How Do We Cope With Drought and Deluge?

A lot has been made of the fact that this year may be one of the “El Nino” years. We’re going to know that soon enough but it seems as if an area in the Pacific Ocean is warming, and that indicates the presence of an El Nino forming.

While that could be fabulous news for California because it usually means a very wet season and hence the end to their drought, and it often means good news for the East Coast because El Nino often suppresses hurricanes (although as one weather buff pointed out, Hurricane Andrew, one of the most destructive hurricanes on record, occurred in an El Nino year. It only takes one “doozy!”), it also means very hot and usually dry summers for most of the mainland United States (where most of my readers live).

So how do we cope? In my state, currently we are above average in the moisture department–in fact we are flooding (not to gloat–just a fact). But as we all know, a few dry, hot days can turn that around and can even elevate the fire danger.

While my own garden doesn’t particularly suffer in a drought, most do. So here are some steps we all can take to incorporate sustainable practices now that will both make our gardening easier in the coming years, and will help our gardens to flourish no matter the conditions.

Adding compost is a benefit, both in drought summers and in years like last year where it was both too wet and too dry. Compost is the great equalizer, aerating clay soils and helping sandy soils retain moisture. And unlike peat moss, it is renewable, it is not acidic, which our Connecticut soils tend to be already, and it does not have a re-wetting issue if it dries out. If you make one change in the garden, this is the one to make.

The more we learn about soil, the more we know that it is best to disturb it as little as possible (think of books like Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich which advocates no tilling at all). But some reasonable degree of cover is also wise–and it is here that gardeners tend to get a little crazy. I have seen garden writers advise that if a 2-3″ cover of mulch is good, then a 4-6″ cover of mulch is even better! Absolutely not! The garden is not place to “compost in place” with wood chips. Moisture may not even be able to penetrate such a deep cover, particularly if we only have a gentle rain.

On Monday I’ll talk about some ways to deal with the “drought” part of our crazy weather as we wrap up our Earth Month series.

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