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Gardening Without Irrigation: or without much, anyway By Steve Solomon Characters: 61570

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


How to Grow It with Less Irrigation: A-Z

First, a Word About Varieties

As recently as the 1930s, most American country folk still did not have running water. With water being hand-pumped and carried in buckets, and precious, their vegetable gardens had to be grown with a minimum of irrigation. In the otherwise well-watered East, one could routinely expect several consecutive weeks every summer without rain. In some drought years a hot, rainless month or longer could go by. So vegetable varieties were bred to grow through dry spells without loss, and traditional American vegetable gardens were designed to help them do so.

I began gardening in the early 1970s, just as the raised-bed method was being popularized. The latest books and magazine articles all agreed that raising vegetables in widely separated single rows was a foolish imitation of commercial farming, that commercial vegetables were arranged that way for ease of mechanical cultivation. Closely planted raised beds requiring hand cultivation were alleged to be far more productive and far more efficient users of irrigation because water wasn't evaporating from bare soil.

I think this is more likely to be the truth: Old-fashioned gardens used low plant densities to survive inevitable spells of rainlessness. Looked at this way, widely separated vegetables in widely separated rows may be considered the more efficient users of water because they consume soil moisture that nature freely puts there. Only after, and if, these reserves are significantly depleted does the gardener have to irrigate. The end result is surprisingly more abundant than a modern gardener educated on intensive, raised-bed propaganda would think.

Finding varieties still adapted to water-wise gardening is becoming difficult. Most American vegetables are now bred for irrigation-dependent California. Like raised-bed gardeners, vegetable farmers have discovered that they can make a bigger profit by growing smaller, quick-maturing plants in high-density spacings. Most modern vegetables have been bred to suit this method. Many new varieties can't forage and have become smaller, more determinate, and faster to mature. Actually, the larger, more sprawling heirloom varieties of the past were not a great deal less productive overall, but only a little later to begin yielding.

Fortunately, enough of the old sorts still exist that a selective and varietally aware home gardener can make do. Since I've become water-wiser, I'm interested in finding and conserving heirlooms that once supported large numbers of healthy Americans in relative self-sufficiency. My earlier book, being a guide to what passes for ordinary vegetable gardening these days, assumed the availability of plenty of water. The varieties I recommended in [i]Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades[i] were largely modern ones, and the seed companies I praised most highly focused on top-quality commercial varieties. But, looking at gardening through the filter of limited irrigation, other, less modern varieties are often far better adapted and other seed companies sometimes more likely sources.

Seed Company Directory*

Abundant Life See Foundation: P.O. Box 772, Port Townsend, WA 98368 (ABL)

Johnny's Selected Seeds: Foss Hill Road, Albion, Maine 04910 (JSS)

Peace Seeds: 2345 SE Thompson Street, Corvallis, OR 97333 (PEA)

Ronninger's Seed Potatoes: P.O. Box 1838, Orting, WA 98360 (RSP)

Stokes Seeds Inc. Box 548, Buffalo, NY 14240 (STK)

Territorial Seed Company: P.O. Box 20, Cottage Grove, OR 97424 (TSC)

*Throughout the growing directions that follow in this chapter, the reader will be referred to a specific company only for varieties that are not widely available.

I have again come to appreciate the older style of vegetable-sprawling, large framed, later maturing, longer yielding, vigorously rooting. However, many of these old-timers have not seen the attentions of a professional plant breeder for many years and throw a fair percentage of bizarre, misshapen, nonproductive plants. These "off types" can be compensated for by growing a somewhat larger garden and allowing for some waste. Dr. Alan Kapuler, who runs Peace Seeds, has brilliantly pointed out to me why heirloom varieties are likely to be more nutritious. Propagated by centuries of isolated homesteaders, heirlooms that survived did so because these superior varieties helped the gardeners' better-nourished babies pass through the gauntlet of childhood illnesses.

Plant Spacing: The Key to Water-Wise Gardening

Reduced plant density is the essence of dry gardening. The recommended spacings in this section are those I have found workable at Elkton, Oregon. My dry garden is generally laid out in single rows, the row centers 4 feet apart. Some larger crops, like potatoes, tomatoes, beans, and cucurbits (squash, cucumbers, and melons) are allocated more elbow room. Those few requiring intensive irrigation are grown on a raised bed, tightly spaced. I cannot prescribe what would be the perfect, most efficient spacing for your garden. Are your temperatures lower than mine and evaporation less? Or is your weather hotter? Does your soil hold more, than less than, or just as much available moisture as mine? Is it as deep and open and moisture retentive?

To help you compare your site with mine, I give you the following data. My homestead is only 25 miles inland and is always several degrees cooler in summer than the Willamette Valley. Washingtonians and British Columbians have cooler days and a greater likelihood of significant summertime rain and so may plant a little closer together. Inland gardeners farther south or in the Willamette Valley may want to spread their plants out a little farther.

Living on 16 acres, I have virtually unlimited space to garden in. The focus of my recent research has been to eliminate irrigation as much as possible while maintaining food quality. Those with thinner soil who are going to depend more on fertigation may plant closer, how close depending on the amount of water available. More irrigation will also give higher per-square-foot yields.

Whatever your combination of conditions, your results can only be determined by trial. I'd suggest you become water-wise by testing a range of spacings.

When to Plant

If you've already been growing an irrigated year-round garden, this book's suggested planting dates may surprise you. And as with spacing, sowing dates must also be wisely adjusted to your location. The planting dates in this chapter are what I follow in my own garden. It is impractical to include specific dates for all the microclimatic areas of the maritime Northwest and for every vegetable species. Readers are asked to make adjustments by understanding their weather relative to mine.

Gardeners to the north of me and at higher elevations should make their spring sowings a week or two later than the dates I use. In the Garden Valley of Roseburg and south along I-5, start spring plantings a week or two earlier. Along the southern Oregon coast and in northern California, start three or four weeks sooner than I do.

Fall comes earlier to the north of me and to higher-elevation gardens; end-of-season growth rates there also slow more profoundly than they do at Elkton. Summers are cooler along the coast; that has the same effect of slowing late-summer growth. Items started after midsummer should be given one or two extra growing weeks by coastal, high-elevation, and northern gardeners. Gardeners to the south should sow their late crops a week or two later than I do; along the south Oregon coast and in northern California, two to four weeks later than I do.

Arugula (Rocket)

The tender, peppery little leaves make winter salads much more interesting.

