I’m new to gardening here in Congo. I by no means, claim to be an authority on gardening anywhere but especially not in Congo. I’ve gardened through a good part of wet season and that comes with some challenges like flooding, washout, sick plants from too much water, etc. Now, the Dry Season has begun and that means that you also have to change how you garden.
Dry Season means changes to life are necessary in all areas, not just the garden. This especially applies to conserving water. Turning the water off while you soap up your hands (or your entire self in the shower), saving and collecting “grey water” to be used elsewhere, rinsing dishes in bowls so you can save that water for elsewhere, flushing *a-hem* when you have to, and more.
Gardening in the Dry Season also means changes. You have to water, almost daily, by hand because it’s not going to come from the sky very often. Saving water to use for watering your plants that you would normally throw out (like grey water from rinsing dishes or from doing laundry – minus the diaper water!).
It also means that if it does rain, first give praise and thanks, and then run for your spare buckets to collect it! Our porch doesn’t have a gutter on it so it’s necessary to place various receptacles underneath it if we want to catch the water from that section of our roof. We do have plans to gutter it and funnel that into a special tank inside our fence in the future- but for now, this is how it is. If we want that rainwater, we have to catch it.
Another change that is currently in progress is the addition of mulch to the garden. Mulch is extremely beneficial in a lot of different places for various reasons. Here, during the dry season, the biggest benefit from the mulch will be the retention of precious moisture in the soil. I’m pretty sure it will have to be a “seasonal-addition” to the garden and once Rainy Season returns it will need to be raked off of the garden and put to the side to wait until Dry Season again. The reason it can’t stay are the extremes of the soil; right now the soil is bone-dry and hard as a rock from lack of moisture and keeping moisture in is the main problem. In the Rainy Season the soil is often overly wet, too soft from so much rain and allowing the moisture to evaporate and drain away is what is needed. Mulch will also be hard to keep from washing away and adding to the wash-out problems that happen during the Wet Season. So, mulching will help in the Dry Season with the problem of moisture retention but then need to be removed come the Wet Season. It is work, but if it will allow me to garden all year round, it’s worth it.
Another thing that I would like to do during the Dry Season, before mulching, will be the addition of compost to enrich the soil. The addition of compost will add nutrients back into the soil but will also help to break up our compacted clay. With compost I plan to do a “no-till” method of gardening where you just add the compost right on top and allow the worms to bring it down and do that work for you. The reason this really needs to wait until Dry Season is because it would most likely wash away during the Rainy Season. If you add it to your garden in the beginning of Dry Season, it will have time to be absorbed and carried down into the soil by the worms before the floods come. This year we don’t have enough compost to spread over the garden so this will have to be something I do next season during this time.
Our garden is really doing well and it helps that we can give them the amount of water they need so they don’t drown. The melon patch is growing well, I’ve thinned the Amaranth since these pictures and it is thriving, the new carrot and parsnip patch have sprouted, some other plants that have sprouted well are the next batch of Collards and Swiss Chard. I’m still waiting on our current okra patch and yard-long beans to dry for saved seed. The bush beans we planted sprouted very well but didn’t receive enough water and have since wilted and died. I’ll probably replant them and make sure to give them plenty of water. The special orange-fleshed sweet potato is also doing very well and so are the transplants.
There may not be winter here but there are seasons. With the different seasons come change and I am also having to change how I garden during the different seasons. In Dry Season I have to use a trowel to do any weeding or they just break off, leaving the root; In Wet Season you can’t spend excessive amounts of time walking in the garden right after a rain because it compacts the soil too much. Each season has it’s specific challenges and blessings – blessings like not having to water by hand in Wet Season or blessings like not having too much rain that it kills your plants in Dry Season. The changing seasons means it’s time to change gardening styles. Gardening in the Dry Season will bring some lessons of it’s own I think.