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Anyone else in a drought this year?

 
gardener
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2020, like almost every year in the last decade, is apparently on track to be the hottest year globally on record.

Here, we are also having quite the drought. We had fire bans in May  (unprecedented I think), and mid June some communities started to have water use restrictions. The water in the lakes this spring was very low.

Every year is a new challenge gardening for me - this year was seed germination. I typically plant in a rainstorm, then have rain for most of the next few weeks, and rarely water until July or August. This year, a lot of things didnt germinate because I didnt keep enough water on them  and the grass in May was scorched like it normally is in August. I lost quite a few transplants due to water stress. June felt like August weather again, and we were at risk of losing a lot of our bushes and perennials despite them being heavily mulched. I think so far we have had only one good thunderstorm.

I am worried,  again, about rising food prices and crop failures. A coworker in southern Ontario has been taking time off work just to water his commercial vineyard which is also pretty unprecedented at this time of year.

How are things where you are?

 
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Catie, you certainly have my sympathies.

I live in the Midwest with its cycles of abundant rain and drought.  I am lucky in that I have not had a drought in about a decade.  But I do have a couple of drought stories.

When I first got married I moved in to a brand new spec home in the country with no finished lawn.  These were definitely my pre-Permies days and that first summer (I sowed I fall fortunately) was terribly dry.  We got a hailstorm on May 25th, and saw not a single drop till August 10th.  Our summers are hot in Southern Illinois and I am surprised my lawn did not die.  I added a lot of water but I could not keep up.

A couple years later and we moved into our forever home that we built.  Again I put in a lawn during a drought that lasted about 2 summers.  My lawn did have significant dieback and I had to seed a second time.  And again, I could barely keep up with watering (today I would plant a different grass, but these were my pre-Permies days).

Just for reference sake, around here I consider a drought to start after 3 weeks of high temperatures and no meaningful rainfall.  If the dry spell is 4 weeks long, the drought is 1 week old.  Our clay soils seem to take that long to dry out.

I really don’t like drought and am thankful for each summer without one.  I don’t have one now, but really, you do have my sympathies.

Eric
 
pollinator
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We had at least three weeks that were hot and essentially rainless. Although I watered a
LOT, the seedlings and direct-seeded plants all struggled. My partner began worrying about the well going dry. (Very unlikely. Told him to take shorter showers!) then we got 4 days of rain, thunderstorms, cloudiness, and soaking rains. Everything in the garden grew 2 inches!  At least!

And we began to design a rainwater collection system. We live in a wet area with a marshy spot, a vernal stream, a small spring up the hill, and a river nearby. But collecting this water and getting it to the garden is not that simple. Now we have enough from the rain to keep him from worrying so much about the well. And we are going to further develop the rainwater collection.

It struck me that no matter how much I watered (trying to soak each plant individually to conserve), that big rain gave them what they were longing for. Really deep watering.
 
Catie George
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Eric - I am glad to hear you arent in drought. It's when large areas are having a bad year that i really worry. I am hearing from Alberta that they are getting too much rain, and the farmers are worried. it's funny how climate works.

I checked the Environment Canada 30 year normals data. The nearest station is 35 km closer to Lake Ontario, so typically cooler/wetter than here. They reported  less than half the normal rain in May (1.6") 1/3 less rain in June  (2" total). And the average daily high was about 5 degrees C warmer (10 F) than usual (despite some near frost in early June) for both months, which burns off a lot of water. May 24th is nominally last frost/ planting day here, we have had next to no rain (5 mm total) since June 10th.

I think it really depends on the year and the location and the pattern of agriculture. I grew up in Alberta during several years of bad drought . News stories were all about the cattle being slaughtered, Ontario and quebec sending hay, and water bans. People adapt their growing to "normal".  I remember running in the streets with a friend, dancing when the first rainstorm of weeks hit. We planted everything in a divot to catch water.  Mom grew up not too far from here- she learned as a child to plant everything on a ridge or hill, so the water ran off! Now, we are back to planting in divots.

5 years ago or so, we had a bad drought here. Spring was normal water levels, then July and August hit and there was no rain. Fire bans, forest fires, and the water level in the river at my dads place got so low we couldnt find a deep enough hollow to put in the sump pump we used to water the garden with and most of his fruit trees died.  I keep saying- if this is June, what will July and August be like? I guess we will see.

