for ANY conditions. Almost all great gardening starts at the root and specifically the soil; by strengthening the soil you strengthen the plant. Think of it as vitamins to help your organic vegetables grow to their very strongest. Particularly in drought conditions, soil and mulch can make a tremendous difference for your garden. Plant a row for the hungry next garden season using my secret weapons for success and make a difference!
Special Note – Because the FTC requires it, I am letting you know that Jobes Organic Fertilizer, Bonnie Plants, Organic Mechanics Soil, Midwest Trading, and Natural Industries supplied the plants, mulch, soil, and soil additives I used in this garden. I have used their products because I WOULD even if they had not given the products to me and they have produced great success. I donate a large portion of the vegetables I grow in my soil-improved garden to the local food pantry when harvested. All opinions are my own!