The Summer of Buckets — Extreme Drought & Early Wildfire Season In the Garden

The Summer of Buckets !
The Summer of Buckets
Buckets of greywater from the house being taken out to water a tree in the garden.

You’ve heard of the Summer of Love, right? Well I propose that 2021 here in Northern California be called the Summer of Buckets. There are buckets in all the sinks — to collect dish-washing and handwashing water, a bucket in the tub to catch the water as it warms for a quick shower, there are buckets under the roof downspouts to catch any dewdrops. Local gardeners on social media are talking buckets. Buckets. Buckets. Buckets everywhere.

One tough rose! Himalayan Musk Rose. Seems remarkably drought tolerant and this site agrees.

In our specific area of Sonoma County, our rainfall for the winter never got beyond about 12.75 inches of rain (the average is 36″) and hence we are now in what is called an “exceptional drought.”

And, to make things more interesting, there is an early start to wildfire season this year (which usually kicks in later in the summer).

I had to use my camp shower sooner than I expected due to a plumbing issue! But it worked pretty well. Just a little hard to get all the shampoo out of my long hair. I did a first rinse in a bucket, then a final rinse with the camp shower sprayer. The recycled plastic outdoor rug made it much nicer under bare feet. Water drains through it and gave a drink to nearby fruit trees.

So these last several weeks, we’ve continued our race to adjust and prep the garden and property for both drought and wildfire. Considering that we are both past mid-life and the 5-acre garden has mature growth, this has been a big undertaking.

As I said in the last post, most of the garden was already on drip irrigation, which is 95% efficient, and now everything is on drips to avoid any wastage. We’re checking the lines regularly for any leaks.

This is the kind of year where you look at every plant and ask if it is essential. It’s a real dilemma. Most of our garden is either food and/or habitat plants, so there isn’t much that seems non-essential. I did remove a few roses that I was ambivalent about, and replaced them with succulents. I still have several old shrub roses that are tough as nails and well-established and I plan to share my drinking water with them if it comes to that.

I’m amazed that we actually have green grass in places. We don’t water it. And observation makes it really clear the role that trees play in water retention because anywhere there is a tree big enough to create shade, there is green grass underneath it. In contrast, the grasses in the open field areas are already dry and brown. Of course, it helps that we live in a low-lying area and in wet years, there are soggy places well into summer.

Drought is probably on most gardeners minds here and I appreciated this water reduction approach to the drought from Supervisor Board Chair Lynda Hopkins, as written in the Press Democrat:

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will consider on Tuesday a resolution seeking a voluntary 20% reduction in use countywide. Counting on rain next year “does not seem like a very safe assumption at this point,” said Board Chair Lynda Hopkins.

The mulberries are ripe when fully purple. But good luck beating the birds to them! I believe this variety is called Pakistan Mulberry–long, delicious fruits. The trees are remarkably hardy and this established one is not on irrigation.

But she said she’s more interested in ensuring that people use their water wisely and with purpose, than in setting hard and fast caps on how much people can use, as well as educating people to make sure they “realize what a dire situation we’re in right now.”

People who grow their own food, for instance, might use more water than someone who buys food, but those purchases reflect water use and other adverse environmental impacts, she said.

Meanwhile, water from the washing machine or shower might be used to flush a toilet or water plants, she said.

“I prefer to look at what are uses that are unacceptable right now,” Hopkins said. “Lawns are unacceptable, in my opinion. There’s just no justification for that when we’re looking at such severely curtailed flows in the Russian River, and such severe drought.”

In the Food Garden

Our veggies got off to a slow start this year probably due to the cool weather (which has been a real mercy with the drought). A few lettuces, some parsley and artichokes are ready for harvest. The leeks started forming seed stalks early so we harvested those already. Soon we’ll hopefully have some spinach, chard and more lettuce. Beans, squashes, tomatoes and the rest are doing their thing but won’t be ready for a bit yet. Happily, some tree collards that I thought I had pruned to oblivion came back!

The mulberries are a treat–that is, any ripe ones that we can find that the birds didn’t. The cherries are also ripening. I don’t think we’ll get many raspberries this year due to drought. We’ll see about the blueberries. I’m guessing the lavender and olives will do just fine. 🙂

Wildlife Habitat and Drought
The Western Tiger Swallowtails arrived just as the buddleias bloomed.

Watching an enormous red-tailed hawk taking a bath in the fountain last week also reminded me the importance of supporting the wildlife during the drought. We humans have impacted their habitat so much that I feel a duty to provide them with essential drinking and bathing water to aid them through the drought. Birds all of sorts, hummingbirds and even bees visit the fountain. The water recirculates; it doesn’t waste fresh water. I periodically clean it and use the waste water on plants.

Is this a checkerspot butterfly on this buddleia? If you know, please inform!

Speaking of wildlife habitat support, the buddleias are just now blooming and, right on time, there are suddenly many Tiger Swallowtails and other butterflies sipping their flower nectar.

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, we had more pipevine swallowtail butterflies and caterpillars this year than any other year. So many that, for the first time, we gave away some caterpillars to a very sweet couple in Santa Cruz who were clearly going to be doting parents like us, and who have a 100 foot length of pipevine (aristolochia californica) just waiting for the hungry babies! What a good home! Pipevine swallowtail butterflies and pipevine caterpillars are poisonous and ours don’t seem to need any protection from birds. They are in full sight and open to birds here and I’ve never seen birds show them any interest.

Happy gardening to all, and for those in the drought zone: Hang in there with the #SummerOfBuckets !

I pruned my lilacs and flowering quince last week. Want to review when to prune what?

Gophers got your garlic? Read up on what we did.

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13 thoughts on “The Summer of Buckets — Extreme Drought & Early Wildfire Season In the Garden

  1. So interesting! I think our summers are dry but we do not suffer as much as you do. We can learn good lessons on water conservation from you, though. Watering lawns is ridiculous. I do not think people over in France care as much about lawns as the British. we have grass but it includes a multitude of other plants and we never planted it or water it. Amelia

    1. Yes it’s funny about lawns — that holdover from the British aristocracy! Like you say, our grassy areas are just field grasses that also have clovers and “weeds” that I like. Plantain, pennyroyal, California poppies, mulleins, dandelion, marsh marigolds are all in the mix.

  2. Gosh, it’s a lot of work carrying buckets of water to the plants in the garden. You’ll have strong arms by the end of the summer! Trees are so valuable in those conditions, and your oak looks magnificent. I love the pipevine swallowtail adoption story, what a happy outcome 🙂 And those mulberries look amazing, such a beautiful, tasty fruit but quite rare here.

    1. PS If OK with you, I’ll share your post with another US blogger I follow who is keen to introduce pipevine swallowtail butterflies to her garden.

  3. I am full of sympathy for you. We usually get that type of drought July/August here in ne Kansas. During that time I have often watered my foundation plantings with clothes washing rinse water, bailed out into buckets. Right now we have had a month of rain! We had been dry through the spring. I mowed the lawn in the first week of May and was shocked that the grass was showing signs of drought stress. It started raining on the 6th and have had moisture almost every day. The spinach in the garden wilted from too wet roots. Hollyhocks also with soaked roots. In the fields much corn and soybeans to replant where they had flooded out. More of the same forecast for the next week.

    1. OMG! Is that much rain in May unprecedented? Sorry to hear about the spinach, hollyhocks and crops! Wish you could send some our way!! Hope you get a balance in your weather soon! Please tell the rain that we’d love to see it here! 😉

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