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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Dealing With Drought

Drought is always a hard time for those of us who farm on any level. Whether you pasture chickens or tend to a herd of cattle, whether you have a back yard garden or a market garden, drought is affecting you if you live in the country's mid-section currently being savaged by high temperatures and low to no precipitation.

Our weather went from an unusually cold, wet spring to an unusually hot, dry summer. Its has been dry here since June with just a few small showers to keep the garden going. Dry is one matter, but add record high temperatures and that makes it almost unbearable.

Plants both big and small are suffering 

Ongoing record high temperatures have caused many plants, including tomatoes, peppers and green beans to stop dead in their tracks. In our garden we use a soaker hose sparingly to keep our plants at least hanging on through the drought. We are hoping to keep them healthy through this extreme weather until they can set on more fruit, since many plants won't in high heat. Eventually rain will come and temperatures will drop to average conditions. Outlying trees have also been a problem to our garden this year. During most years this is not an issue, but right now we can see a huge drain on plants within 10-20 feet of the limb-span of oak and hickory trees that grow outside of the garden.

Pasture for the livestock is quickly diminishing as well. The cows are currently grazing in a small field that I was hoping I could save for winter forage. Soon I will have to consider feeding hay, which other farmers in the area have already started doing. This is a risk, since I have a limited amount of hay in which I bought to use for winter feeding. Things could quickly change, though; a long fall with some good precipitation would help grasses to grow and provide good pasture into winter months.

Dependant on weather conditions 

These weather risks are always present and even after years of compounded meteorological technology, it remains completely unpredictable. Farmers still put their necks out to grow crops and raise cattle. They take the risk on choosing crops to grow or buying and selling cattle knowing that their gamble could cost them time and money, and sometimes substantial amounts of it. There are many ideas and theologies on how and what to farm inside and outside of the agricultural community, but respect must be retained for hard working farmers that go along diligently to feed the world. I appreciate that there is a lot of food production awareness spreading, but it still remains that many people do not know or care where their food comes from, or what pains are taken to produce it. They simply want food that is cheap and ready to eat. Crop decisions and diversity levels can be hard for farmers to navigate; but when a variable like summer drought gets thrown in, it really becomes a “hard row to hoe”. A struggle for our farmers can become a hard time for us all if at least economically.

Drought Survival 

I'd like to offer a few drought survival tips for your garden. If you can water the garden or plants, water slowly and onto the ground. Plant foliage can be damaged if sprayed with water while it is hot. Slow watering through the evening will help cut down on condensation and result in more absorption into the hard, dry soil. Mulch heavily with whatever you have to mulch with. Pile wood shaving, grass clippings, straw or even pulled up weeds over newspapers, feedsacks or salvaged cardboard. It can be unhealthy for plants to go without water when they really need it, but I believe it isn't good to over water and encourage shallow roots that do not reach for water and other necessary nutrients. Focus watering on plants that will either produce fruit during the heat, or will be able to survive through the heat and produce when cooler weather comes. In some instances it may be good to leave some weeds or grass if they can help shelter a plant, fruit or the ground from the direct sunlight. A heat tolerant cover crop, like buckwheat, may be a good choice for protecting ground not currently being gardened. Light colored sheets can be propped up over plants and fruit as a temporary shade on terribly extreme days.

With this weather our garden is having a rough time. Our summer squash and cucumbers are frying in the heat. Our tomatoes never had a chance. They set on fruit earlier, but in the heat and dry they have been attacked unrelentingly by the stink bugs. Stink bugs cause fruit to be pithy, seeping, ugly and unappetizing. This time of year my mom and I are usually pulling out a truckload of squash, cukes, beans, tomatoes, peppers; all those summertime veggies. I was hoping to can quarts of tomatoes and freeze lots of corn, but have yet to do that. We are thankful that we had a decent crop of onions and potatoes to keep us going to the market. In hopes that eventually the heat and dry will cease we have continually re-planted for later crops. Just the other day we put out a new batch of tomato plants in a different area of the garden, to try to stay away from bugs and get a late crop. We have okra and purple hull peas coming on, both of which love heat making them a hopeful crop! Our early bushes of top crop green beans look good, and will produce well once the weather breaks.

