Managing dry spells and droughts

Summertime arrived with a bang, and growers around Clay and Leslie Counties have been working to keep their gardens productive. Our area has been in a dry spell, and most folks hadn’t received a substantial rain in nearly a month. Happily, most everyone at the Bullskin Creek Grow Appalachia site got some moisture over the Fourth of July weekend. The rain no doubt forced some folks to change their cookout plans, but it was still welcomed by everyone with a garden.

Luckily, we have several ways to address low rainfall. During this most recent stretch of dry weather several growers inquired about irrigation setup. Irrigation can be a good option for some producers, especially if it is an efficient system that makes good use of the applied water.

Not everyone has access to a dependable water source at their garden, however. In those cases we have to rely on other strategies to make the most of the rainfall we do receive. For instance, several Bullskin Creek growers are using ground coverings to help minimize soil evaporation. Mulches aren’t a silver bullet, but they can help retain more moisture than if the ground was uncovered. This can help prevent water stress for several days longer than would be possible otherwise.

Finally, we can implement strategies (such as adding cover crops and minimizing tillage) that increase soil organic matter. Increasing the amount of organic matter in our soils provides numerous benefits, including an improved ability for the soil to provide water to our crops. This happens because the organic matter soaks up water rather than letting it run off or drain away. The organic matter then slowly releases that water back into the soil profile (and to our crops). In fact, for each percentage point that we increase our soil organic matter we can expect to add over 3,000 gallons/acre of plant available water. Improving water holding capacity certainly isn’t the only reason to prioritize soil organic matter and soil health, but it is definitely one of the reasons to do so!

As we continue through the summer, we know other challenges like the recent dry spell will doubtless arise. Nevertheless, the growers at Bullskin Creek are focused on improving their growing practices and providing nutritious harvests for their families. It isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it!