Drought Tolerant Vegetables: Growing a garden in an arid climate

Malabar Spinach in Drought
Malabar Spinach is a good alternative to other leafy greens in a drought

I promised you last blog that even with a drought, there’s an option of a veggie garden. Maybe I spoke a little too broadly. I’m not suggesting you go plant these options in the Sahara Desert, but they are certainly an option when you can only water a few gallons a week, with the right form of irrigation–likely drip irrigation, to be exact. The key is to plant drought tolerant vegetables that are adept to surviving in conditions and the soil and water availability that your area has. While I’d love to plant cacti in my area, they’d die rapidly from the water and clay soil. Fighting for something to survive in the wrong conditions is simply a recipe for disaster.

What plants won’t survive a drought?

Typically, cooler weather crops are more dependent on moisture–so most of these will be out. Attempting to grow a head of basic letture in no water and 90 degree heat isn’t going to work.  Plants that have large leaves have more surface space–the moisture is wicked quickly away from the plant. If you are trying to choose between several varities take a glance at the size of leaves of each one. Which plant has smaller leaves? This one is going to have a better chance in a drought. Just because a fruit or vegetable thrives in heat and wilts in cooler weather doesn’t automatically mean they will flourish in drought. Corn, as an example, has incredibly shallow roots–and require large amounts of irrigation to survive, let alone thrive.

 Like a canary in the coal mine, my cucumbers wilt long before any of my smaller-leaf plants, a warning my garden needs irrigating. 

Wait a minute! I thought you said there were veggies I could grow in an arid climate…what drought tolerant vegetables can I grow? 

Let’s take a look at the good: there are options, as long as you implement good gardening habits such as mulching, drip irrigation, controlling weeds, and integrating compost into the soil.  Let’s take a look at what you CAN grow!

If you’re interested in the bean family–try black-eyed peas. They require a lot heat to produce, and prefer drier areas. Another bean option is that of tepary beans. “Tepary beans are drought-resistant, easy to grow, and delicious in stews and soups.” This variety has numerous options too. Take a look here.  Garbanzo beans are another option you can easily grow without much water.

Garlic is typically planted in late Autumn, and matures throughout the year. The last month or so, garlic requires very little water to mature. Usually harvested in in July, garlic takes advantage of the heat and drought. Onions are similar, but you can find onion starters to reduce the growth time.

Okra thrives in arid climates

Often considered a weed, purslane is an option for salads on a hot summer evening, or sauteed up like spinach. Okra, often grown in Southern states, doesn’t rely on limitless amounts of sprinklers.

If you’re interested in growing melons, take a look at the cantaloupe–certain varietals, such as ones commonly grown in Texas, can survive a lack of water more easily than it’s watermelon and honeydew friends.

Often, drought occurs in areas that have sandier soil–which is great for warm weather root crops. Carrots, for example, will have absolutely nothing to do with my water-logged clay soil, but in the high dessert sandy soil my parents grow in, the carrots are practically a nuisance. Although it’s March, and my parents won’t be able to plant anything until June due to a short growing season, my mother just harvested another basket of carrots that were hiding in their garden.   The same idea goes for parsnips.

Certain varietals of spinach can survive in drought-tolerant areas, but don’t love the heat. Instead, you can grow Malabar spinach, which actually isn’t spinach at all, but cooks down similarly, though has more of a kale like texture when raw. It’s a vine, and spreads quickly–so container gardening is often recommended for it.

I’d love to grow some herbs too…

Borage in drought

You can! Rosemary needs very little tending, and once established lavender is drought tolerant. Thyme, oregano, borage (which brings bees to your garden) and chives are all great options to add to your vegetable garden. They are also likely to bring pollinators to your garden.

Keep in mind that you’re not just growing drought tolerant vegetables because you can’t grow ones that thrive in water. You’re making the most of your climate, which is essential to creating a garden oasis. You may never grow cucumbers and iceberg lettuce–but once you taste the carrots you grow in your garden, you’ll be hooked. Taking advantage of hot days and sandy soil by establishing drip irrigation and good gardening habits will lead you to a harvest to be proud of. Next week let’s take a quick glance at why good gardening habits are important, especially in dry climates, and how to make the most of the sprinkler options you have.

Drought Tolerant Vegetables: Growing a garden in an arid climate

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