Sowing date: I delay sowing until late August or early September so my crowded patch of arugula lasts all winter and doesn't make seed until March. Pregerminated seeds emerge fast and strong. Sprouted in early October, arugula still may reach eating size in midwinter.

Spacing: Thinly seed a row into any vacant niche. The seedlings will be insignificantly small until late summer.

Irrigation: If the seedlings suffer a bit from moisture stress they'll catch up rapidly when the fall rains begin.

Varieties: None.

Beans of All Sorts

Heirloom pole beans once climbed over considerable competition while vigorously struggling for water, nutrition, and light. Modern bush varieties tend to have puny root systems.

Sowing date: Mid-April is the usual time on the Umpqua, elsewhere, sow after the danger of frost is over and soil stays over 60[de]F. If the earth is getting dry by this date, soak the seed overnight before sowing and furrow down to moist soil. However, do not cover the seeds more than 2 inches.

Spacing: Twelve to 16 inches apart at final thinning. Allow about 2[f]1/2 to 3 feet on either side of the trellis to avoid root competition from other plants.

Irrigation: If part of the garden is sprinkler irrigated, space beans a little tighter and locate the bean trellis toward the outer reach of the sprinkler's throw. Due to its height, the trellis tends to intercept quite a bit of water and dumps it at the base. You can also use the bucket-drip method and fertigate the beans, giving about 25 gallons per 10 row-feet once or twice during the summer. Pole beans can make a meaningful yield without any irrigation; under severe moisture stress they will survive, but bear little.

Varieties: Any of the pole types seem to do fine. Runner beans seem to prefer cooler locations but are every bit as drought tolerant as ordinary snap beans. My current favorites are Kentucky Wonder White Seeded, Fortrex (TSC, JSS), and Musica (TSC).

The older heirloom dry beans were mostly pole types. They are reasonably productive if allowed to sprawl on the ground without support. Their unirrigated seed yield is lower, but the seed is still plump, tastes great, and sprouts well. Compared to unirrigated Black Coco (TSC), which is my most productive and best-tasting bush cultivar, Kentucky Wonder Brown Seeded (sometimes called Old Homestead) (STK, PEA, ABL) yields about 50 percent more seed and keeps on growing for weeks after Coco has quit. Do not bother to fertigate untrellised pole beans grown for dry seed. With the threat of September moisture always looming over dry bean plots, we need to encourage vines to quit setting and dry down. Peace Seeds and Abundant Life offer long lists of heirloom vining dry bean varieties.

Serious self-sufficiency buffs seeking to produced their own legume supply should also consider the fava, garbanzo bean, and Alaska pea. Many favas can be overwintered: sow in October, sprout on fall rains, grow over the winter, and dry down in June with the soil. Garbanzos are grown like mildly frost-tolerant peas. Alaska peas are the type used for pea soup. They're spring sown and grown like ordinary shelling peas. Avoid overhead irrigation while seeds are drying down.

Beets

Beets will root far deeper and wider than most people realize-in uncompacted, nonacid soils. Double or triple dig the subsoil directly below the seed row.

Sowing date: Early April at Elkton, late March farther south, and as late as April 30 in British Columbia. Beet seed germinates easily in moist, cool soil. A single sowing may be harvested from June through early March the next year. If properly thinned, good varieties remain tender.

Spacing: A single row will gradually exhaust subsoil moisture from an area 4 feet wide. When the seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin carefully to about 1 inch apart. When the edible part is radish size, thin to 2 inches apart and eat the thinings, tops and all. When they've grown to golfball size, thin to 4 inches apart, thin again. When they reach the size of large lemons, thin to 1 foot apart. Given this much room and deep, open soil, the beets will continue to grow through the entire summer. Hill up some soil over the huge roots early in November to protect them from freezing.

Irrigation: Probably not necessary with over 4 feet of deep, open soil.

Varieties: I've done best with Early Wonder Tall Top; when large, it develops a thick, protective skin and retains excellent eating quality. Winterkeepers, normally sown in midsummer with irrigation, tend to bolt prematurely when sown in April.

Broccoli: Italian Style

Italian-style broccoli needs abundant moisture to be tender and make large flowers. Given enough elbow room, many varieties can endure long periods of moisture stress, but the smaller, woody, slow-developing florets won't be great eating. Without any irrigation, spring-sown broccoli may still be enjoyed in early summer and Purple Sprouting in March/April after overwintering.

Sowing date: Without any irrigation at all, mid-March through early April. With fertigation, also mid-April through mid-May. This later sowing will allow cutting through summer.

Spacing: Brocoli tastes better when big plants grow big, sweet heads. Allow a 4-foot-wide row. Space early sowings about 3 feet apart in the row; later sowings slated to mature during summer's heat can use 4 feet. On a fist-sized spot compacted to restore capillarity, sow a little pinch of seed atop a well-and deeply fertilized, double-dug patch of earth. Thin gradually to the best single plant by the time three or four true leaves have developed.

Irrigation: After mid-June, 4 to 5 gallons of drip bucket liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks makes an enormous difference. You'll be surprised at the size of the heads and the quality of side shoots. A fertigated May sowing will be exhausted by October. Take a chance: a heavy side-dressing of strong compost or complete organic fertilizer when the rains return may trigger a massive spurt of new, larger heads from buds located below the soil's surface.

Varieties: Many hybrids have weak roots. I'd avoid anything that was "held up on a tall stalk" for mechanical harvest or was "compact" or that "didn't have many side-shoots". Go for larger size. Territorial's hybrid blend yields big heads for over a month followed by abundant side shoots. Old, open-pollinated types like Italian Sprouting Calabrese, DeCicco, or Waltham 29 are highly variable, bushy, with rather coarse, large-beaded flowers, second-rate flavor and many, many side shoots. Irrigating gardeners who can start new plants every four weeks from May through July may prefer hybrids. Dry gardeners who will want to cut side shoots for as long as possible during summer from large, well-established plants may prefer crude, open-pollinated varieties. Try both.

Broccoli: Purple Sprouting and Other Overwintering Types

Spacing: Grow like broccoli, 3 to 4 feet apart.

Sowing date: It is easiest to sow in April or early May, minimally fertigate a somewhat gnarly plant through the summer, push it for size in fall and winter, and then harvest it next March. With too early a start in spring, some premature flowering may occur in autumn; still, massive blooming will resume again in spring.

Overwintering green Italian types such as ML423 (TSC) will flower in fall if sown before late June. These sorts are better started in a nursery bed around August 1 and like overwintered cauliflower, transplanted about 2 feet apart when fall rains return, then, pushed for growth with extra fertilizer in fall and winter.

