How to Rotate a Garden Crop to Follow Seasonal Rains and Periods of Drought

How to Rotate a Garden Crop to Follow Seasonal Rains and Periods of Drought

How to Plant for the Weather

If you live in the West like I do, the ongoing drought and low water table means that gardeners often run out of well water long before everything has been irrigated in the the vegetable garden. While one solution is to not plant anything at all, a better solution is to adopt low water practices to keep your vegetables alive.

Some of the changes I will make to my vegetable garden this year include flat plantings, heavy layers of mulch, a drip irrigation systems and choosing low-water summer vegetables varieties. I will also start early and rotate my crops so that they can follow the weather. Here's how it's done.

Early plantings
As soon as the ground is workable in the spring, plant your first batch of quick growing spring veggies such as salad greens, spinach, radishes, turnips, and green onion starts into the ground. Replant these same vegetables every 1-2 weeks until the seeds stop sprouting.

Early, staggered plantings lets you take advantage of spring rains and a higher soil moisture content to keep your garden alive. Once the weather heats up and these veggies start to droop however, they should be harvested and the plot allowed to sit fallow for the rest of the summer.

Start a limited selection of summer crops indoors.
During a drought, it's best to limit your summer veggie selections to ones that are low water tolerant or have high yields in proportion to the water used. Roma and cherry tomatoes are good selections, so is are peppers, okra and Cumshaw squash. These vegetables should be started indoors at least 8-10 weeks before the last spring frost. An early start means that they will have an established root system by the time the water has to be scaled back in the summer.

Late planting
In a traditional garden, plantings are staggered from early Spring to late fall for a continuous supply of produce. During drought years, skip the summer rotation (except in low water plots) and wait until late fall when the temps are slightly cooler to plant the last rotation of veggies. Low water fall crops such as Swiss Chard, Kale, spinach and turnips can be sown directly into the empty beds that had earlier held your spring veggies. Stagger these plantings for a steady supply of produce until the first hard frost.

Managing a vegetable garden in periods of drought is a bit of a balancing act. Water-wise irrigation practices along with matching vegetables to the weather is what will produce the highest yield with the least amount of irrigation water.