Due to changing weather patterns, it’s not clear when the rainy season starts in Zambia.
Most small scale farmers control the amount of moisture their plants receive by simply watering them. Regardless, it’s important to modify some of the traditional farming practices especially if you’re a large scale farmer.
And if nature is not supplying the moisture, you need to ensure that you plant the correct crops.
What types crops grow best during times of drought
While there are a number of drought tolerant vegetables varieties available, without some planning, extreme drought and heat will kill even the hardiest. So, planting the correct crops at the correct time is crucial.
The best crops to grow in Zambia are but not limited to:
- Egg plant
- The woody stemmed herbs like sage, thyme and rosemary grow well in hot dry conditions.
A few points to consider when growing your drought resistant crops
1. Plant at the right time
Don’t plant at the first sign of rain. Planting later in the season will help you take advantage of seasonal rains to establish plants. If there’s a drought, the crops will use that little latter rain to establish themselves.
2. Mulch, mulch and mulch!
Mulching your plants will help retain moisture, keep the soil cooler, and keep weeds under control. Use grass clippings, straw, marsh hay, newspaper, and cardboard. A 10-20cm layer of mulch can reduce watering needs by as much as 50 percent. Mulch reduces water evaporation -and keeps soil temperatures down during hot summer months. Hay is not a good option because it contains seeds, which yields weeds and can become a problematic option.
3. Raise the beds
A raised bed retains water better than open soil. Plant seeds and transplants in a hexagonal “off-set” pattern rather than in straight rows. A hexagonal arrangement groups plants closer together, which provides shade from leaves, keeping soil cool and water from evaporating.
4. Plant varieties in groups
Also called companion planting, this practice of grouping crops together to reap the best benefits. The perfect example is when you plant maize, beans and pumpkin together. The tall maize provides a structural support for the climbing beans, the beans return nitrogen back into the soil, and the pumpkin spreads across the soil acting as a mulch and keeping the soil cool.
If you don’t companion plant, a golden rule with growing drought resistant crops is to space them further apart than normal. Allow 1½-2 times more space between plants than usually recommended, as this allows roots to have access to a larger area to tap into for moisture.
5. Control Weeds!
Pesky weeds compete for valuable water, sunshine and soil nutrients in your garden. Remove weeds before they have an opportunity to flower or spread.