With nearly a whole year to grow before blooming, Purple Sprouting eventually reaches 4 to 5 feet in height and 3 to 4 feet in diameter, and yields hugely.

Irrigation: It is not essential to heavily fertigate Purple Sprouting, though you may G-R-O-W enormous plants for their beauty. Quality or quantity of spring harvest won't drop one bit if the plants become a little stunted and gnarly in summer, as long as you fertilize late in September to spur rapid growth during fall and winter.

Root System Vigor in the Cabbage Family

Wild cabbage is a weed and grows like one, able to successfully compete for water against grasses and other herbs. Remove all competition with a hoe, and allow this weed to totally control all the moisture and nutrients in all the earth its roots can occupy, and it grows hugely and lushly. Just for fun, I once G-R-E-W one, with tillage, hoeing, and spring fertilization but no irrigation; it ended up 5 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter.

As this highly moldable family is inbred and shaped into more and more exaggerated forms, it weakens and loses the ability to forage. Kale retains the most wild aggressiveness, Chinese cabbage perhaps the least. Here, in approximately correct order, is shown the declining root vigor and general adaptation to moisture stress of cabbage family vegetables. The table shows the most vigorous at the top, declining as it goes down.

Adapted to dry gardening Not vigorous enough

Kale Italian broccoli (some varieties)

Brussels sprouts (late types) Cabbage (regular market types)

Late savoy cabbage Brussels sprouts (early types)

Giant "field-type" kohlrabi Small "market-garden" kohlrabi

Mid-season savoy cabbage Cauliflower (regular, annual)

Rutabaga Turnips and radishes

Italian Broccoli (some varieties) Chinese cabbage

Brussels Sprouts

Sowing date: If the plants are a foot tall before the soil starts drying down, their roots will be over a foot deep; the plants will then grow hugely with a bit of fertigation. At Elkton I dry garden Brussels sprouts by sowing late April to early May. Started this soon, even late-maturing varieties may begin forming sprouts by September. Though premature bottom sprouts will "blow up" and become aphid damaged, more, higher-quality sprouts will continue to form farther up the stalk during autumn and winter.

Spacing: Make each spot about 4 feet apart.

Irrigation: Without any added moisture, the plants will become stunted but will survive all summer. Side-dressing manure or fertilizer late in September (or sooner if the rains come sooner) will provoke very rapid autumn growth and a surprisingly large yield from plants that looked stress out in August. If increasingly larger amounts of fertigation can be provided every two to three weeks, the lush Brussels sprouts plants can become 4 feet in diameter and 4 feet tall by October and yield enormously.

Varieties: Use late European hybrid types. At Elkton, where winters are a little milder than in the Willamette, Lunet (TSC) has the finest eating qualities. Were I farther north I'd grow hardier types like Stabolite (TSC) or Fortress (TSC). Early types are not suitable to growing with insufficient irrigation or frequent spraying to fight off aphids.

Cabbage

Forget those delicate, green supermarket cabbages unless you have unlimited amounts of water. But easiest-to-grow savoy types will do surprisingly well with surprisingly little support. Besides, savoys are the best salad material.

Sowing date: I suggest three sowing times: the first, a succession of early, midseason, and late savoys made in mid-March for harvest during summer; the second, late and very late varieties started late April to early May for harvest during fall and winter; the last, a nursery bed of overwintered sorts sown late in August.

Spacing: Early-maturing savoy varieties are naturally smaller and may not experience much hot weather before heading up-these may be separated by about 30 inches. The later ones are large plants and should be given 4 feet of space or 16 square feet of growing room. Sow and grow them like broccoli. Transplant overwintered cabbages from nursery beds late in October, spaced about 3 feet apart; these thrive where the squash grew.

Irrigation: The more fertigation you can supply, the larger and more luxuriant the plants and the bigger the heads. But even small, somewhat moisture-stressed savoys make very edible heads. In terms of increased yield for water expended, it is well worth it to provide late varieties with a few gallons of fertigation about mid-June, and a bucketful in mid-July and mid-August.

Varieties: Japanese hybrid savoys make tender eating but may not withstand winter. European savoys are hardier, coarser, thicker-leaved, and harder chewing. For the first sowing I suggest a succession of Japanese varieties including Salarite or Savoy Princess for earlies; Savoy Queen, King, or Savoy Ace for midsummer; and Savonarch (TSC) for late August/early September harvests. They're all great varieties. For the second sowing I grow Savonarch (TSC) for September[-]November cutting and a very late European hybrid type like Wivoy (TSC) for winter. Small-framed January King lacks sufficient root vigor. Springtime (TSC) and FEM218 (TSC) are the only overwintered cabbages available.

Carrots

Dry-gardening carrots requires patiently waiting until the weather stabilizes before tilling and sowing. To avoid even a little bit of soil compaction, I try to sprout the seed without irrigation but always fear that hot weather will frustrate my efforts. So I till and plant too soon. And then heavy rain comes and compacts my perfectly fluffed-up soil. But the looser and finer the earth remains during their first six growing weeks, the more perfectly the roots will develop.

Sowing date: April at Elkton.

Spacing: Allocate 4 feet of width to a single row of carrot seed. When the seedlings are about 2 inches tall, thin to 1 inch apart. Then thin every other carrot when the roots are [f]3/8 to [f]1/2 inch in diameter and eat the thinnings. A few weeks later, when the carrots are about 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter, make a final thinning to 1 foot apart.

Irrigation: Not necessary. Foliar feeding every few weeks will make much larger roots. Without any help they should grow to several pounds each.

Varieties: Choosing the right variety is very important. Nantes and other delicate, juicy types lack enough fiber to hold together when they get very large. These split prematurely. I've had my best results with Danvers types. I'd also try Royal Chantenay (PEA), Fakkel Mix (TSC), Stokes "Processor" types, and Topweight (ABL). Be prepared to experiment with variety. The roots will not be quite as tender as heavily watered Nantes types but are a lot better than you'd think. Huge carrots are excellent in soups and we cheerfully grate them into salads. Something about accumulating sunshine all summer makes the roots incredibly sweet.

Cauliflower

Ordinary varieties cannot forage for moisture. Worse, moisture stress at any time during the growth cycle prevents proper formation of curds. The only important cauliflowers suitable for dry gardening are overwintered types. I call them important because they're easy to grow and they'll feed the family during April and early May, when other garden fare is very scarce.

