Friday, February 28, 2014

Some Vegetables Require Less Water than Others

Some Vegetables Require Less Water than Others
a 2011 Interview with Jim Myers, Professor of Horticulture Oregon State University  

Gardeners who want to save water with wise irrigating techniques might consider an unusual approach: plant crops that don't require much water in the first place.  

"Some vegetables, such as beans, are adapted to drought conditions at a very basic, cellular level," explained Jim Myers, professor of horticulture at Oregon State University. "Tepary beans grow successfully in desert and near-desert conditions. They are native to the American Southwest and have been a staple food crop there for hundreds, or probably thousands, of years. I have grown them successfully in Oregon."  

Beans in the cowpea group, such as the familiar black-eyed pea, also have this characteristic. The black-eyed pea needs little water and grows poorly if watered too much. "However," Myers said, "the cowpea beans need heat to mature, and our cool nights can limit growth and reduce seed set. The same is true for okra."  

Some common beans, like snap beans and pole beans, require a short growing season and can set a crop on small amounts of moisture. Tomatoes, squash and melons establish deep root systems quickly and can draw moisture from the deeper soil long after the surface has become dry in midsummer, Myers said. "There's also a zucchini variety (Dark Star) bred for its ability to grow under dry-land conditions with roots that seek out the water table."  

"As long as these vegetables have water early in their growing season, they tolerate drought," Myers said. "In fact, many tomatoes actually do better if you cut off irrigation in mid- to late summer." Cutting the water also reduces the ability of certain fungal and bacterial diseases to take hold.  

By and large, cool-season crops are not drought-resistant. These include cool-season legumes such as peas, lentils and fava beans, and the crucifer crops: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli, turnips and watercress. Sweet corn and lettuce are shallow-rooted and don't do well without a lot of water.  

In addition to using well-known water-saving techniques such as drip irrigation and mulching, try grouping your vegetables according to their water needs. In general, give your vegetables no more water than they need – rather than as much as they can withstand. 

More information about the low-water use vegetable varieties mentioned here:
Tepary Beans
Black-eyed peas
Snap beans
Pole beans
Dark Star zucchini

Other heat-tolerant vegetable varieties, according to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange:

Green Pod Red Seed beans
Lima Beans (butterbeans)
Tropic VFN tomato
Ozark Pink VF tomato
Neptune tomato
Listada de Gandia eggplant
Black Beauty eggplant
Ping Tung Long eggplant
Carolina Wonder pepper
Charleston Belle pepper
Aji Dulce pepper
Little Leaf H-19 cucumber
Ashley cucumber
Suyo Long cucumber
Moschata-type summer squash
Tromboncino summer squash
Waltham Butternut winter squash
Seminole pumpkin
Missouri Gold melon
Top Mark melon
Sweet Passion melon
Kansas Melon
Edisto 47 melon
Crimson Sweet watermelon
Strawberry watermelon
Gold Coast okra
Stewart Zeebest okra
Beck's Big Buck okra

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Remember Rain? Remember the March Winds? Uh, Oh....

 It's been awhile, but the rain and wind have returned to California, according to this weekend's forecast for Sacramento from the National Weather Service:
Here Comes Your 19th Nervous Breakdown

 Tonight A 40 percent chance of rain, mainly after 10pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 50. East wind 5 to 8 mph. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

Friday Rain, with thunderstorms also possible after 10am. High near 58. Southeast wind 11 to 17 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New rainfall amounts between a half and three quarters of an inch possible.

Friday Night Showers. Low around 49. Southeast wind around 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

Saturday A 40 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 62. Southeast wind 11 to 14 mph, with gusts as high as 18 mph.

Saturday Night A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly cloudy, with a low around 46.


As if the combination of rain, wind, wet soil and suffering, tall, trees near the house isn't enough to have homeowners glancing warily at their roofs, there's more. To complicate matters, spring is getting an early start here. Fruit and nut trees are in full blossom, increasing the 2014 chances of diseases (hello, peach leaf curl!).

For those of you reading this outside of California...yes, we are weather weenies. A half inch of rain causes all sorts of havoc here, including clouding drivers' minds with the thought: "If I drive faster, I can beat the rain." TV newscasts immediately bring the "Action News Storm Desk Central" set out of storage, and sends the writers into a panic, coming up with the next 80-point graphic: "Rainageddon!" "March Monsoon!" "California Cloudburst!"

