With all the news about drought and fluctuating weather patterns here in Atlanta, did you know that, in general, Atlanta gets enough rain year-round to meet the needs of gardeners? The challenge becomes getting the amount you need when and where you need it. Creating a garden that relies predominantly on rain water, and implementing the means to access that rain water in the way that works for your garden, is not hard but requires some know-how. Here are some tips:
1. Work with your land. If you have spots that get and stay wetter, consider creating a "rain garden," which slows the flow of water by planting water-loving vegetation to filter and uptake it. If you want to plant vegetables in spots that get and stay wet regularly, keep in mind that most crops don't like to have "wet feet" so adding raised beds may be a solution for those spots. Raised beds are an attractive, efficient choice in other areas as well, and although they dry out faster than in-ground gardens, they provide better drainage (and they keep your valuable soil from eroding in our heavy downpours). The trick is to have a sufficient amount of water-retaining organic matter in the bed and mulch on top to increase water retention. Also, consider several garden spots around your property to take advantage of seasonal differences--perhaps a south-facing garden in the winter when you want all that head-on sun, and a spot with a little bit of shade during our harsh summers to cool the temperature just a bit to keep your plants from getting parched each day, thereby reducing your watering needs.
2. Plant natives. Native plants love our weather and do well here with minimal care. They are also an important part of our local ecosystem and serve as food and shelter for many other species. It's as simple as that. You can find more about plants native to our area from the Georgia Native Plant Society. We carry numerous native plants at the Farmer D Organics store on Briarcliff Road.
3. Harvest rain. Catching and keeping the rain for when you need it is clearly a strategy that makes sense here in Atlanta. Rain barrels, rain pillows (which fill and deflate underground), and cisterns can all help you achieve this goal effectively. Be aware that water harvested from asphalt roofs is typically not recommended for use on edibles. If you are building a shed at your community garden from which you want to harvest roof water, consider using tin for the roof, such as in the system pictured (which is from the Dunwoody Community Garden--that rain barrel is filled after one average rainfall). Also, be sure to empty rain barrels frequently and use mosquito dunks to reduce the risk of creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Your vegetable garden needs about an inch of water a week, plus daily watering for about a week after seed-planting. If you need to augment rain water to meet these needs, you can add drip irrigation or at least limit your watering to early morning or early evening to minimize evaporation. Come talk with us at our store about your watering challenges and we can help tailor a solution for your specific gardening circumstances.