Thursday, 30 August 2012

Vegetable growing when it’s hot and dry

The vegetable garden mid August

It’s a hot dry summer this year, the fields around us have turned to a golden hue and although we do get an occasional cloudy day there’s been no rain for a long time now. Growing vegetables under these conditions becomes a challenge particularly for us when we have a shallow soil which doesn’t retain the water. But we have had dry years before and as a consequence we have developed a very simple strategy for growing vegetables under these conditions. Firstly plant those vegetables which will need watering in the “best” part of your vegetable garden and find a water source so you can water them regularly in the hot weather. Secondly grow and trial different types of vegetables and varieties so as to find those which tolerate the drought and heat the best.
The vegetable garden today showing the dry parts at the top

Our vegetable garden isn’t completely uniform, there are small differences; the lower southern part has more depth of soil, the top northern part is drier, the eastern part benefits from a cooler wind coming from the sea and the western side  is the hottest being sheltered by outcrops of limestone rock. We practise a 4 year rotation in our vegetable garden but within each rotation there are 4 different beds  so with careful planning we can normally plant the crop where the micro climate suites it best. For example with early potatoes we need to grow them where there is least chance of spring frost and where the ground warms up quickly, so we plant them in the most protected part of the vegetable plot. Similarly for tender moisture loving crops we try to have them growing in the coolest areas and where the soil is deepest in the hot summer. 

Fabulous lettuce but only possible to grow this time of year with lots of watering

With a prolonged drought like this year we still have to water some crops preferably late in the evening. Some crops soon die when they don’t have enough water others just don’t grow and some even thrive with the heat and drought. Crops which we would water would include; lettuce and peas, and to a lesser extent cabbages, French beans, beetroot, leeks and carrots. Other crops we water very occasionally depending on water availability would be courgettes, peppers, aubergines and raspberries.

We had a well bored 4 years ago and this is what we use to water the vegetable garden. It’s about 180 m deep and the water is pumped into a deposit which then feeds a rudimentary irrigation system in the vegetable garden. It’s a life safe at this time of year.

We also carry out trials to look at which crops and varieties with stand the hot dry conditions. In these trials we don’t water the crops at all or only for the establishment of the crop.  As a result of these trials we are slowly coming up with an interesting list of crops and varieties for hot dry conditions some of which are more useful than others.

Our wild tomatoes performing brilliantly in the hot dry weather

The wild or currant tomato “Solanum pimpinellifolium” is proving to be brilliant producing a massive crop of tiny very flavourful tomatoes. If the ground is too wet it can prove to be excessively vigorous but when the conditions get hot and dry it’s just outstanding. Cape gooseberries or Physalis are another drought tolerant plant which under wet conditions can be too vigorous but under dry conditions is a very manageable plant producing lots of lovely fruits. Leaf beet or Swiss chard also resist drought surprisingly well.  Our Cayenne peppers have been productive and all ripened where as the plants of the jalapeño peppers in the same conditions are dying for lack of water before the peppers have ripened. 

Cape gooseberries thriving in the drought

 The attractive fruits of the Cape Gooseberries ready for eating

Finally two crops which have grown well and the fruits ripened this year has been lentils and chickpeas, the only problem is I think we would have to plant the whole vegetable garden with lentils before we could harvest sufficient to serve our guests with one evening a meal.

Lentils ready for harvest

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Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.