climate · Drought · Food Garden · Homesteading · Observations · Water Supply

Lessons from Gardening in a Drought: Drought Angels SA, Farmers in Distress, Boere in Nood & Water Shortage SA

Drought Gardening South Africa sun parched earth hot dry

In South Africa:

South Africa is suffering from a crippling drought brought on by the worst El Nino in decades, starting in 2014. Cape Town (south point of South Africa) and the surrounding areas are basically in a drought disaster area at the moment as many farmers and villages do not have enough water due to poor planning of infrastructure, lack of proper water management & lack of  water-wise use/education.

Several groups have started water and feed supply projects to assist drought stricken farmers and towns. Boere in Nood/Farmers in Distress are arranging the donation and transport of feed for livestock whereas Water Shortage SA are organising water dotations (both drinking water designated “DW” for consumption and tank water “TW” for general use) to towns in the Free State, Northern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces. Clean plastic bottles can be filled with water and dropped off at various towns in South Africa, please see the Water Shortage SA facebook page for updates. Please assist with the initiatives! Together we might bring relief and alleviate the worst of the drought!

The following links will give your more information of drop-off places for water (Water Shortages SA) as well as information regarding donations and assistance

Drought Angels SA can be contacted at the following links:

Boere in Nood/Farmers in Distress: Facebook Page, Twitter & Email
National donations to First National Bank ccount number 625 229 860 43, branch code 250 655
International donations to PayPal account nc.schoombee@gmail.com

Aliwal North Assistance: Contact Deon Smit @ 083 455 2166

Water Shortage SA: Information regarding drop-off towns, see there facebook page

Agri-SA also has a setup a Drought Aid @ http://www.droogterampfonds.co.za/, which includes an SMS payment system as well (Ref 3).

Help has already flooded in from Canada, United States, Nederlands and Australia; even a R 100 000 donation has been made by a woman from Dubia to the Farmers in Distress initiative! (See Ref 2)

Boere in Nood Farmers in Distress Need South Africa Contact Details

In My Garden:

As the world goes round and progresses through each of its cycles El Nino has claimed its turn with a triumphant roar ever year! The Northern Hemisphere has reported record crop yields, lots of rain and bountiful snow. The Southern Hemisphere (specifically Africa) has reported widespread crop devastation and several areas had declared natural disaster zones! Here I will be posting the seasons’ fight against the worst drought to hit South Africa since records started in 1904 (second lowest annual rainfall was 1945, but the longest dry period was 1930-1933, see Ref 4), the observations I made, the final throw in of the proverbial towel and the plans for the coming years.
My vegetable garden had already experienced below average rainfall for the last three seasons (2014/15, 2015/16, and 2016/17), even our 2017/18 round was looking dire. Early rain in August and September have dried up and late rains in October places a huge strain on our 15 000 L of stored rainwater. The high heat, solar radiation and measly rain had left the vegetable garden battle fatigued – not to mention the household as well since we couldn’t seem to gather enough grey water from the house to keep everything in the yard alive and we worked like slaves to save the plants (and wild animals, by means of the chicken waters being drained every day).
A quick table of our rainfall for this summer seasons:
Main Growing Season (Roodepoort, South Africa, 2013-2018)
Rainfall 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
Aug 5.5 5 10 0 0
Sep  3.7 9 51 2 0
Oct 109 29.5 11.5 46.5 65
Nov 89 111.3 34.5 97 143.5
Dec 173.8 125.5 124.5 104 102
Jan 163 126.5 143.7 205 NA
Feb 173 67.5 63 175.5 NA
Total 717 474.3 438.2 630 310.5
It is quite clear that a rain shift occurred from Aug 2017, with little to no rain until late Oct for 2017 and 2018. Coupled with regular highs of mid-30 degree Celsius (instead of 26 average) in summer means that our planting season has drastically changed. The garden did not do well mostly due to the fact that it only received enough water to stay alive let alone provide a decent crop. Some vegetables did fair better than others, so here is a quick list for drought “viable” crops:
Tomatoes – did especially well in the vegetable cage, we had an overflow
Beets & Carrots – did not seem to mind the heat and set root very well
Peppers – seeing that the fruit is mostly hollow, little water is used and fruiting isn’t impeded by the heat
Peanuts – my ongoing experiment with peanuts actually thrived in the heat!
Swiss Chard – planted in winter and under shade netting. Start to die off in the Dec/Jan heat.
What about potatoes and sweet potatoes? Not so much, small tuber formation given the litres of water I chucked on them. Pumpkins & Zucchini – nope, very few and tiny fruits.  Hail has become a lot more frequent as well during the last years and several storms throughout the growing season put back plant growth and decimated what little harvest we have. Those fruits with only a little damaged quickly succumbed to rot in the heat of the following days.
9 January 2016 Hailstorm Roodepoort
9 January 2016 Hailstorm Roodepoort. The chicken coop got hailed shut and one of the chickens was being broody in the veld. So we were convinced that she perished in the veld during the hailstorm. Luckily I was at the window when she arrived just after the worst of the hail. I rushed out to grab her but couldn’t get the coop open so she went back into the house with me. I dried her off and she stayed in one of the cat boxes overnight. Fortunately she made it through the night and had no injuries – though she was straight out of her broodiness afterwards!
The tanks also struggle to stay above 50% rain water capacity and I have decided to scale down the main vegetable garden to only a herb garden. I want to remove as many pots as possible, since the potted plants suffer the most. Herbs are water efficient and can cope with the adverse conditions, I am also moving them under a 40% shade netting, which should help with additional water preservation.

 

Main lesson from gardening in a drought? Well you better plant a whole lotta flippin’ tomatoes under shade netting, opt to water efficient plants, no pots and focus on herbs!

References: 
1) KarooSpace Article @ South Africa’s Drought Angels Step Up by Julienne du Toit & Chris Marais

2) News 24 Article @ Aid for drought-stricken farmers from far and wide by Jeanette Chabalala

3) eNCA Article @ AfriForum lauches drought support campaign by Africa News Agency

4) de Jager, Elsa (13 Jan 2016). South Africa – Annual Total Rainfall. South African Weather Service, pp 1-4.

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