Cathy Isom tells us about some plants that can make your garden thrive with very little water. That story’s ahead on This Land of Ours.
From: Modern Farmer
Drought-tolerant crops include some of the most storied foodstuffs in Western culture, such as grapes and pomegranates—the Garden of Eden was purportedly somewhere in the drylands of the Middle East, after all. Others are common garden plants that just happen to have the genetic makeup that allows them to grow with or without irrigation—dry-farmed tomatoes are a hot item among chefs, even though most of us water them weekly. Some plants that we might consider weeds—purslane and burdock, for example—count extreme drought tolerance as part of their tough-as-nails character, and happen to be delicious.
From the most obscure, thorn-laden desert crops to everyday species you likely have growing in your backyard already, there are plenty of drought tolerant edibles to choose from. And in my experience, edibles that thrive in dry soil also thrive when joined together on the palate. You might say they are of the same parched, but flavor-rich, terroir.
Tomatoes – Annual, All Zones
One of the secrets to growing really flavorful tomatoes is to go easy on the irrigation—“watered-down” tomato flavor is literally the result of excess soil moisture (which also contributes to fungal diseases). But some tomatoes are more drought tolerant than others. Those famous dry-farmed tomatoes are typically a variety called Early Girl, though Brandywine, Black Krim, and most any variety of cherry tomato will work. If there is no rain during the first month after planting, you will need to water about every 10 days. But after that you can forget about irrigation. The vines will eventually shrivel, but the fruit will still ripen—with a flavor that is unsurpassed. For non-dry farmed tomato varieties, like Cherokee Purple or Beefsteak, irrigation is required during dry periods, but to the tune of every week or two, not every day or two (once the vines have become established, that is).
Prickly Pear Cactus – USDA Zones 4-10
Also known as tunas in Mexican markets, this watermelon-colored fruit has a thirst-quenching tropical flavor, excellent for eating out of hand or for flavoring a drink. The cactus pads, callednopales, are also edible, and give a tangy taste and gooey, okra-like texture to soups and stir-fries. Diced nopales are a common vegetable in a variety of traditional Mexican dishes. Growing your own prickly pear cactus is as easy as slicing a pad off a living plant and tossing it out in the yard. As long as it comes into contact with a sunny patch of soil, the pad will sprout roots and grow into a mature cactus in a few year’s time. No irrigation needed. Surprisingly, prickly pear cactus is one of the few cacti that grow exceedingly well outside of the desert, even in cold, wet climates. They just need-well drained soil. Look for a spineless variety to make harvesting easier.