Summer is my favorite season, so I'll not be wishing for winter, but I am sure looking forward to an end to this sweltering heat and drought. Please go out and support your local farmers markets, as it is a tough year for us all. Crop failure is all around us, and we are growing weary. But, heads up, there is always a silver lining. Tree roots will dig deeper, making them stronger. I am positive that weather extremes must help out in the declination of some pestilent bug or varmit; making the future garden seasons more bearable. And, change is constant. The weather will eventually cool...and rains will come. Until then, drink lots of fluids and be smart in the heat! 

frank kling
8/19/2011 8:02:52 AM

Here in far Northern Illinois temps. have been running average, but precipitation is extraordinary. Official records showed more than 14 inches of rain for July-a record. The downside is an unimaginable amount of aggressive and hungry mosquitoes. I have NEVER before seen a mosquito problem of this magnitude. The animals refuse to venture out of the barn even during the daylight hours. The weather is insane. It is as if Mother Nature is desperately trying to find an equilibrium.

carmen ortiz
8/18/2011 5:39:24 PM

We are having the opposite problem. The heat has been bad, but finally, two days ago, it started cooling off and I can now manage with just fans. The problem has been the rain. I guess the only positive is that we are sending a lot of water along the Mississippi to people south of us. It took weeks to find enough dry days for volunteers to help me paint my house. The first attempt (weatherman said dry) ended up with ALL the paint washing off due to two freak storms one hour apart. All my tomato plants are diseased, they have no leaves up to four feet off the ground but lucky the tomatoes are still growing. My raspberries, which I sell at the farmer's market, absorbed so much water, I couldn't sell them. Strangely enough the only things that I managed to grow fine were artichokes and okra (I live in Minnesota). The mosquitoes are worse than ever and we usually have many.

john m_3
8/18/2011 4:49:00 PM

we live in san marcos tx. we have not had a day below 100degs for 6-8 weeks. no rain. none. we have a water tank capacity of 10,000 gals. they went dry in early may. exposed dark soil samples are around 140 degs. we have to use expensive city water to keep our fruit and shade trees alive. no peaches, no plums, a few lemons. no pecans. we are getting cabin fever because you cannot work outside after noon. no cooling winds. there is no end in sight. climatologists are saying the drought here could last ten or more years. texas is becoming a desert.

reuben grassl_1
8/18/2011 4:05:29 PM

Here in central & south Texas -No measurable rain since past winter - only occasional "spotty" showers of little amounts- Here in east Texas Post Oak trees & shallow rooted pines &/or other small trees dying - Texas is to possibly loose 20% of all it's oak trees in the oak savannahs which are numerous. Tanks (ponds), lakes, creeks,are drying or are dried up and river levels are at all-time lows - water sources for towns & cities are becoming a concern (not little towns/cities -large ones- Houston,San Antonio,Austin,etc)Roads, highways, etc. breaking up to intense heat. In my local area - East Texas, 18 days of August, we haven't had a day less than 105 deg. No hay crops planted, gardens would not set fruit, nite-time temps. average 78-80 deg. Livestock sales are doubling at commissions - no hay , forage, high feed prices!! Worst drought since the early 1950's or maybe worse.We don't pray for rain anymore, now we pray for a "Windless Hurricane" to push this "High-Pressure Dome " off of us !!!

hope perry
8/18/2011 11:07:41 AM

I live in the Gulf Coast region and we had a drought for over 2 months this spring into summer. This is the first time I can remember not having rain for that period of time. Started a garden for the first time in 2 years (great timing) lost most of it to the high temperatures and no water, but I at least have a second garden to look forward to. I am planting all of my winter crops now and praying for a more favorable fall and winter.

virginia abel
8/18/2011 10:46:24 AM

We live around Bloomington, Indiana and have suffered right along with the rest of the country. This crazy weather scares me and I wonder what my grandchildren will have to face. I got one good pick of beans before the heat fried them, my tomatoes are producing but they aren't as pretty or plentiful as years past. My pumkins are dead :( and carrots are ugly but my peppers have done great !

8/17/2011 11:33:12 AM

Great post & pointers! I especially liked "leave a few weeds for shade" - I've done this & "clean" gardeners ridicule my reasoning. (yes it must be balanced against the extra drain on water) I like weeds with long tap roots - they bring nutrients up & help loosen the soil in my raised beds. When I pull weeds, I shake all dirt off & lay them on top of mulch (I don't do this with weeds that root easily along their stems).

sherry leverich tucker
8/8/2011 12:28:31 AM

The heat and drought has continued here. There are lower temps forcasted for this week (low 90's) and scattered showers (which keep missing us). Eventually a good rain will track here, and it won't be a moment too soon! Thanks for your comments!

charles j_3
8/2/2011 10:04:05 PM

I hope this summer is settling any doubts anyone is having about global warming. I remember it started getting bad 3 or 4 years ago when it just wasn't cooling down at night anymore. Here in Michigan, we used to always experience below 70 degree nights all summer long that were perfect for sleeping with your windows wide. We've just experienced another hottest July on record. Consequently it was the second wettest but that didn't make a difference. The lake is drying up, the lawns are burning out and the tomatoes are not going anywhere.

lee radtke
8/2/2011 6:53:52 PM

We hit 108 in Columbia today. My lemon cucumbers are turning to rubber on the vine. Happily, I did get tomatoes, but they are starting to wilt a little in the heat, too. No amount of watering is enough to counteract the heat. If it weren't for the raised beds and feed-bag container gardens, I'd be totally out of luck. But we're supposed to get a break from the heat tomorrow: "only" 96 degrees!