Coping with prolonged dry conditions can be a daunting task. Not knowing when a drought will end puts a strain not only on farmers, but also on the entire population of towns and cities, which is also affected by water restrictions and the resulting increase in food prices.
Drought and hobby farming
The hobby farmer is most often protected from the financial effects of drought because he is not his main source of income. However, personal pride and the desire to see the farm grow, rather than deteriorate into a dry and unattractive place to spend time, is sufficient motivation to be proactive in the face of drought conditions.
Special attention must also be paid to the presence of livestock. The presence of shelter and plenty of drinking water is essential if the animals are to be comfortable in hot and dry conditions. Here are some of the tactics I have currently used on my farm. In addition, general strategies for the future are also mentioned.
Cultivating soil for hobby farming
When planting young trees and shrubs, make sure the soil is cultivated to reduce competition from weeds growing near the seedlings. A deep grubbing of the planting area also allows rain to penetrate the root zone of the plant. Combined with heavy mulching around the plant, it will have a much greater chance of survival. Water storage crystals as well as products that allow water to penetrate water-repellent soils are also available. Protection against hot, strong winds will also reduce evaporation of moisture around the plants. Polymer films that are sprayed on the surface of the leaves can also be used to reduce evaporation from the plants. These synthetic polymers are currently used when transplanting established plants as a measure to reduce transplant shock.
Established plants may need to be pruned to reduce the level of transpiration from leaf surfaces. Young fruit trees should be stripped of their fruit and not be fed with fertilizers that promote tender growth.
Fertilizers containing high levels of nitrogen should be used sparingly; however, a balanced fertilizer at the right time – usually in the spring and fall – can be used with care. Foliar sprays extracted from an organic source such as algae are useful because they contain a range of micronutrients that strengthen plant cells. Plants treated in this way are better adapted to survive in extreme conditions, as the cell walls of plant tissue become thicker and stronger.
Long-term climate trends are difficult to predict, but issues such as climate change must be taken into account. I have planted native shelterbelt trees that generally have lower rainfall requirements than our region. If there is a general trend towards reduced precipitation, these plants, once established, should do well. However, if there is an increase in rainfall in the following seasons after a drought, there may be problems due to excess water, as these types of plantings are normally adapted to dry or very well drained soils.
By choosing vegetable crops with a shorter growing season, which is often the case with dwarf varieties, precious water is saved. Ensuring that the soil is well managed and carefully cultivated to protect its structure will allow plant root systems to establish quickly. Long-term plantations such as fruit trees and palms should be carefully considered and not planted until conditions improve.
In extreme cases, some plants will have to be sacrificed. More common plants and those that can be easily and quickly replaced may have to be eliminated to reduce competition for water. The most efficient irrigation methods that provide water close to the root system of the remaining plants should also be used.
Water Collection System for Recreational Farms
For a farm to withstand drought in the long term, it will also require an efficient water reclamation system. This will require spending money on reservoirs and soil profiling to channel excess moisture to storage areas. This process will be limited by available finances, but should prove cost-effective in the long term.