Milewide Nursery, located in northwestern California, is surrounded by a typical hot Mediterranean climate. Even when we don’t have drought years, our summers are dry and hot; and our winters are mild and very wet, at least when we aren’t in drought. This last winter was very dry for us and, now, in August, we can see the difference everywhere in the forest and around the nursery.
The US Drought Monitor presently considers us in Exceptional Drought Conditions, with as much as 58% of our area effected. Our area is visited every few years by El Nino, a storm system that comes across the Pacific and can drop a lot of water on us. Well, early this spring there was a lot a hopeful talk that this upcoming El Nino being a drencher. The signs are there – something is coming in the fall, but it may not be the forceful kind of weather we need to break the drought. Remember, we don’t expect rain in the summer, but we do need it to store up our soils.
It is much harder to keep nursery plants wet. Lose some staff, miss a watering, get caught by an unexpected high 90 day and things die. In the forest, at least natural patterns are operating – the forest creates a canopy, vegetation diversifies, each finding its niche, green manure accumulates a little each year along with the compost mulch the forest is creating each year from the fallen duff and leaf. Our nursery benefits from mimicking some of these patterns.
We have tired to mitigate this year’s water shortage in a number of ways. Of course, we have mulched our trees and our beds whenever possible; we made several compost piles over the winter and we collected forest compost. With these in hand, we dressed each olive tree and all the other trees and beds on the farm – we put on a couple of inches of compost and a couple of inches of loose leaf. The important thing is that mulch is good and thick – at least 4 to 6 inches. I actually wasn’t that happy to be taking that leaf mulch away from my forest.
Drip is the word… install drips everywhere that you can. Section areas off so that you can use timers. Don’t use sprinklers… at least if you want to save water. And the droppers needn’t be the drop by drop type, you can make good use of a variety of emitters – visit was a good idea of the options you can use. Make sure that you keep your maintenance up, checking that the emitters are actually working – sometimes you don’t know before your plant is too wilted.
Half-bury your pots when you can. We have been placing gravel in our nursery areas so that we can nestle the pots down into the gravel – works real good with the roots coming out into the moist gravel. The easiest way to kill a plant is to put it into a pot; if you dig the pot into the ground a quarter to a third its height, the plant will have access to a larger volume of soil during emergency.
Place sensitive plants in the shade. Pretty simple, but it will save you.
Mist occasionally, adding humidity to the air. This can spell you between regular waterings but it won’t use up too much of your water.
And although it is very disheartening to watch your plants struggle or die, and the fires that plague our area are scary and destructive, the smog in the air still gives us beautiful red sunsets.


ps.. talk about a scary picture… check out this snowpack picture for California