How to grow a water-wise kid-friendly garden
By Scott Jenkins
It might be tempting to ignore or neglect your family’s garden during times of little rain, but don’t give up on growing a thriving garden in drought conditions. Fresh, nutritious vegetables can still be an everyday part of your family’s diet, but you may need to get creative with your gardening in order to keep the plants lush and healthy. Here’s how you can grow a thriving kid-friendly, water-wise, vibrant garden even in drought conditions. Fun and educational kids activity.
Choose fast growing drought tolerant plants
A successful kid-friendly garden starts with fast-growing plants. With less water available for gardening, you’ll need to get creative with the plants you choose as well as the source of your water used to keep the plants hydrated. Fortunately, the plants that do best with the least amount of water are also some of the fastest and easiest to grow.
Pulses and beans, such as chickpeas, dry beans, dry broad beans, and dry peas, are among some of the most drought hardy plants you can grow in your garden. Not only do these thrive even in small gardens, they are easy to save and store for use throughout the year. Because they tend to grow fairly quickly, these are fun for children to grow and pick, so you can quite easily get the entire family involved in your gardening efforts.
Always look for ‘drought resistant’ versions when you buy your seeds or plants. From drought resistant tomatoes to drought-tolerant corn, you’d be surprised at how many varieties of vegetables can be grown in drought conditions. More and more of these become available every year, making it easier to grow the vegetables you love with less water.
Protect plants from the elements
The sun and wind can really damage your efforts to grow even the hardiest of plants. Improve your chance of success by taking steps to protect your crops and the soil around them.
Plant ground cover plants such as radishes around the perimeter of your garden. They may not grow to be huge, juicy crops, but they’ll help prevent runoff of any water you do get in your garden. Also, design your garden’s shape to be more water-efficient. Rows of plants don’t allow for as much absorption or shade protection as hexagonal plantings. Raised bed gardens allow you to better control the soil, including the moisture levels, and they also encourage you to limit your wasted space.
Mulch and moisture
Mulch is the drought gardener’s secret weapon. A 3-4 inch layer of mulch can help reduce watering needs by up to half. You can use a wide variety of mulch in the garden, from store-bought wood chip kinds to lawn clippings, so there’s a mulch for every budget.
If you choose to use a raised bed for gardening, you can maximize your moisture retention by lining the bed with plastic. This will help hold in moisture just where you need it instead of allowing it to be sucked out into the surrounding soil.
Take advantage of plants already growing in your gardens, such as trees and shrubs, to protect plants that prefer a shadier location. Leafy lettuces and chard will benefit from this type of planting. You can also use a technique employed by Native North Americans and plant corn, beans, and squash together in the same spot. The tall corn stalks provide a place for the beans to grow, while the beans add nitrogen to the soil. The squash spreads across the soil and helps to retain moisture.
Windbreaks and erosion
Tall plants and walls can help protect not only your garden plants, they can also help protect the soil from wind erosion. If possible, position your garden near a wall or row of tall plants to help protect it from the wind. Wind erosion can seriously damage the roots of your thriving garden, so offer protection whenever possible.
Make the most of every drop
The last thing you want to do is waste precious water that could be used to help your crops flourish. In addition to the water conservation tips already mentioned, focus on recycling water wherever you can to give your garden more hydration when possible.
- Use sheets of plastic as lightweight row covers at night to help collect dew.
- Water late in the evening or early in the morning, when wind and sun are least likely to evaporate your water.
- Use garden-friendly soaps in your laundry, kitchen, and baths. This water can be recycled in the garden to keep your plants thriving.
- Pull weeds regularly. Don’t waste your water on them...they’ll steal valuable moisture from your vegetables.
If you’re lucky enough to get some rain, take advantage of it. Use rain barrels to capture any rain that might fall throughout the season. You can also set up simple collection systems that catch the rain in your home’s gutters and downspouts so you can use it for watering the garden. You can build a simple rain barrel from a plastic garbage can, or you can buy premade ones that come complete with a spout for pouring water. Whichever you choose, rain collection is a good idea for anyone considering growing a garden.
Not every watering technique is created equal. Instead of using overhead sprinklers, which loses more water to evaporation, consider using a drip irrigation system. This allows the water to seep slowly into the ground near the roots of your plants, where it’s needed most. There are drip irrigation kits you can buy that are simple to install and can reduce your water usage in the garden by over fifty percent.
Hydroponics: A possible alternative to traditional gardening
Recently, there’s been a surge of interest in hydroponic gardening, where plants are grown indoors using water that has been fortified with nutrients to support plant growth instead of soil. At one time, this would have only been an option for giant farms or research laboratories, but there are now smaller in-home hydroponics gardens available to everyone.
Is it worth it? It could be. There are fewer types of plants suitable for growing in a hydroponic garden, but leafy vegetables, tomatoes, strawberries, and cucumbers are among the popular ones being grown this way. If you have space indoors and the money to spend on the hydroponic kit, it could be a great way to garden using not only less water but no soil, too. No weeds, fewer insect pests, and no harsh chemical pesticides certainly make it an attractive option, but it’s not for everyone.
Make it fun - Grow Kid-Friendly Garden, Things to do with kids
Growing a thriving garden in drought conditions can seem like a lot of hard work, but it doesn’t have to be. Incorporate small changes and get the entire family involved to make it more fun. Let your children help pull weeds and choose plants to grow. They can also help keep pests away by ‘collecting’ the pests that damage your plants and removing them from the garden.
Let your children build a scarecrow to guard their harvest, or let them paint some stones to line the garden with to create a border. Once the entire family is involved, it will feel like less work for everyone, and you will all enjoy the benefits when it’s time to harvest the crops.
About the author - Scott Jenkins
Scott is the editor for his wife’s website architypes.net, where he writes on home improvement and gardening. You can visit this page on Architypes to learn more ways to get the kids outside to contribute to the family garden.
See our Blog on Saving Water - Practical tips on living with little to no water.