Sowing date: To acquire enough size to survive cold weather, overwintered cauliflower must be started on a nursery bed during the difficult heat of early August. Except south of Yoncalla, delaying sowing until September makes very small seedlings that may not be hardy enough and likely won't yield much in April unless winter is very mild, encouraging unusual growth.

Spacing: In October, transplant about 2 feet apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart.

Irrigation: If you have more water available, fertilize and till up some dusty, dry soil, wet down the row, direct-seed like broccoli (but closer together), and periodically irrigate until fall. If you only moisten a narrow band of soil close to the seedlings it won't take much water. Cauliflower grows especially well in the row that held bush peas.

Varieties: The best are the very pricy Armado series sold by Territorial.

Chard

This vegetable is basically a beet with succulent leaves and thick stalks instead of edible, sweet roots. It is just as drought tolerant as a beet, and in dry gardening, chard is sown, spaced, and grown just like a beet. But if you want voluminous leaf production during summer, you may want to fertigate it occasionally.

Varieties: The red chards are not suitable for starting early in the season; they have a strong tendency to bolt prematurely if sown during that part of the year when daylength is increasing.

Corn

Broadcast complete organic fertilizer or strong compost shallowly over the corn patch till midwinter, or as early in spring as the earth can be worked without making too many clods. Corn will germinate in pretty rough soil. High levels of nutrients in the subsoil are more important than a fine seedbed.

Sowing date: About the time frost danger ends. Being large seed, corn can be set deep, where soil moisture still exists even after conditions have warmed up. Germination without irrigation should be no problem.

Spacing: The farther south, the farther apart. Entirely without irrigation, I've had fine results spacing individual corn plants 3 feet apart in rows 3 feet apart, or 9 square feet per each plant. Were I around Puget Sound or in B.C. I'd try 2 feet apart in rows 30 inches apart. Gary Nabhan describes Papago gardeners in Arizona growing individual cornstalks 10 feet apart. Grown on wide spacings, corn tends to tiller (put up multiple stalks, each making one or two ears). For most urban and suburban gardeners, space is too valuable to allocate 9 square feet for producing one or at best three or four ears.

Irrigation: With normal sprinkler irrigation, corn may be spaced 8 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart, still yielding one or two ears per stalk.

Varieties: Were I a devoted sweetcorn eater without enough irrigation, I'd be buying a few dozen freshly picked ears from the back of a pickup truck parked on a corner during local harvest season. Were I a devoted corn grower without any irrigation, I'd be experimenting with various types of field corn instead of sweet corn. Were I a self-sufficiency buff trying earnestly to produce all my own cereal, I'd accept that the maritime Northwest is a region where survivalists will eat wheat, rye, millet, and other small grains.

Many varieties of field corn are nearly as sweet as ordinary sweet corn, but grain varieties become starchy and tough within hours of harvest. Eaten promptly, "pig" corn is every bit as tasty as Jubilee. I've had the best dry-garden results with Northstine Dent (JSS) and Garland Flint (JSS). Hookers Sweet Indian (TSC) has a weak root system.

Successfully Starting Cucurbits From Seed

With cucurbits, germination depends on high-enough soil temperature and not too much moisture. Squash are the most chill and moisture tolerant, melons the least. Here's a failure-proof and simple technique that ensures you'll plant at exactly the right time.

Cucumbers, squash, and melons are traditionally sown atop a deeply dug, fertilized spot that usually looks like a little mound after it is worked and is commonly called a hill. About two weeks before the last anticipated frost date in your area, plant five or six squash seeds about 2 inches deep in a clump in the very center of that hill. Then, a week later, plant another clump at 12 o'clock. In another week, plant another clump at 3 o'clock, and continue doing this until one of the sowings sprouts. Probably the first try won't come up, but the hill will certainly germinate several clumps of seedlings. If weather conditions turn poor, a later-to-sprout group may outgrow those that came up earlier. Thin gradually to the best single plant by the time the vines are running.

When the first squash seeds appear it is time to begin sowing cucumbers, starting a new batch each week until one emerges. When the cucumbers first germinate, it's time to try melons.

Approaching cucurbits this way ensures that you'll get the earliest possible germination while being protected against the probability that cold, damp weather will prevent germination or permanently spoil the growth prospects of the earlier seedlings.

Cucumbers

Sowing date: About May 5 to 15 at Elkton.

Spacing: Most varieties usually run five about 3 feet from the hill. Space the hills about 5 to 6 feet apart in all directions.

Irrigation: Like melons. Regular and increasing amounts of fertigation will increase the yield several hundred percent.

Varieties: I've had very good results dry-gardening Amira II (TSC), even without any fertigation at all. It is a Middle Eastern[-]style variety that makes pickler-size thin-skinned cukes that need no peeling and have terrific flavor. The burpless or Japanese sorts don't seem to adapt well to drought. Most slicers dry-garden excellently. Apple or Lemon are similar novelty heirlooms that make very extensive vines with aggressive roots and should be given a foot or two more elbow room. I'd avoid any variety touted as being for pot or patio, compact, or short-vined, because of a likely linkage between its vine structure and root system.

Eggplant

Grown without regular sprinkler irrigation, eggplant seems to get larger and yield sooner and more abundantly. I suspect this delicate and fairly drought-resistant tropical species does not like having its soil temperature lowered by frequent watering.

Sowing date: Set out transplants at the usual time, about two weeks after the tomatoes, after all frost danger has passed and after nights have stably warmed up above 50 degree F.

Spacing: Double dig and deeply fertilize the soil under each transplant. Separate plants by about 3 feet in rows about 4 feet apart.

Irrigation: Will grow and produce a few fruit without any watering, but a bucket of fertigation every three to four weeks during summer may result in the most luxurious, hugest, and heaviest-bearing eggplants you've ever grown.

Varieties: I've noticed no special varietal differences in ability to tolerate dryish soil. I've had good yields from the regionally adapted varieties Dusky Hybrid, Short Tom, and Early One.

Endive

A biennial member of the chicory family, endive quickly puts down a deep taproot and is naturally able to grow through prolonged drought. Because endive remains bitter until cold weather, it doesn't matter if it grows slowly through summer, just so long as rapid leaf production resumes in autumn.

Sowing date: On irrigated raised beds endive is sown around August 1 and heads by mid-October. The problem with dry-gardened endive is that if it is spring sown during days of increasing daylength when germination of shallow-sown small seed is a snap, it will bolt prematurely. The crucial moment seems to be about June 1. April/May sowings bolt in July/August,: after June 1, bolting won't happen until the next spring, but germination won't happen without watering. One solution is soaking the seeds ove

rnight, rinsing them frequently until they begin to sprout, and fluid drilling them.

