The current drought and lack of snowpack is challenging farmers across the state on many levels. According to the Department of Ecology, temperatures in our region are running 20 degrees above normal with record low precipitation, leading Governor Jay Inslee to declare a statewide drought emergency in May. These conditions are putting our local food supply under duress. Some farmers are losing crops due to the heat and are having to water late into the night.
At Seattle Tilth Farm Works, drip irrigation systems are installed on each plot and we have twelve 5,000 gallon capacity cisterns, totaling 60,000 gallon holding capacity, used for watering. Smart watering practices, like drip irrigation and watering in the evening when there is the least evaporation, combined with good growing practices, like adding compost to our soil and mulching whenever possible, help minimize our losses and keep crops alive through the dry spell. Although the drought is difficult for some crops, hot crops like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are thriving from the heat.
The farmers at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands are also experiencing the effects of the drought and abnormally high temperatures. Despite being fortunate enough to have a reliable and consistent supply of water, farmers there have had to irrigate the fields far more than in previous years. Last year, farmers at Rainier Beach Urban Farm did not have to irrigate crops in the field until August. This year, steady irrigation began in May and wetland areas that were typically flooded are now bone dry.
These unusual conditions are forcing the farmers to be more adaptive, reinventing plans they once relied on. More resilient practices geared towards a more arid climate have been implemented to conserve water, reduce evaporation and erosion, and protect crops from the less than ideal climate. Thanks to their ability to adapt and despite these obstacles, farmers at Rainier Beach Urban Farm say they are seeing their most productive year yet.
How can you make sure you’re conserving water in your yard or garden? The Garden Hotline has a few tips:
- Start with a fresh layer of composted mulch spread on top of your planting beds, preferably before the soil is too dry. This will help hold in water and regulate moisture.
- Water deeply and infrequently. This will encourage roots to travel deeper into the soil, making your plants stronger.
- Allow your soil to dry between watering. Dig down and feel for moisture. When it feels dry, you’ll know when to water. Above 85 degrees, you’ll want to water more frequently while still letting the soil dry in between.
- Water in the early morning or evening. Watering very early in the morning (around 5 a.m.) will discourage disease and keep plants plump and happy throughout the day. If you water in the evening, be sure to water the soil rather than overhead onto the leaves, which could cause harmful mold to grow on your plants.
- Contact the Garden Hotline to get custom answers to your specific questions: (206) 633-0224.