Real water, rainwater, is pretty amazing. I swear the last real rainstorm we had my corn jumped a foot overnight.
 
Eric Hanson
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Catie, are you in the Canadian Plains?  If so, I do understand the cycle of flood and drought.  The Great Plains seem to go through a roughly 20 year cycle with about 15 being normal or wet years and 5 being drought.  My personal preference is the flooding over the drought.  I live at the intersection of the American Midwest and the American South so I get the flood and droughts of the Midwest but get the heat and humidity of the South.

Eric
 
Catie George
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Eric - I am in Ontario. Boreal forest, very humid and hot in the summer, cold, damp, and icy in the winter. Most of the heavily populated areas in Ontario, are north of New York State, overlying limestone and/or sediments from various glacial lakes and fertile.  I am presently on the edge of the Canadian shield (rough, eroded undulating rock scraped clean by glaciers and covered with a thin veneer of soil in most places- think more similar to Northern Minnesota in terms of geology/landforms. We've got rocks and trees and trees and rocks and trees and rocks .... and.... water (yes, this is a song. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eKJfLJREdEg). Very little topsoil, poor fertility in this region, i am sitting on the top of a glacial moraine (pile of glacial pushed debris) maybe 10, 000 years old.

I was born in Alberta, in the Canadian prairies- north of Montana-
where the local forestry people said if it got any hotter, parts of the province would likely be near desert with the rainfall levels. Southern Alberta already has some scrub, badlands, sand dunes, and even cacti. Cool and dry, no one had AC, shorts were an optional wardrobe item, and lots of people had multiple furnaces for their houses.
 
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Haha!  The Pacific Northwest had a very wet June and here we are in July with no forecast to go over 70 degrees for at least a week!
 
pollinator
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Eric Thompson wrote:Haha!  The Pacific Northwest had a very wet June and here we are in July with no forecast to go over 70 degrees for at least a week!



I am loving the low temps, pretty much perfect weather imo... and no forest fires yet...

Unfortunately from a farming perpective there has been way too much rain in my area... fields are too wet to work, or mow... no safe windows for hay to be cut and dried... worried about my garlic crop as the soil is very wet despite literally not watering once this year...

On the plus side trees and grass alike seem to be thriving with the extra water!8

 
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Last year our drought was so bad at my place that I only mowed the lawn 4 times.  This year we had long dry spells with a 1 or 3 inch rain to kind of save the day.  Now I'm facing a 10 day stretch of temps in the high 80s (ungodly hot for us).  Hopefully a storm dumps some rain or I'll be watering the garden again.

It does seem that 1" of real rain is 50% better than 1" of sprinkler water.  And 1" of sprinkler water is 4x better than hand watering each plant to conserve water.  "Better" in terms of the growth/health of the plants.

I never paid much attention to rain when I didn't garden.  Now I watch the radar and realize how variable the rain amounts are in my area.  When scattered thunderstorms pass through you could get 1" while someone 10 miles away gets nothing.  Last year some people in my county said the rain was pretty good while my lawn was brown from mid June till fall.
 
Eric Hanson
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Catie,

Yes, I am familiar with your boreal forest and the Canadian Shield.  Good comparison to Minnesota, my family comes from Minnesota so I have an idea if the ground you are talking about.  I have driven through that section of Minnesota many times, but my family comes from Western Minnesota and our old family farm was located on the plains that once made up the bottom of Lake Agazize.

I think a relative point about drought is that a drought is really a period of low rainfall for a particular region.  One region’s drought is another region’s flood.  Certainly with topsoil so thin, even a short period of time without water can dry things out in a hurry.  I am lucky then to have deep clay subsoil that really hangs on to water.

I certainly hope things turn around for you soon.  As I mentioned earlier, I too have lived through drought and it is probably my least favorite weather condition.  Hang in there.

Eric
 
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We are there with you. In fact it started in the winter. Usually we get most of our water in snow. It snows, then melts. We had one hard snow this winter, it was in November and it was so cold it stuck around for months. No real new snow after. So I suffered massive winter kill this year and then it's dry. Depressing year.
 
pollinator
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It's far more likely, I find, that farmers are in tune with this sort of thing than city folk.