Spacing: The heads become huge when started in June. Sow in rows 4 feet apart and thin gradually until the rosettes are 3 inches in diameter, then thin to 18 inches apart.

Irrigation: Without a drop of moisture the plants, even as tiny seedlings, will grow steadily but slowly all summer, as long as no other crop is invading their root zone. The only time I had trouble was when the endive row was too close to an aggressive row of yellow crookneck squash. About August, the squash roots began invading the endive's territory and the endive got wilty.

A light side-dressing of complete organic fertilizer or compost in late September will grow the hugest plants imaginable.

Varieties: Curly types seem more tolerant to rain and frost during winter than broad-leaf Batavian varieties. I prefer President (TSC).

Herbs

Most perennial and biennial herbs are actually weeds and wild hillside shrubs from Mediterranean climates similar to that of Southern California. They are adapted to growing on winter rainfall and surviving seven to nine months without rainfall every summer. In our climate, merely giving them a little more elbow room than usually offered, thorough weeding, and side-dressing the herb garden with a little compost in fall is enough coddling. Annuals such as dill and cilantro are also very drought tolerant. Basil, however, needs considerable moisture.

Kale

Depending on the garden for a significant portion of my annual caloric intake has gradually refined my eating habits. Years ago I learned to like cabbage salads as much as lettuce. Since lettuce freezes out many winters (19-21 degree F), this adjustment has proved very useful. Gradually I began to appreciate kale, too, and now value it as a salad green far more than cabbage. This personal adaptation has proved very pro-survival, because even savoy cabbages do not grow as readily or yield nearly as much as kale. And kale is a tad more cold hardy than even savoy cabbage.

You may be surprised to learn that kale produces more complete protein per area occupied per time involved than any legume, including alfalfa. If it is steamed with potatoes and then mashed, the two vegetables complement and flavor each other. Our region could probably subsist quite a bit more healthfully than at present on potatoes and kale. The key to enjoying kale as a salad component is varietal choice, preparation, and using the right parts of the plant. Read on.

Sowing date: With irrigation, fast-growing kale is usually started in midsummer for use in fall and winter. But kale is absolutely biennial-started in March or April, it will not bolt until the next spring. The water-wise gardener can conveniently sow kale while cool, moist soil simplifies germination. Starting this early also produces a deep root system before the soil dries much, and a much taller, very useful central stalk on oleracea types, while early sown Siberian (Napa) varieties tend to form multiple rosettes by autumn, also useful at harvest time.

Spacing: Grow like broccoli, spaced 4 feet apart.

Irrigation: Without any water, the somewhat stunted plants will survive the summer to begin rapid growth as soon as fall rains resume. With the help of occasional fertigation they grow lushly and are enormous by September. Either way, there still will be plenty of kale during fall and winter.

Harvest: Bundles of strong-flavored, tough, large leaves are sold in supermarkets but are the worst-eating part of the plant. If chopped finely enough, big raw leaves can be masticated and tolerated by people with good teeth. However, the tiny leaves are far tenderer and much milder. The more rosettes developed on Siberian kales, the more little leaves there are to be picked. By pinching off the central growing tip in October and then gradually stripping off the large shading leaves, oleracea varieties may be encouraged to put out dozens of clusters of small, succulent leaves at each leaf notch along the central stalk. The taller the stalk grown during summer, the more of these little leaves there will be. Only home gardeners can afford the time to hand pick small leaves.

Varieties: I somewhat prefer the flavor of Red Russian to the ubiquitous green Siberian, but Red Russian is very slightly less cold hardy. Westland Winter (TSC) and Konserva (JSS) are tall European oleracea varieties. Winterbor F1 (JSS, TSC) is also excellent. The dwarf "Scotch" kales, blue or green, sold by many American seed companies are less vigorous types that don't produce nearly as many gourmet little leaves. Dwarfs in any species tend to have dwarfed root systems.

Kohlrabi (Giant)

Spring-sown market kohlrabi are usually harvested before hot weather makes them get woody. Irrigation is not required if they're given a little extra elbow room. With ordinary varieties, try thinning to 5 inches apart in rows 2 to 3 feet apart and harvest by thinning alternate plants. Given this additional growing room, they may not get woody until midsummer. On my irrigated, intensive bed I always sow some more on August 1, to have tender bulbs in autumn.

Kohlrabi was once grown as European fodder crop; slow-growing farmers, varieties grow huge like rutabagas. These field types have been crossed with table types to make "giant" table varieties that really suit dry gardening. What to do with a giant kohlrabi (or any bulb getting overblown)? Peel, grate finely, add chopped onion, dress with olive oil and black pepper, toss, and enjoy this old Eastern European mainstay.

Sowing date: Sow giant varieties during April, as late as possible while still getting a foot-tall plant before really hot weather.

Spacing: Thin to 3 feet apart in rows 4 feet apart.

Irrigation: Not absolutely necessary on deep soil, but if they get one or two thorough fertigations during summer their size may double.

Varieties: A few American seed companies, including Peace Seeds, have a giant kohlrabi of some sort or other. The ones I've tested tend to be woody, are crude, and throw many off-types, a high percentage of weak plants, and/or poorly shaped roots. By the time this book is in print, Territorial should list a unique Swiss variety called Superschmeltz, which is uniformly huge and stays tender into the next year.

Leeks

Unwatered spring-sown bulbing onions are impossible. Leek is the only allium I know of that may grow steadily but slowly through severe drought; the water-short gardener can depend on leeks for a fall/winter onion supply.

Sowing date: Start a row or several short rows about 12 inches apart on a nursery bed in March or early April at the latest. Grow thickly, irrigate during May/June, and fertilize well so the competing seedlings get leggy.

Spacing: By mid-to late June the seedlings should be slightly spindly, pencil-thick, and scallion size. With a sharp shovel, dig out the nursery row, carefully retaining 5 or 6 inches of soil below the seedlings. With a strong jet of water, blast away the soil and, while doing this, gently separate the tangled roots so that as little damage is done as possible. Make sure the roots don't dry out before transplanting. After separation, I temporarily wrap bundled seedlings in wet newspaper.

