Dry Farming in the High Desert

We’d like to report on the results of an experiment we did this summer. We planted a whole 50′ bed with tomato plants and shelling beans, and didn’t irrigate it. We watered the beans by hand until they sprouted and had a few leaves, and we watered the tomatoes when we transplanted them, but then we completely stopped giving the bed any water. Our whole garden is on a drip irrigation system, so there was no spray or other accidental water getting to the plants.

Throughout the season we maintained a “dust mulch” on the bed by keeping it carefully weeded and hoeing the surface every so often. The purpose of doing this was to break the soil’s capillary action which would serve to draw water from lower layers of the soil to the surface, where it would evaporate. Other than that, we left this bed alone. It was very dry and desert-looking, and for a while the beans turned yellow and wilted.

But now we are harvesting delicious tomatoes from that bed, tomatoes with more flavor than their irrigated counterparts. In fact, the tomatoes in this bed began to ripen earlier than our other tomatoes, although they were transplanted later.  The beans flowered and produced pods, which are now full size; we’re just waiting for them to dry before we harvest them. So we think we can call this experiment a success.

It must be pointed out, however, that this was a particularly rainy year in Central Oregon. An unusually rainy year. So next year, we’re going to try this experiment with all of our tomatoes, and maybe beans also – but we’ll be laying the irrigation lines, too, so that we can turn them on if we have to. But it’s still pretty magical to grow vegetables without water in a desert!

This week we have, for your enjoyment, tomatoes, eggplant, dill, cucumbers, your choice of broccoli or cauliflower, and paprika. You can choose between a green slicing cucumber or several small lemon cucumbers.

We don’t have any specific recipes for this week but if you have any potatoes left over from a few weeks ago, you could try potato salad with dill and paprika. Another thing that would be tasty would be to chop tomatoes, cucumbers, and dill, then salt it and call it salad. And we’re going to be having eggplant parmesan sometime this week. We don’t have a particular recipe for that dish to recommend, but there are different versions of it all over the place, including some low-fat ones. And oh boy is it yummy.

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