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Stories from the valley

How does your garden grow in this drought?

Contributed by Tim Johnson

One of the hallmarks of the Sacramento Valley is the backyard garden. Whether vegetables, fruit trees or a flower patch – nearly everyone has a garden or grew up with one!

It’s no wonder – gardening is fantastic! It provides great fresh food and an unequaled way to unwind after the workday. It even helps build community as you meet friends and neighbors with a gift of garden produce, although I must admit my co-workers and friends are a little less excited during the height of zucchini season…

Zucchini plant

The drought however has presented some challenges last few years. With brown lawns and landscape plants getting the bare minimum of water it’s hard to justify a garden. The last two years, I made the decision to forgo the pastime and let farmers do what they do best – grow food with just the right amount of water.

I wasn’t disappointed. How can you really ever be far from the freshest fruits and vegetables living in this perfect Mediterranean climate? What’s more my neighbors had a willing victim for their zucchini drop and runs!

This year with normal rains, I decided it was time to jump back in but this time to maximize my water conservation.

Drip irrigation

I have always used drip systems. They are easy to install and reduced the weed populations between rows. This year however I upped my game big time! In addition to emitters for the pumpkins and squash, I used drip tape. Most garden centers and online catalogues sell short rolls of the same stuff used by farmers (they buy it in rolls 13,000 feet long!). The output of this tape is around .25 gallons per hour

I also took the time and energy to put in landscape cloth over the rows before planting. Secured by a shovel full of dirt on each side, the cloth covered the berm ensuring no weeds and also preserving soil moisture. All I had to do was make a small X cut in the cloth and plant.

Vegetable garden with mulch and drip system

Finally, I mulched between the rows with straw. Here too I was looking for the weed control and also to add organic matter over time to the fairly mineral soils here in the Sierra Foothills.

So far it’s going well. I water every evening for about 30 minutes depending on the day’s temperature. The weeds are very manageable. Best of all, the garden it screaming with healthy plants and good yields!

How about you? Tell us your garden stories, your favorite water saving techniques and what you grow best. After all there is nothing more Sacramento Valley than the home garden!