Dig out a foot-deep trench the width of an ordinary shovel and carefully place this earth next to the trench. Sprinkle in a heavy dose of organic fertilizer or strong compost, and spade that in so the soil is fluffy and fertile 2 feet down. Do not immediately refill the trench with the soil that was dug out. With a shovel handle, poke a row of 6-inch-deep holes along the bottom of the trench. If the nursery bed has grown well there should be about 4 inches of stem on each seedling before the first leaf attaches. If the weather is hot and sunny, snip off about one-third to one-half the leaf area to reduce transplanting shock. Drop one leek seedling into each hole up to the point that the first leaf attaches to the stalk, and mud it in with a cup or two of liquid fertilizer. As the leeks grow, gradually refill the trench and even hill up soil around the growing plants. This makes the better-tasting white part of the stem get as long as possible. Avoid getting soil into the center of the leek where new leaves emerge, or you'll not get them clean after harvest.

Spacing of the seedlings depends on the amount of irrigation. If absolutely none at all, set them 12 inches apart in the center of a row 4 feet wide. If unlimited water is available, give them 2 inches of separation. Or adjust spacing to the water available. The plants grow slowly through summer, but in autumn growth will accelerate, especially if they are side-dressed at this time.

Varieties: For dry gardening use the hardier, more vigorous winter leeks. Durabel (TSC) has an especially mild, sweet flavor. Other useful varieties include Giant Carentian (ABL), Alaska (STK), and Winter Giant (PEA).

Lettuce

Spring-sown lettuce will go to large sizes, remaining sweet and tender without irrigation if spaced 1 foot apart in a single row with 2 feet of elbow room on each side. Lettuce cut after mid-June usually gets bitter without regular, heavy irrigation. I reserve my well-watered raised bed for this summer salad crop. Those very short of water can start fall/winter lettuce in a shaded, irrigated nursery bed mid-August through mid-September and transplant it out after the fall rains return. Here is one situation in which accelerating growth with cloches or cold frames would be very helpful.

Water-Wise Cucurbits

The root systems of this family are far more extensive than most people realize. Usually a taproot goes down several feet and then, soil conditions permitting, thickly occupies a large area, ultimately reaching down 5 to 8 feet. Shallow feeder roots also extend laterally as far as or farther than the vines reach at their greatest extent.

Dry gardeners can do several things to assist cucurbits. First, make sure there is absolutely no competition in their root zone. This means[i]one plant per hill, with the hills separated in all directions a little farther than the greatest possible extent of the variety's ultimate growth.[i] Common garden lore states that squashes droop their leaves in midsummer heat and that this trait cannot be avoided and does no harm. But if they've grown as described above, on deep, open soil, capillarity and surface moisture reserves ensure there usually will be no midday wilting, even if there is no watering. Two plants per hill do compete and make each other wilt.

Second, double dig and fertilize the entire lateral root zone. Third, as much as possible, avoid walking where the vines will ultimately reach to avoid compaction. Finally, [i]do not transplant them.[i] This breaks the taproot and makes the plant more dependent on lateral roots seeking moisture in the top 18 inches of soil.

Melons

Sowing date: As soon as they'll germinate outdoors: at Elkton, May 15 to June 1. Thin to a single plant per hill when there are about three true leaves and the vines are beginning to run.

Spacing: Most varieties will grow a vine reaching about 8 feet in diameter. Space the hills 8 feet apart in all directions.

Irrigation: Fertigation every two to three weeks will increase the yield by two or three times and may make the melons sweeter. Release the water/fertilizer mix close to the center of the vine, where the taproot can use it.

Varieties: Adaptation to our cool climate is critical with melons; use varieties sold by our regional seed companies. Yellow Doll watermelons (TSC) are very early and seem the most productive under the most droughty conditions. I've had reasonable results from most otherwise regionally adapted cantaloupes and muskmelons. Last year a new hybrid variety, Passport (TSC), proved several weeks earlier than I'd ever experienced and was extraordinarily prolific and tasty.

Onions/Scallions

The usual spring-sown, summer-grown bulb onions and scallions only work with abundant irrigation. But the water-short, water-wise gardener can still supply the kitchen with onions or onion substitutes year-round. Leeks take care of November through early April. Overwintered bulb onions handle the rest of the year. Scallions may also be harvested during winter.

Sowing date: Started too soon, overwintered or short-day bulbing onions (and sweet scallions) will bolt and form seed instead of bulbing. Started too late they'll be too small and possibly not hardy enough to survive winter. About August 15 at Elkton I sow thickly in a well-watered and very fertile nursery bed. If you have more than one nursery row, separate them about by 12 inches. Those who miss this window of opportunity can start transplants in early October and cover with a cloche immediately after germination, to accelerate seedling growth during fall and early winter.

Start scallions in a nursery just like overwintered onions, but earlier so they're large enough for the table during winter, I sow them about mid-July.

Spacing: When seedlings are about pencil thick (December/January for overwintering bulb onions), transplant them about 4 or 5 inches apart in a single row with a couple of feet of elbow room on either side. I've found I get the best growth and largest bulbs if they follow potatoes. After the potatoes are dug in early October I immediately fertilize the area heavily and till, preparing the onion bed. Klamath Basin farmers usually grow a similar rotation: hay, potatoes, onions.

Transplant scallions in October with the fall rains, about 1 inch apart in rows at least 2 feet apart.

Irrigation: Not necessary. However, side-dressing the transplants will result in much larger bulbs or scallions. Scallions will bolt in April; the bulbers go tops-down and begin drying down as the soil naturally dries out.

Varieties: I prefer the sweet and tender Lisbon (TSC) for scallions. For overwintered bulb onions, grow very mild but poorly keeping Walla Walla Sweet (JSS), Buffalo (TSC), a better keeper, or whatever Territorial is selling at present.

Parsley

Sowing date: March. Parsley seed takes two to three weeks to germinate.

Spacing: Thin to 12 inches apart in a single row 4 feet wide. Five plants should overwhelm the average kitchen.

Irrigation: Not necessary unless yield falls off during summer and that is very unlikely. Parsley's very deep, foraging root system resembles that of its relative, the carrot.

Varieties: If you use parsley for greens, variety is not critical, though the gourmet may note slight differences in flavor or amount of leaf curl. Another type of parsley is grown for edible roots that taste much like parsnip. These should have their soil prepared as carefully as though growing carrots.

Peas

This early crop matures without irrigation. Both pole and bush varieties are planted thickly in single rows about 4 feet apart. I always overlook some pods, which go on to form mature seed. Without overhead irrigation, this seed will sprout strongly next year. Alaska (soup) peas grow the same way.

Peppers

Pepper plants on raised beds spaced the usually recommended 16 to 24 inches apart undergo intense root competition even before their leaves form a canopy. With or without unlimited irrigation, the plants will get much larger and bear more heavily with elbow room.

