Growing with Little or No Water – Recap of Speaker Amy Garrett
By Carol DeCoursey
How can we manage our farms and gardens with little or no water during the growing season? Amy Garrett, Assistant Professor of Practice with OSU’s Extension Service Small Farms Program, has looked into the problem since 2013. And she told MCMGA and members of the community about what she has discovered on November 21.
The interest in dry farming is growing, she said, with the realization that our climate is changing (Amy recommends the video “Adapting to a Changing Climate,” on YouTube). Those interested in dry farming include farmers who have limited or no water rights, and farmers whose wells have run dry or are too expensive to operate. Urban gardeners who can’t pay for city water during the dry months are also vitally interested in dry farming. “Situations differ,” Amy said. “Some growers have small lots, and others have many acres to play with.”
To make information on dry farming more readily available, Amy hosts a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/DryFarming/) on which general questions are discussed. She is also a member of the Dry Farming Collaborative, a group of just over 400 people. Members include plant breeders, extension educators, and farmers in Oregon, Washington and California.
Amy provided us with these tips:
• Beginners should start out small, experiment, and then expand on success.
• The first step is to visually inspect the your site. Some sections might be relatively green, indicating, perhaps, that the water table is close to the surface. That may be a good place for your plot: plants may be able to tap into that water.
• For more information about your site, use an auger to pull out a five-foot deep core from the ground. You will find out how deep your soil is, and where the water table is.
• Four feet or more of soil is needed. Thin soil will not work because dry farming relies upon residual moisture from the rainy season. Thin soil will not contain enough residual water.
• Conventional raised beds don’t work for dry farming – they dry out too quickly.
• Examine the amount of organic matter and clay content of the soil. Such soils store
water more effectively.
• Timing is important. Starting when the ground is too wet or too dry will not yield
• Take down cover crops to prevent them from sucking up valuable water. For the
Willamette Valley, planting in March and April is recommended.
• Pre-soaking seed and pressing soil around the seed creates good seed/soil contact
and helps the plant get established.
• Deep mulching is most important. Amy referred to the work of Linda Chalker-
Scott, Ph.D. on dust mulching. She also recommended “Back to Eden” on YouTube
showing mulching with wood chips.
• Use principles of hugelkultur.
Crops that have been successfully dry farmed include potatoes, tomatoes, dry beans, melons and gourds. Stella Blue squash and Dark Star zucchini have done very well
in dry farming tests.
Amy’s hope is that “we work together to expend our drought mitigation toolbox and co-create the future of how we manage water on our farms.” She is interested in attracting more people to contributing to the well of knowledge and experimenting with varieties of crops. If you are interested in more information, participating in email exchanges, being a trial host or getting help on your project, see: http://www.celebrateoregonagriculture.com/214-2/ or email Amy at