Low-water vegetable gardening

modified hugekultur for raised beds

I have gone a month and a half with less than a quarter of an inch of precipitation and daily highs in the 60s to 80s.  I haven’t watered since early May. That’s 6 weeks ago.

With all of the issues that our country is having with water shortages, I thought that I might share my personal garden approach.  It is by no means perfect, but it worked with what I had going and requires very little maintenance.  That is essentially my entire philosophy in gardening… initially higher effort, but then almost no effort for the same reward. Low maintenance is key for me.  I have so many projects and interests that keeping all of my plates spinning can be difficult when things require constant effort and attention. There is a permaculture technique called “Hugelkultur” wherein you make a mound of logs, branches, and stumps, then pile soil and compost on top of that and plant things on the mound.  These mounds are called hugels, and in permaculture, they are generally planted with trees/saplings and other bushy things to stabilize them.  This can also be done below-ground where you excavate, bury your woody stuff, and then pile the soil back on top.  This gives you less surface area, but you don’t have enormous mounds in your yard either.  The way that we made this concept work in our yard was with our raised beds, which we use to keep the dogs out and theoretically keep things neat.  Our raised beds are 2 feet tall to prevent dog intrusion or dog pee from making it onto the edibles. The way that we have executed hugelkultur is kind of a weird hybrid.

  • The bottom foot of our raised beds is filled with wood.  This includes but is not limited to stumps, branches, icky firewood, and untreated lumber leftover from yard projects.
  • The next layer is compost that isn’t quite done yet
  • The next layer is compost and existing garden soil

That’s it.

Above is a super fancy illustration of my tomato bed, which is just a little more complicated, in that I’ve also installed these ABS pipes with holes in them to direct water directly to the root zone and re-saturate the wood.  When I water the tomato bed, I just stick the hose directly into the pipes and water that way.  It keeps the tomato foliage dry which helps prevent disease and reduces water consumption because the top layers of soil don’t benefit from being wet and are the first to dry off.

modified hugekultur for raised beds

Here is a shot of my tomato bed where you can see the pipes in action.  This was taken 2 nights ago.  This puts us at 6 weeks without a single drop of water.

modified hugekultur for raised beds

This is another tomato bed, but without the pipes.  This bed also doesn’t have a tent covering it, and you can see how the tomatoes haven’t grown nearly as quickly.  I’m tellin’ you, these row covers and tomato tents work!  Heat-loving veggies thrive in them.  I have a weather station probe in my tomato tent and it regularly hits 90-110 in there.

modified hugekultur for raised beds


This bed is 2 tomatoes, a few cucumber plants, and some sort of volunteer winter squash.  At this point the squash are only an inch long or so, but based on their shape, I’m guessing they’re either butternut or spaghetti squash.  I did break down and water this bed last night, so it only made it 6 weeks.  The other beds are holding steady at totally unwatered.  Strangely enough, the only thing that’s not doing so hot is my strawberries!  They are new to the bed and perhaps not totally established, but they look pretty rough and will probably need a bit of water soon. The zucchini plants in the bed with them seem happy as clams though!

4 thoughts on “Low-water vegetable gardening”

    1. Hi Kathy, I’m not sure what our average daytime temperature is mid summer. I live in the Seattle area, and we rarely get rain at all through most of summer (people don’t seem to believe this about Seattle) where we will have 3 weeks of no precipitation, then a few days of rain and a few more weeks with no rain, etc. I would say that in July our summer days are usually in the mid 70s.

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