Starting a New Gardening Era





First, you should know why a maritime Northwest raised-bed gardener
named Steve Solomon became worried about his dependence on
irrigation.
I'm from Michigan. I moved to Lorane, Oregon, in April 1978 and
homesteaded on 5 acres in what I thought at the time was a cool,
showery green valley of liquid sunshine and rainbows. I intended to
put in a big garden and grow as much of my own food as possible.
Two months later, in June, just as my garden began needing water, my
so-called 15-gallon-per-minute well began to falter, yielding less
and less with each passing week. By August it delivered about 3
gallons per minute. Fortunately, I wasn't faced with a completely
dry well or one that had shrunk to below 1 gallon per minute, as I
soon discovered many of my neighbors were cursed with. Three gallons
per minute won't supply a fan nozzle or even a common impulse
sprinkler, but I could still sustain my big raised-bed garden by
watering all night, five or six nights a week, with a single, 2-1/2
gallon-per-minute sprinkler that I moved from place to place.
I had repeatedly read that gardening in raised beds was the most
productive vegetable growing method, required the least work, and
was the most water-efficient system ever known. So, without adequate
irrigation, I would have concluded that food self-sufficiency on my
homestead was not possible. In late September of that first year, I
could still run that single sprinkler. What a relief not to have
invested every last cent in land that couldn't feed us.
For many succeeding years at Lorane, I raised lots of organically
grown food on densely planted raised beds, but the realities of
being a country gardener continued to remind me of how tenuous my
irrigation supply actually was. We country folks have to be
self-reliant: I am my own sanitation department, I maintain my own
800-foot-long driveway, the septic system puts me in the sewage
business. A long, long response time to my 911 call means I'm my own
self-defense force. And I'm my own water department.
Without regular and heavy watering during high summer, dense stands
of vegetables become stunted in a matter of days. Pump failure has
brought my raised-bed garden close to that several times. Before my
frantic efforts got the water flowing again, I could feel the
stressed-out garden screaming like a hungry baby.
As I came to understand our climate, I began to wonder about
_complete_ food self-sufficiency. How did the early pioneers
irrigate their vegetables? There probably aren't more than a
thousand homestead sites in the entire martitime Northwest with
gravity water. Hand pumping into hand-carried buckets is impractical
and extremely tedious. Wind-powered pumps are expensive and have
severe limits.
The combination of dependably rainless summers, the realities of
self-sufficient living, and my homestead's poor well turned out to
be an opportunity. For I continued wondering about gardens and
water, and discovered a method for growing a lush, productive
vegetable garden on deep soil with little or no irrigation, in a
climate that reliably provides 8 to 12 virtually dry weeks every
summer.





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