Written by: Gordon Clark, H4H Horticultural Consultant

During the summer season we raise vegetables on 3 acres in New England.  On Mother’s Day it snowed and the temperature dipped to 28 degrees. Today, the temperature was 88 degrees and humid. A month ago we had too much water, the past week the rains have stopped and it looks like it will be awhile before we get any more rain. We are fortunate to have a well but are pretty careful about over- using it; nothing worse than having a well go dry. We collect water off a small roof and will collect it off our new hoophouse- all well and good if it rains. We have already emptied 3- 275 gallon tanks. 

As tough as it is for me, the PHF team is having it lots harder. In SW Haiti they haven’t had rain for 5 months and counting. The shallow well they use went dry and they have 900 young fruit trees to keep alive. There is an irrigation channel through Farm 5 but that is dry also. So what can you do?

The first step in any disaster is to review your master plan. The first step is to determine the long range goals of the farm. In this case it is the thriving of many mango, soursop and lime trees. They will need to be kept alive until they make enough roots to be more resilient. Even when they are mature enough to survive, drought will cause flowers to fall and young fruit to drop. 

The second step is to eliminate those crops that may be competing with the trees for moisture. Some crops such as cassava will take moisture away from the fruit trees. Over tillage close to the trees, that exposes bare soil, leads to high temperature soils that speeds up evaporation.

Thirdly, look at how the soil can be protected. PHF has a good example on Farm 1. Last year, mucuna (aka velvet bean) was planted between the rows of the lime trees. In addition to the nitrogen the mucuna left in the soil, it also shades the soil preventing evaporation. As the mucuna breaks down, it leaves a substantial amount of biomass (think organic matter) in the soil, which increases the water holding capacity of the soil.

Fourthly, check out your well. A shallow hand-dug well works in times of abundance of rainfall. It is able to recharge from the water table which is fed from the river. When the rains stop, and the river becomes a trickle, the well will dry up. The solution: drill a well to 100’, install a submersible pump and get a portable generator to pump the water to save the trees. So, if you have an extra 1000 dollars burning a hole in your pocket (or your conscience) give H4H a call and it will put to good use!

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