August at the Ag Center Community Gardens

August 18, 2022

By Jessie McSwane

Farms for the Future

Summer is a great time of year. The long, warm (hot!) days offer us the chance to make all kinds of memories. Beach days with the kids, bbqs with neighbors, a sunburn or two… Last weekend my daughter went tubing for the first time ever. That’s a memory we will both keep with us for a long time. I hope you all have been able to make some great memories, too! 

One thing you’ll be sure to remember from Summer ’22: this drought! According to a couple of local meteorologists, we experienced the driest July in 20 years. Last year, we got more rain in July than we have gotten this entire summer. They also predict that there won’t be much relief in the coming days as moderate to severe drought conditions continue to worsen. (Check out Islandwide Weather on Facebook if you enjoy watching a truly local forecast).

Despite the drought, the community gardens look beautiful!

So now we, as gardeners, growers, and conservationists, are faced with a tough predicament. How can we both conserve water and keep our plants healthy and happy? Watering is the obvious way to keep your plants hydrated (obviously!). But simply increasing your irrigation can put unnecessary demands on the water table creating even more problems. So, let’s first look at our soil. Long Island is known for its light, well-drained soils.


As you can see in this photo, the garden area is almost exclusively Riverhead Sandy Loam. While there is nothing wrong with this soil type (in fact, it is considered a prime ag soil), it does not hold moisture very well. This is a problem during a drought, but it’s a problem that can be amended. Most easily, you can add mulch and compost to your gardens. These additions can help retain moisture.

Note: the soil survey of Charnews Farm, above, was taken from the National Resource Conservation Services Web Survey site.


Now back to water.

We’re not accustomed to rationing water in this part of the country, but occasionally we are called on to cut back a bit. Most of us might agree that it’s fair to cut back on watering the lawn, but those of us who grow food likely can’t skip a day. There are two easy ways to conserve water while taking necessary care of your plants: timing and type of irrigation.

Timing: if at all possible, avoid watering your plants during the hottest part of the day. Instead, try to water in the morning or evening. This reduces the amount of water lost by evaporation and allows the soil to absorb the much-needed water.

Type: Drip irrigation is probably the easiest way to conserve water and is a good practice even when we aren’t in the middle of a drought. If you use overhead sprinklers, much of the water will evaporate before your plants reap the benefits. It will also leave a lot of moisture on the leaves of your plant, which could lead to disease. Drip irrigation brings water right to the roots, conserving water and protecting plants from unnecessary disease pressure.

Let’s leave this topic on a couple of good notes.

  1. Grapes love the drier weather. Look for delicious 2022 vintage coming to a winery near you (in a year or so).
  2. Dan says that if you can water effectively, your plants could be more productive during a hot and dry season.

Jessie’s note was adapted from her letter to the community gardeners at the Trust’s Agricultural Center at Charnews Farm. Interested in becoming a community gardener, click here to learn more.

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