One of my pet peeves is turning on the radio to hear an announcer extol the virtues of a mild and snowless winter, and no wet weather besides, like it's a good thing. If we don't have snow melt to recharge the aquifers in the spring, that's bad news for anything that relies upon that seasonal recharge. Because it fell in liquid form, we have parts of the hydrological system, near the top, that are experiencing drought conditions now, when other parts of the system have had damagingly-high water levels for historic norms, when it should have been safely locked away as several feet of snow covering the boreal.

So while cottagers complain about water-damaged docks, shorelines, and boathouses, rural Ontarians at the tops of watersheds need to be increasingly prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice due to threat of forest fire.

-CK
 
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We are still rationing water, in what they are calling a 100-year drought. It just rained yesterday, in fact we got a whole month's worth of rain in a bomb cyclone last week (talk about a crazy weather event), but we still have a ways to go to make up for the no rain at all that fell from late December to April. I've never been so glad to have rainwater catchment, since our water is shut off for 2 days a week.
In the meantime, 200 miles south of me there is crazy flooding from a second cyclone. Weird times we're in lately.
 
pollinator
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It has been awfully dry here; no rain since the beginning of May. May and June are usually our wet months, so now we're facing summer without any soil water storage. (On the other hand, some nearby towns have got rain, it has just missed us.)
 
Catie George
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Elle, Gilbert, Tereza - sad to hear you are struggling too.

Chris - I agree. I used to live in the GTA, and probably listened to the same stations as you. I'd always wonder where they thought food came from as they gushed about the lack of snow in the winter, or how nice and sunny the spring had been.

As of today - we have had 1/2" of water since June 10th, we had a storm last week. Forecast maybe for storms this weekend and an inch of rain, fingers crossed. I start to understand where the tradition of rain dances came from.

We just entered a water ban - asked to reduce consumption by 50%, no watering of anything but food crops, and that only hand watering, the water in the town well is very low. Love living somewhere where lawns are considered non-essential, and vegetable gardens are important. We are now in the longest recorded streak of highs over 30C (10+ days) for the area - but the wind has picked up, and a cold front is moving in - there is supposed to be a break for the next week, only in the high 20s. I'm looking forward to it!

Talked to the garden centre a few days ago, and their well is dry. They have been getting water from a local pond, pumping it into their truck to water their plants, and doing laundry in town. They have enough for hand washing/dishes, that's it.



 
Chris Kott
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Holy shit, Catie! I had no idea. Whereabouts are you?

Yeah, it's bad. My feeling is, we really need to step up things like the widespread planting of diverse species of trees with a view to making sure that the diversity is a positive vehicle for change, whatever the climate does. If it becomes seasonally warmer, the climate of, say, 500km south, and what we plant includes tree genetics from 500km south, we suddenly have climate-appropriate trees to succeed what we lose; if we leave a mosaic of what is currently hanging on, those genetics will be in the soil seed bank, and the living strata, should our local climate shift the other direction.

Honestly, the only thing about warming that I have heard that suggests a positive outcome is that more energy in weather systems means more moisture in the air, and a wetter climate overall, especially downwind of larger bodies of water. I have long been a proponent of the idea of creating a Great Lakes Rainforest project. I know our winters still get cold enough to kill some species that require mild winters, and so it would look more like a boreal/temperate hardwood transitional forest, but we could still choose species near waterways, like cottonwoods, that pump moisture into the air when it's dry, to manipulate humidity in the surrounding regions.

Dr. Redhawk has suggested that the original giant trees of the east side of the continent, chestnut and white pine, among others, could stand in for the giant redwoods, doug fir, and western redcedar, among others, that make up the rainforests out west. I am torn, because I love white pine and chestnut, but I still think that it would be amazing to get something like the western redcedar, which can grow a metre tall for every year of the first 75 years of its life, on average, to both act as towering, beautiful carbon sinks, and to generate cloud systems through tree sweat.

This is just a big example of the type of projects I think should be looked at with regards to permacultural geoengineering. I also think tweaking typical hydroseeding operations, as seen on roadside construction for soil stabilisation, to include more diversity for pollinators, and more nutrient-trapping and soil-generation properties, and for the purpose of making our society drought-hardy, including drought-hardy species in the seed mix, would be an excellent small-scale adjustment that would yield huge results. Xeriscapes, even though their water needs are extremely low, still keep the soil from becoming hydrophobic, allowing pathways down through the soil, so as to infiltrate water better.

