The Throes of Drought

Drought.

It’s a word bandied about the Northern California news programs quite a lot lately, and with good reason. As a native of this garden-friendly state I have weathered drought before and remember the restrictive faucets, thread-thin shower tips and the color-coded toilet-flushing rules. I remember the nightly news reports featuring clips of video showing the acres of cracked ground amid once-flourishing lettuce farms in the San Joaquin Valley.

Grown up–and with a tiny farm of my own in the backyard–I hear these hauntingly familiar terms in the news with a growing sense of alarm. I look over the tiny raised beds of chard, herbs and broccoli and wonder if I’ll have to watch it wilt away. So much goes into making an organic micro-climate out of hard-pan clay that it feels like a small crime to let it revert back to dry, cracked ground over the course of a single season.

However, as much as folks ’round here like to get wound up about cutting back their showers to under two minutes–or letting the front grass get a little brown–most of the time here it isn’t like that. Most of the time, we’ve got a lovely temperate climate, the weather of which that can be predicated with some degree of accuracy, allowing even urban dwellers to grow food in their spare spaces.

A neighbor of mine brought this notion back to my attention recently. Having just moved to California from Texas, she and her husband arrived amid the first throes of “drought” being discussed at length in the news.

“This is nothing,” she told me, her expression perfectly serious. “Where we come from, we have real drought, all the time.”

Apparently, what we call drought here in Nor Cal is “normal” for quite a few other folks. The neighbors giddily began prepping their backyard ground for plans even before their boxes were fully unpacked, despite our aging governor’s dire predictions. In light of her revelations, I felt a less disconcerted as I got out my $5 orange buckets and put one in each bathroom shower. It’s a trick I remembered from the last drought: set a bit away from you, the buckets catch the over-spray of water while you shower. With six people in the family, even a two minute shower wastes an awful lot of water. We don’t use the retained water on edibles, but use it to let the landscaping limp along until its next scheduled watering. Not only does it save water, but we’re down about $20-$25 per month on the water bill.

Another water-saving tip: hand wash your dishes over a basin. Just having a basin in your kitchen sink will let you see how much water you use rinsing your veggies or washing your hands each day. Dump it on the grass, or–in our case–the hydrangeas and valerian.

If you don’t already catch what rainfall you get in buckets to water your yard with, you’re missing out on free water. Quite a few folks I know drink their caught rainwater–after filtering & boiling it–and one acquaintance of ours swears by using rainwater for brewing coffee.

The throes of drought have affected our weather, yes, but we’ve been able to use it to our advantage in small ways: the lettuce garden is already flourishing, along with the chard, onions and turnips. We’re also drying our clothes outside on the lines a full month and a half ahead of schedule, and the energy bills are already on the decline. At the very least, we’re reducing our use of metered water before the necessity to do so it upon us.

L. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books

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