The summer is forecast to be a long and dry one here in BC and in many places across Canada. While this is good news for households enjoying the lakes, rivers, and coastlines of the country, it poses a bit of a concern for those hoping to keep their community garden well-watered and thriving through the season. That being said, with some smart planning and preparation, there are ways to take advantage of what little rain may fall so that your garden plot makes it through to the harvest of autumn. 

Three Tips to Keeping Your Community Garden Watered and Healthy During a Dry Summer

1. Install Rain Barrels

The key to making it through a long and dry summer, is capitalizing on those brief bouts of rain. Summer showers are the result of higher temperatures which affect the conditions for cloud formation and rainfall. Summer showers (and thunderstorms) are influenced more by temperature than from typical rain systems. At higher temperatures the atmosphere may contain more water vapour, thus increasing the chance of heavy, albeit brief, showers. That’s why it is not uncommon to see them occur then quickly dissipate on any given day in hot spots across the country such as the BC interior and Okanagan Valley. 

Again, this gives you the opportunity to capture water for your garden, which can be accomplished through the installation of rain barrels. 

Rain barrels collect rainwater runoff, storing it for later use and thus minimizing the need to tap into local water resources. Your community garden can funnel the runoff from gutters/downspouts that may be connected to the roof of your shed, and/or from a neighboring building (school, etc.). Barrels (and other harvesting systems) can also be installed in a catchment area (rooftop, etc.) to capture rainfall directly, minimizing the potential for contamination. While you can manually extract water from the rain barrels by literally dipping your water can into it, more sophisticated distribution systems can be developed so that stored rainwater can be integrated into your garden’s existing watering system.

You can purchase rain barrels from your local home and garden center, however they are also commonly available through local municipalities (on their website) on a seasonal basis.

2. Build a Rain Garden

Many casual community gardeners know of rain barrels, but have not yet learned about rain gardens. A rain garden is a landscape feature designed to collect and absorb stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces such as concrete roads, driveways, sidewalks, parking lots, and even compacted ground (dirt and lawn) in addition to building roof drainpipes. A rain garden consists of a single or series of garden depressions where rainwater runoff can pool and infiltrate deep into the soil for the benefit of plants. Rainwater typically enters the rain garden via an inlet pipe or sheet flow, the latter of which is the downslope movement of water that takes the form of a thin, continuous film. Small  weather events which are common to the otherwise dry summer months in Canada can be temporarily stored until they infiltrate into the ground, making a rain water system a viable solution to keeping a community garden watered through the season.

One of the great things about a rain garden, is that it provides for a fantastic outdoor learning experience, given that its creation takes a reasonable amount of planning. A rain garden is thus a perfect complement to local school garden projects, providing students and teachers alike with valuable lessons that remain with them for a lifetime. School gardens also make sense given the proximity to the aforementioned number of impervious surfaces, including school/class rooftops, sidewalks, basketball courts, running tracks, and so forth.

Since a rain garden can’t quite be built overnight, you will want to look to your local municipality for insight. For example, the City of North Vancouver is working with the Pacific Water Research Centre at Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Environment as a part of the 12,000 rain gardens program. Simply search for information about rain gardens in your area to learn how you can promote the creation of a rain garden near your community garden, one that will keep your plants healthy for many summer seasons to come.

3. Mulch

With a solid plan in place to capture what little water there may be during a dry season, you must now do all that you can to maintain the moisture of your community garden. This is where the tried and true practice of mulching comes in.  A 2 to 3-inch deep layer of mulch over the soil of the garden can work wonders in keeping the soil at its preferred temperature while shielding it from the hot summer sun. This will keep moisture in the soil for a longer period, making it available to thirsty garden plants. If distributing water from rain barrels, do so by running a connected hose underneath the mulch so that water is delivered directly to the ground, while mitigating the risk of evaporation and runoff.

In addition to all of the above, we welcome you to enjoy our related article on how to conserve water in your community garden which digs deeper into how to keep your soil producing healthy plants. Or you can also read our list of practical tips from our friends from Edible Garden Project to keep your garden ok in these hot summer months.

If you would like to know more about the work of the Foundation, please sign-up to become a Friend of the Foundation. For inquiries about how to support the Foundation’s work in school gardens and post-secondary education bursaries, please contact us.

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