Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
So many of us in the midsection of the United States have dealt with drought through the last two summers. Drought is tough. Drought (especially coupled with heat) is hard on all animals, hard on the terrain and hard on us. I am hoping that this spring and summer we will get rain. We are so behind in precipitation, and ponds are drying up, ground-water levels are dipping and shallow wells and springs are drying up. It's possible we will see a continuation of drought through this year. How do we deal with that? Are there changes in strategy or management within our farming that can help?
With gardening, the hoop house, if utilized better, can be a great asset. Summer crops can be planted and harvested earlier, within the climate of the hoop house, before sweltering summer conditions even begin. The early beans I grew in the hoop house last year worked out great, but the beans in the garden were short-lived, as it got so dry so quickly once summer hit. Water goes a lot further in the hoop house “Terrarium” climate, especially in the early summer when the nights are cooler and the sides are kept closed for at least the evenings. Tomatoes can be started inside now to plant in the hoop house, as long as they are protected through cold temperatures.
In the traditional, outdoor tilled garden it would benefit the ground to take advantage of the moisture brought by spring rains by discontinuing tilling and cover with mulch. Summer crops like beans and corn like the ground warm, and mulching too soon can hinder the ground from soaking up the warmth. Planting varieties that have a short maturity time can also help. Though shorter maturing plants are usually smaller and produce less, the dependance on continued good growing conditions is shorter, making crop failure less of a problem. Last summer, only our earliest corn crop produced. We planted longer maturity corn, like 'Kandy Korn,' but it only produced measly ears with brown spots and dry kernels – a complete crop failure. During our hot, dry summer months of last year and the year before, very little thrived. But, we are not equipped for heavy irrigation tactics, and light watering does not do what long soaking rains can accomplish.
Having livestock can be challenging through drought and heat. Making sure that animals stay healthy and have shade trees and plenty of good water to drink are so important. Fresh pasture and retained forage can be such a challenge. Changing pasture land grasses can be difficult and expensive, but may be worth looking into. A strategy that has been very successful and cost effective is to plant turnips and cold weather grass (like wheat, oats or rye) after the summer grasses have become dormant (September thru October). This provides winter pasture which cattle love and keeps them from eating through expensive hay stores. Providing supplemental mineral and salt helps make sure that they utilize all the nutrition available to them, as well.
I hope that this year will be wetter, but if not, I will hope for a successful spring and fall garden, and not focus on summertime crop success quite as much. Do you have any tips for making it through drought? Please share!