• A water-saving veggie garden for the foothills

    by  • May 30, 2018 • Edibles, Garden

    Your water-wise veggie garden

    Does everyone in our Mountain Community grow at least one tomato? I think so! For me, sun-ripe, sliced tomato sandwiches, with slivers of cheddar, a little lettuce, salt and mayo is the goal.

    Focaccia tomato pepper-jack sandwich

    Focaccia tomato pepper-jack sandwich

    Planning now

    Now, in spring, is the time to plan and build that deer fence or raised bed and get soil and fertilizer laid out and ready to plant. You can also lay out drip lines because from the very start your veggies and seeds will need regular water.  I know that growing my own will use the same or less water than commercial farms. Home gardeners have more control over the water they use and more ways to retain that water.


    Loads of Tomatoes from this 16' x 16' partitioned garden

    Loads of Tomatoes from this 16′ x 16′ partitioned garden

    Starting small

    My first veg garden here in the foothills was grown in three galvanized tubs and was hand watered as needed. In a very small space, tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce and herbs thrived.  As they grew, I regularly dug down with a trowel to make sure moisture reached the entire root zone. Still, I searched for an easier way.

    Three galvanized tubs provided enough vegetables for two, in a small space.

    Three galvanized tubs provided enough vegetables for two, in a small space.

    If you grow vegetables in ‘deer country,’ a fence is a necessity. In a small garden, 16 feet square or smaller, a 4-5 foot fence is usually adequate because in a small area, deer won’t jump in if they’re not assured they’ll be able to jump out again.   Taller fences are needed for larger gardens since the deer can then take a running leap to get in and out. Once I had my deer fence, I could garden on a bit larger scale.

    The gold standard for vegetable gardens, once you have your fence, is permanent 3 by 8 foot raised beds, built from 2 x 8 redwood or landscaping lumber. Once built these classic, sustainable beds can be fitted with a drip system, planted and replanted for many years.  Yet, there are still more ways to grow vegetables.


    The Straw Bale Experiment

    For the past two years, I’ve used minimal water by growing a straw bale vegetable garden, a fun method that uses no soil, no digging, less water, has less weeds, pests and needs fewer tools.  It’s easier on your back because you’re growing right on top of the bales instead of bending down to the ground.

    After an online chat with Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardening, I was eager to try this experiment!  For two people, a four bale gardenwas perfect to grow all the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, onions, cucumbers and basil we’d need. Grow what you like to eat!


    Besides the novelty of this type of garden, I especially liked not having to buy expensive soil. Usually our native soil needs lots and lots of organic amendments and none were needed for this garden. The bales are conditioned with water and nitrogen fertilizer softening enough for vegetable starts to be planted right in the straw.


    The bales when wet, retained water for longer than raised beds on the other side of the garden. An automated drip system insured that just enough water, about 15 minutes every other day during July and August, was used to produce baskets of luscious tomatoes for sandwiches all summer and fall.


    The primary way to save water while growing vegetables is by using automatic timers; this will change your life if you haven’t yet tried them.  You can water less often and more deeply, set them to water in the morning and use mulch to retain the water used. Whether you garden‘small’ with containers or on a larger scale, you can have a productive garden during the drought and eat well, too.


    4 Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers

    Four Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers



    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.