Sowing date: Set out transplants at the usual time. Double dig a few square feet of soil beneath each seedling, and make sure fertilizer gets incorporated all the way down to 2 feet deep.

Spacing: Three feet apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart.

Irrigation: Without any irrigation only the most vigorous, small-fruited varieties will set anything. For an abundant harvest, fertigate every three or four weeks. For the biggest pepper plants you ever grew, fertigate every two weeks.

Varieties: The small-fruited types, both hot and sweet, have much more aggressive root systems and generally adapt better to our region's cool weather. I've had best results with Cayenne Long Slim, Gypsie, Surefire, Hot Portugal, the "cherries" both sweet and hot, Italian Sweet, and Petite Sirah.

Potatoes

Humans domesticated potatoes in the cool, arid high plateaus of the Andes where annual rainfall averages 8 to 12 inches. The species finds our dry summer quite comfortable. Potatoes produce more calories per unit of land than any other temperate crop. Irrigated potatoes yield more calories and two to three times as much watery bulk and indigestible fiber as those grown without irrigation, but the same variety dry gardened can contain about 30 percent more protein, far more mineral nutrients, and taste better.

Sowing date: I make two sowings. The first is a good-luck ritual done religiously on March 17th-St. Patrick's Day. Rain or shine, in untilled mud or finely worked and deeply fluffed earth, I still plant 10 or 12 seed potatoes of an early variety. This provides for summer.

The main sowing waits until frost is unlikely and I can dig the potato rows at least 12 inches deep with a spading fork, working in fertilizer as deeply as possible and ending up with a finely pulverized 24-inch-wide bed. At Elkton, this is usually mid-to late April. There is no rush to plant. Potato vines are not frost hardy. If frosted they'll regrow, but being burned back to the ground lowers the final yield.

Spacing: I presprout my seeds by spreading them out in daylight at room temperature for a few weeks, and then plant one whole, sprouting, medium-size potato every 18 inches down the center of the row. Barely cover the seed potato. At maturity there should be 2[f]1/2 to 3 feet of soil unoccupied with the roots of any other crop on each side of the row. As the vines emerge, gradually scrape soil up over them with a hoe. Let the vines grow about 4 inches, then pull up about 2 inches of cover. Let another 4 inches grow, then hill up another 2 inches. Continue doing this until the vines begin blooming. At that point there should be a mound of loose, fluffy soil about 12 to 16 inches high gradually filling with tubers lushly covered with blooming vines.

Irrigation: Not necessary. In fact, if large water droplets compact the loose soil you scraped up, that may interfere with maximum tuber enlargement. However, after the vines are a foot long or so, foliar feeding every week or 10 days will increase the yield.

Varieties: The water-wise gardener's main potato problem is too-early maturity, and then premature sprouting in storage. Early varieties like Yukon Gold-even popular midseason ones like Yellow Finn-don't keep well unless they're planted late enough to brown off in late September. That's no problem if they're irrigated. But planted in late April, earlier varieties will shrivel by August. Potatoes only keep well when very cool, dark, and moist-conditions almost impossible to create on the homestead during summer. The best August compromise is to leave mature potatoes undug, but soil temperatures are in the 70s during August, and by early October, when potatoes should be lifted and put into storage, they'll already be sprouting. Sprouting in October is acceptable for the remainders of my St. Pat's Day sowing that I am keeping over for seed next spring. It is not ok for my main winter storage crop. Our climate requires very late, slow-maturing varieties that can be sown early but that don't brown off until September. Late types usually yield more, too.

Most of the seed potato varieties found in garden centers are early or midseason types chosen by farmers for yield without regard to flavor or nutrition. One, Nooksack Cascadian, is a very late variety grown commercially around Bellingham, Washington. Nooksack is pretty good if you like white, all-purpose potatoes.

There are much better homegarden varieties available in Ronniger's catalog, all arranged according to maturity. For the ultimate in earlies I suggest Red Gold. For main harvests I'd try Indian Pit, Carole, German Butterball, Siberian, or a few experimental row-feet of any other late variety taking your fancy.

Rutabagas

Rutabagas have wonderfully aggressive root systems and are capable of growing continuously through long, severe drought. But where I live, the results aren't satisfactory. Here's what happens. If I start rutabagas in early April and space them about 2 to 3 feet apart in rows 4 feet apart, by October they're the size of basketballs and look pretty good; unfortunately, I harvest a hollow shell full of cabbage root maggots. Root maggots are at their peak in early June. That's why I got interested in dry-gardening giant kohlrabi.

In 1991 we had about 2 surprising inches of rain late in June, so as a test I sowed rutabagas on July 1. They germinated without more irrigation, but going into the hot summer as small plants with limited root systems and no irrigation at all they became somewhat stunted. By October 1 the tops were still small and a little gnarly; big roots had not yet formed. Then the rains came and the rutabagas began growing rapidly. By November there was a pretty nice crop of medium-size good-eating roots.

I suspect that farther north, where evaporation is not so severe and midsummer rains are slightly more common, if a little irrigation were used to start rutabagas about July 1, a decent unwatered crop might be had most years. And I am certain that if sown at the normal time (July 15) and grown with minimal irrigation but well spaced out, they'll produce acceptably.

Varieties: Stokes Altasweet (STK, TSC) has the best flavor.

Sorrel

This weed-like, drought-tolerant salad green is little known and underappreciated. In summer the leaves get tough and strong flavored; if other greens are available, sorrel will probably be unpicked. That's ok. During fall, winter, and spring, sorrel's lemony taste and delicate, tender texture balance tougher savoy cabbage and kale and turn those crude vegetables into very acceptable salads. Serious salad-eating families might want the production of 5 to 10 row-feet.

Sowing date: The first year you grow sorrel, sow mid-March to mid-April. The tiny seed must be placed shallowly, and it sprouts much more readily when the soil stays moist. Plant a single furrow centered in a row 4 feet wide.

Spacing: As the seedlings grow, thin gradually. When the leaves are about the size of ordinary spinach, individual plants should be about 6 inches apart.

Irrigation: Not necessary in summer-you won't eat it anyway. If production lags in fall, winter, or spring, side-dress the sorrel patch with a little compost or organic fertilizer.