A checklist for those of us who have forgotten how to deal rationally with the combination of February-March rain and wind:

Hey, It Works.
Secure, cover or remove patio furniture, bbq.  
Remove pads and umbrellas.
Add compost to garden bed. Let the rains move it downward.

• Move plant starts to a safe area.

Ugly, but functional.

• Add gutter extensions.

To fertilize or not fertilize the lawn before a predicted rainstorm? Pros: fertilizer will be worked into the soil effortlessly. Cons: heavy rain could wash fertilizer off a lawn, especially if it is sloped, into the gutter. Synthetic chemicals in lawn fertilizers can damage creek life. Using organic fertilizer is one possible solution. Still, runoff from that can cause problems, as well. Do you feel lucky?
• Remove diseased, dying plants and fallen fruit (Admit it. You haven't cleaned up under your fruit trees. Yet.) Rainfall can spread harmful fungal diseases.

• Low spots? Mark those overly wet areas with a stick and take action after the storm (see below for more).

• Turn off the automatic sprinklers. Just water manually, as needed. And trust me, "as needed" is a lot less than you think.

Keeps the Aphids Out, Too

• Protect new plants in the ground with row covers. Heavy rain could uproot seedlings. Row covers will disperse that action.

• Move tools indoors. Cover or move lawn mowers, tillers, etc.

• Turn over buckets, pots, etc. to keep mosquitoes from breeding.

• Do you use a sump pump during the winter to move water from unwanted areas, such as pool covers? Make sure it is working!
• Wind and rain means downed tree limbs onto power lines. How's that generator working?

• Do you have a covered area to feed outdoor pets?

Do you have a shelter for your outdoor pets?  

• Empty pool filters. Storm-driven leaves are on the way!  
• Cover the pool and spa to keep debris out.  
• Secure the spa cover. They will blow open!

• The combination of evergreen or leaf-heavy trees and storms means a high possibility of large branches falling. Move your valuables out of harm's way, including your vehicles. 

Easy Entry for Possums!

• Replace torn tarps on firewood.

• Clean roof gutters before the storm.

For Overly Wet Areas After the Storm (and after the soil has dried a bit):
  • Dig a sump. A hole that is dug in the lowest portion of your yard, a hole that penetrates through all the layers of hardpan (usually 2-4 feet below the surface), can help drain away stormwater. Line the hole with a non-porous material (hard plastic sheeting, for example) to keep the surrounding dirt from falling back into the hole. Fill the hole with small rocks, about one inch in diameter.

  • If it's the lawn area that's flooding, dig a trench and lay a drain line in the lowest area of the lawn. Don't do any digging immediately after a heavy rain, though; wait until the soil dries enough to avoid unnecessary soil compaction. 

 Be sure to slope the drain pipe, allowing at least a one foot drop for each 100 feet of length (one quarter-inch per foot). Dig backwards from where the water will exit the pipe, trenching back towards the source of flooding to help determine how deep to lay the drain pipe. Line the trench with a few inches of gravel, both above and below the pipe. For a lawn area, try to lay the pipe at least two feet below the surface.

  • If it's the garden bed that's flooding, consider building raised beds this fall, lining the bed with 2X8, 2X10 or 2X12 redwood planks. Capping off the top of these boards with 2X6 redwood will give you a comfortable place to sit while harvesting vegetables and pulling weeds.

  • If you haven't planted in a flooded area yet, consider creating mounds first, planting trees and shrubs on the top of the mounds.

Lawns + Wet Soils = Tree Root Rot
 • If you're still stuck with pools of standing water after heavy rains despite your best efforts, consider planting trees and shrubs that can take "wet feet". Water-tolerant trees for our area include birch, sweet gum, magnolia, tupelo and coast redwoods. Remember, though, that even moisture-tolerant trees cannot  survive anaerobic soil conditions for long. Make sure that you are not overwatering, and that there is drainage. Shrubs for wet areas include thuja and red twig dogwood.
But before you plant those, remember: we are still in a drought.
Folsom Desert (formerly Lake)