One other big idea I think appropriate in light of the huge structural changes that might be required to climate-harden us as a civilisation is the reworking of our military into not only a peacekeeping role, but also a brown permaculture role. Imagine if the Canadian Forces, beyond operational specialisations, were all trained, in the same way as the american army corps of engineers for engineering, to observe, design, and implement permaculturally-aligned water infiltration projects anywhere it would alleviate drought, and implement similar measures to deal with even extreme seasonal flooding in applicable areas, or really any climate or systemic adaptation that would help people help nature to fix our situation.

Think about giant on-contour swales throughout the plains, and really anywhere convenient to increase aquifer recharge at the cost of seasonal floodwater damage, and thousands of happy little uniformed Canadian Beaver Corps helping their namesakes spread the love of little dams and slowed water everywhere. Imagine the Canadian Beaver Corps marching in line across thawing landscapes, adjusting hydrology and replacing ruin with poplar and boreal ecology, and perhaps relocating beavers from around human habitation to keep turning the land from melting methane source to poplar-capped carbon sink, or (carefully) advancing up critical salmon spawning runs, naturalising and adding reed-bed plantations anywhere possible to counteract eutrophication and to stop excess sediment run-off, planting willows on riverbanks to shade the water and keep water temperatures cold and capable of holding enough oxygen.

I'd sign up, especially if the culture was shifted from a combative, militaristic-style of discipline to one that maintained the amount of stoicism and adherence to order necessary for large groups of people to function efficiently to achieve singular great works. I think we're certainly in a position where such changes would benefit us all. Granted, all those jobs created in the Canadian Beaver Corps would be government jobs, but I think it emminently practical that the government adopt people-dependent systems where such work is both better accomplished by a person and is better for the person to do, in light of workplace automation, whether we're talking about automated cash-out at the grocery, or remote-piloted fleets of tarsands dumptrucks (a bad example for permaculture, but a good example of thousands of jobs lost to automation while the industry was still booming).

But yes, drought. When I have time, I will try to find a chart I was looking at that showed levels of precipitation year-over-year for different regions versus earlier historical norms. I was shocked.

-CK
 
Catie George
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Chris - I'm north of Belleville/east of Peterborough.

Had about 1/4" of rain over the weekend instead of the 1"+ promised. Forecast is for... maybe a 1-3 mm this week, as thunderstorms. Not holding my breath, but am hoping nothing catches on fire.

I really like when people use the term climate change rather than global warming. Warmer temperatures we can withstand  (yay! longer growing season! Less bitter cold winters!), but the additional energy in the system causing more variability in the yearly weather patterns is harder. Last year, this area had destructive floods, and the farmers couldn't plant or harvest because the fields were too wet! This year, we have no water. It's hard to find anything that does well in such varied conditions, or to predict what to plant. I'm honestly not sure what impact permaculture on a broad scale would have, my area is mostly treed, plenty of natural swamps and lakes and beaver dams - it's the human patterns that need to change. Plantings that thrived last year would suffer this year, and drought tolerant species that would tolerate this year, would drown in wetter years. It's a hard balance. We're not yet ready for the warmer species from the south to move north here - it was down to -35 for a few days this winter in the area with little snow, enough to kill most southern species.

I would love to see the GTA paint their roofs and streets white, to reduce heat gain in the summer. I recall living there - it was almost impossible to be without AC, because of all the asphauult and concrete, it was lucky if temperatures dropped a few degrees overnight. I wonder sometimes what such a large expanse of hot air does to the climate for the rest of Ontario. Perhaps if allowed to cool off, less AC would be used, resulting in energy savings? I wondered sometimes, standing on the street, listening to the hum of dozens of AC units, how much extra heat was being output from them. I'd love to see water catchment in the GTA too - similar to what is done in the prairie cities, with managed wetlands to hold the water and create ecosystems and park spaces, instead of olastic holding tanks under parking lots and storm sewers.



 
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Catie, I'm south of Ottawa, and what you describe sounds exactly like what we've experienced here. It's been hard.

On the brighter side, it's kicked me into high gear for learning about drought, water, healthy soil, and so on. But this year's garden was not awesome. I'm not letting it get to me. My focus is on building the soil, and next year's garden will be better. There are some things doing well, like my spring asparagus crop and my current raspberries, amaranth, peas. Other things are late, but they will come, like zucchini, beans, dry beans, cukes, and tons of tomatoes. I'm also focusing more on cover crops. And a "fall garden". It's gonna be ok. And next year, I'll be so prepared!

