First the No News: Texas is experiencing a record drought that is expected to last through next year. The Clear Lake City Water Authority (CLCWA), the church’s water supplier, has declared a Stage 2 Water Shortage Condition which limits irrigation to two days a week.
Then the Good News: The Director of Utilities at CLCWA is a gardener and appears to understand that seedlings, new transplants and many vegetables need watering more frequently than twice-weekly, though the total water consumption may not be more than used in a turf lawn.
Now the Bad News: The CLCWA Drought Contingency Plan (PDF) does not exempt hand-watering from Stage 2 restrictions and the Director does not have latitude to issue a variance or special exemption for garden irrigation. In his words…
All watering, whether it be by landscape sprinklers, hose end sprinklers, buckets or hose watering alone is only allowed on assigned days.
This holds true for a Stage 2 drought condition. If the extreme drought conditions continue through next year and we move into Stage 3, then NO irrigation will be permitted.
What this means for the BAUUC Community Garden
We have two options: (1) delay the garden for a season and hope that the drought breaks in time for fall or spring planting next year, or (2) take advantage of the momentum we already have, find ways to mitigate irrigation restrictions and hope for rain. We’ve opted for the later, but it probably means changes in the design and management of the garden.
There are many options to help maintain a vegetable garden during drought restrictions. I’m listing only some of them here along with a few brief comments. We’ll be discussing their effectiveness, feasibility and cost in depth with the design team. Feel free to add your thoughts and questions in the “Comments” section below.
- Rainwater Harvesting – The garden site isn’t in a good location to access the church roof, and a rainwater system would have significant initial cost, but the design team will re-evaluate this option. One of our volunteers, Alison Steele, has a nice write-up about an rainwater harvesting system she installed at her urban homestead.
- Transplants Instead of Seeds – Some vegetable plants don’t transplant well, but some do. We would need additional volunteers to grow-out the seedlings to an appropriate size to give to the gardeners. Transplants may still need extra water, but not as frequently as seeds might.
- Vegetable Selection – We will need to pick vegetables and varieties that better withstand drought conditions while maintaining reasonable yields. This will take some research.
- Limit the Growing Season – Four-Season Gardening is the rage in many gardening circles, but maybe we should let the gardens fallow over the hottest summer months.
- Soil Selection and Conditioning – Soil that has a high fraction of quality compost will better hold water, so our soil selection might change. We will also need to put extra emphasis on the need for surface mulch. Another possibility for soil conditioning is the use of hydrogels (water-absorbing polymers), either broadcast in the bed or mixed in the planting hole. Hydrogels are a tempting product, but we need to do some more investigation.
- Ollas – Alison Steele is testing another potential method that can help during irrigation restrictions and describes a DIY method on her blog. These are essentially water reservoirs made from unglazed terra-cotta pots. They are buried underground and the water slowly seeps through the pot into the surrounding soil.
So these are just a few ideas about how we can address Stage 2 drought restrictions. If we hit Stage 3 and aren’t allowed to water at all, well…
If you have comments or questions about how the BAUUC Community Garden can successfully respond to the current drought conditions and watering restrictions, use the comment section below. We’d love to hear your ideas.