Maintenance: Sorrel is perennial. If an unusually harsh winter freeze kills off the leaves it will probably come back from root crowns in early spring. You'll welcome it after losing the rest of your winter crops. In spring of the second and succeeding years sorrel will make seed. Seed making saps the plant's energy, and the seeds may naturalize into an unwanted weed around the garden. So, before any seed forms, cut all the leaves and seed stalks close to the ground; use the trimmings as a convenient mulch along the row. If you move the garden or want to relocate the patch, do not start sorrel again from seed. In any season dig up a few plants, divide the root masses, trim off most of the leaves to reduce transplanting shock, and transplant 1 foot apart. Occasional unique plants may be more reluctant to make seed stalks than most others. Since seed stalks produce few edible leaves and the leaves on them are very harsh flavored, making seed is an undesirable trait. So I propagate only seed-shy plants by root cuttings.

Spinach

Spring spinach is remarkably more drought tolerant than it would appear from its delicate structure and the succulence of its leaves. A bolt-resistant, long-day variety bred for summer harvest sown in late April may still yield pickable leaves in late June or even early July without any watering at all, if thinned to 12 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart.

Squash, Winter and Summer

Sowing date: Having warm-enough soil is everything. At Elkton I first attempt squash about April 15. In the Willamette, May 1 is usual. Farther north, squash may not come up until June 1. Dry gardeners should not transplant squash; the taproot must not be broken.

Spacing: The amount of room to give each plant depends on the potential of a specific variety's maximum root development. Most vining winter squash can completely occupy a 10-foot-diameter circle. Sprawly heirloom summer squash varieties can desiccate an 8-or 9-foot-diameter circle. Thin each hill to one plant, not two or more as is recommended in the average garden book. There must be no competition for water.

Irrigation: With winter storage types, an unirrigated vine may yield 15 pounds of squash after occupying a 10-foot-diameter circle for an entire growing season. However, starting about July 1, if you support that vine by supplying liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks you may harvest 60 pounds of squash from the same area. The first fertigation may only need 2 gallons. Then mid-July give 4; about August 1, 8; August 15, feed 15 gallons. After that date, solar intensity and temperatures decline, growth rate slows, and water use also decreases. On September 1 I'd add about 8 gallons and about 5 more on September 15 if it hadn't yet rained significantly. Total water: 42 gallons. Total increase in yield: 45 pounds. I'd say that's a good return on water invested.

Varieties: For winter squash, all the vining winter varieties in the C. maxima or C. pepo family seem acceptably adapted to dry gardening. These include Buttercup, Hubbard, Delicious, Sweet Meat, Delicata, Spaghetti, and Acorn. I wouldn't trust any of the newer compact bush winter varieties so popular on raised beds. Despite their reputation for drought tolerance C. mixta varieties (or cushaw squash) were believed to be strictly hot desert or humid-tropical varieties, unable to mature in our cool climate. However, Pepita (PEA) is a mixta that is early enough and seems entirely unbothered by a complete lack of irrigation. The enormous vine sets numerous good keepers with mild-tasting, light yellow flesh.

Obviously, the compact bush summer squash varieties so popular these days are not good candidates for withstanding long periods without irrigation. The old heirlooms like Black Zucchini (ABL) (not Black Beauty!) and warty Yellow Crookneck grow enormous, high-yielding plants whose extent nearly rivals that of the largest winter squash. They also grow a dense leaf cover, making the fruit a little harder to find. These are the only American heirlooms still readily available. Black Zucchini has become very raggedy; anyone growing it should be prepared to plant several vines and accept that at least one-third of them will throw rather off-type fruit. It needs the work of a skilled plant breeder. Yellow Crookneck is still a fairly "clean" variety offering good uniformity. Both have more flavor and are less watery than the modern summer squash varieties. Yellow Crookneck is especially rich, probably due to its thick, oily skin; most gardeners who once grow the old Crookneck never again grow any other kind. Another useful drought-tolerant variety is Gem, sometimes called Rolet (TSC). It grows an extensive winter-squash-like vine yielding grapefruit-size, excellent eating summer squash.

Both Yellow Crookneck and Black Zucchini begin yielding several weeks later than the modern hybrids. However, as the summer goes on they will produce quite a bit more squash than new hybrid types. I now grow five or six fully irrigated early hybrid plants like Seneca Zucchini too. As soon as my picking bucket is being filled with later-to-yield Crooknecks, I pull out the Senecas and use the now empty irrigated space for fall crops.

Tomato

There's no point in elaborate methods-trellising, pruning, or training-with dry-gardened tomato vines. Their root systems must be allowed to control all the space they can without competition, so allow the vines to sprawl as well. And pruning the leaf area of indeterminates is counterproductive: to grow hugely, the roots need food from a full complement of leaves.

Sowing date: Set out transplants at the usual time. They might also be jump started under cloches two to three weeks before the last frost, to make better use of natural soil moisture.

Spacing: Depends greatly on variety. The root system can occupy as much space as the vines will cover and then some.

Irrigation: Especially on determinate varieties, periodic fertigation will greatly increase yield and size of fruit. The old indeterminate sprawlers will produce through an entire summer without any supplemental moisture, but yield even more in response to irrigation.

Variety: With or without irrigation or anywhere in between, when growing tomatoes west of the Cascades, nothing is more important than choosing the right variety. Not only does it have to be early and able to set and ripen fruit when nights are cool, but to grow through months without watering the plant must be highly indeterminate. This makes a built-in conflict: most of the sprawly, huge, old heirloom varieties are rather late to mature. But cherry tomatoes are always far earlier than big slicers.

If I had to choose only one variety it would be the old heirloom [Large] Red Cherry. A single plant is capable of covering a 9- to 10-foot-diameter circle if fertigated from mid-July through August. The enormous yield of a single fertigated vine is overwhelming.

Red Cherry is a little acid and tart. Non-acid, indeterminate cherry types like Sweetie, Sweet 100, and Sweet Millions are also workable but not as aggressive as Red Cherry. I wouldn't depend on most bush cherry tomato varieties. But our earliest cherry variety of all, OSU's Gold Nugget, must grow a lot more root than top, for, with or without supplemental water, Gold Nugget sets heavily and ripens enormously until mid-August, when it peters out from overbearing (not from moisture stress). Gold Nugget quits just about when the later cherry or slicing tomatoes start ripening heavily.

Other well-adapted early determinates such as Oregon Spring and Santiam may disappoint you. Unless fertigated, they'll set and ripen some fruit but may become stunted in midsummer. However, a single indeterminate Fantastic Hybrid will cover a 6-to 7-foot-diameter circle, and grow and ripen tomatoes until frost with only a minimum of water. I think Stupice (ABL, TSC) and Early Cascade are also quite workable (and earlier than Fantastic in Washington).

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