But I'm here with you, feeling the pain :(
 
Chris Kott
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That's exactly the area my better half and I are looking to relocate, Catie. She works out there about a week every month, and would work there more if we lived closer. Water, both wells and floodplains, will be top of mind when we do.

As to painting our roofs and all solid thermal mass white, I like that idea, as well as any form of green roof or wall, and any idea that expands the urban tree canopy. I think it's either that, or deliberately use the heat island effect, and the warmer microclimate it creates, to nurture a slightly warmer-climate forest ecosystem that pumps moisture into the atmosphere. If Toronto did that, the clouds would likely pass directly over your area, clear across to the Ottawa Valley. And that rain plume could be used to bolster permaculturally aligned intensive food systems and ecological adaptation and restoration, too.

-CK
 
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It's heartbreaking to read about everyone's problems. I'm in the southeast US, and most years we have a long, hot, dry spell to contend with. This year is no different. We collect about 4500 gallons of rainwater for watering, but sometimes it still feels like a losing battle. This summer I've been experimenting with a couple of ideas and am encouraged with their success. They aren't new, and likely most of you have heard of them. I only wish I'd tried these earlier.

Ollas - buried terra cotta pots to fill with water. The first one, I buried near the thyme in my herb bed. I've lost thyme to drought in the past, so I wanted to see it make it!



It's working! My thyme isn't drying out and dying.

And a larger one for my Matts' Wild Cherry Tomatoes.



The pot saucers become the lids, but the larger size saucer was twice the price, so I got an exact fit and weight it with a rock.

These have worked very well! The plants stay green and happy as long as we keep the ollas filled.

I'm also trying inverted glass bottles. This works better for any place I don't want to disturb roots by digging a hole to sink a pot.





I've experimented with no cap and caps with a nail hole punched in them. With caps seems to work better. Also trying plastic bottles, although I prefer the glass.

One thing this is teaching me is how much more effective underground delivery of water is than surface irrigation. We lose a lot of moisture from evaporation that way, although of course, mulch helps. Plus it takes a lot of water to get the soil deeply watered. Direct deep delivery to the roots definitely does a better job. Just have to work on strategies to expand on this idea next year.
 
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Nope very cold and wet July, we've even had full gales (and another one coming tomorrow) according to the official climate statistics we're on the way to the coldest July since 1887.  Also their statistics show that over the last 15 years the average temperature in July has dropped 3C.
 
pollinator
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Leigh, how do these glass bottles work?

We had drought and flood and drought again, haha. Will be a classic!
Garden is doing fine regarding water, I'm having more trouble with the slugs because I decided not to poison, but even though they ate a lot of seedlings and strawberries, it's really interesting to watch how the garden develops this year without any poison (my mother used to roundup weeds when I didn't see; I think she stopped a year ago, although I did secretly empty a bottle of roundup and replaced it with water).
 
Leigh Tate
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Flora Eerschay wrote:Leigh, how do these glass bottles work?


Flora, they work very well! The first bottle photo is for my borage and lettuce. These wilt terribly when the sun gets hot if I don't keep the bottles filled. I'm refilling the bottles twice a day, but it definitely works better than pouring water on the surface.

(my mother used to roundup weeds when I didn't see; I think she stopped a year ago, although I did secretly empty a bottle of roundup and replaced it with water).


Ha ha! Great idea! Have you tried diatomaceous earth for the slugs? I understand it works pretty well.
 
Catie George
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Leigh- why didnt I think of that? I used to do glass bottles in my large house plants all the time when I went away on vacation.... never thought to put them in the garden. Brilliant, I should try it for my beets which hate life right now, and maybe a few of the tomatos.

We did have rain here a week or so ago. I hung laundry up on a clear day, no forecast for rain. Within 20 min there was a downpour, and we got almost an inch!!! Not enough to recharge the aquifer, but the plants got a good drink. A few tiny sprinkles otherwise.

Skandi- that reminds me of university, where I was told the biggest potential threat to humans from  climate change was a large melting of arctic ice, reversing the ocean currents and causing the UK and Scandinavia to have the frigid climate of Labrador, and labrador to have the moderate climate of the UK and Scandinavia (with the rest of western Europe and eastern North America essentially switching climates as well). Having been to Northern Labrador and having Danish relatives, and personally loving the snow and winter, I hope that's doesnt come true!

gift
 
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