drought in the desert

The very dry summer of 2014 has turned into the dry fall of 2014.

It’s the desert, it’s supposed to be dry, they say.

When you’ve lived in the high desert for decades, you begin to think in terms of dry and then dry.  And then even drier.

In my yard, the figs are drying up. Last year, so many figs!

It’s been a bad year for the orchard. It started out well.  Plenty of apricots and the other fruit trees looked good. A good start.


Then came the winds. And more winds — winds that knock the young fruit off the trees and nothing to be done about it. As the trees get older, they’ll shelter the fruit more.

The apricot that yielded so much fruit is my oldest fruit tree, besides the nectarine. The nectarine fed the birds this year because the fruit was plentiful but very dry.

There’s only so much water I want to use in a drought. When that fails, I move on to planting new plants. More herbs.

Note to self: begin extra heavy mulching of all orchard trees and fruiting shrubs.

I’ve noticed that as the hot, dry days are turning into cool dry nights, some of the plants in my yard are having a second springtime. We haven’t had rain, but with some irrigation and the cooler nights, the seasons become confused.


The Lycium berries may come back. The bushes dropped many of their leaves in the dry summer but they are re-spouting.

It’s all terribly unpredictable. It’s always been unpredictable, so this is whatever is beyond unpredictable.

What’s going on outside of our conservatively watered small acreage?

Look what happens in the mountains when it’s dry.


Our southern California mountain forests are overcrowded with trees. We’ve been confusing unhealthy and overcrowded forests with good resource management.

And drought increases the activity of bark beetles in pine forests.

These pines. Bark beetles kill the trees and turn them into flash fuel for fires.


Above, that’s part of the forest close to my house. We go there sometimes.

It’s depressing. So many pine trees are dying.  The dead fall is being cleared out. I suppose that part is good.  And it’s better to look at a clear ridge and the sky than dead trees.

san gabriel hike hillside

I miss the ridges with their trees standing like sentinels.

So farm failure and drought and bark beetles.

I’m working on restoring the greenhouse with the help of some friends. The metal frame was wonderfully constructed by farm day people. It stands, but the plastic has been completely shredded by high desert winds.

The new plans involve cement blocks, mortared with desert adobe, plastic shrink wrap (industrial size), and corrugated roofing panels. Maybe this will stand through more than a season.

Barley is next.

barley grows

There’s a hopefulness in planning any kind of new garden. Maybe the desert will get it. Maybe something beautiful will happen. Maybe there will be some food.

What are you planning this winter? Or planting, if that’s your thing?

About rainshadowfarm

I teach anthropology, am an archaeologist, a drylands agroecologist, community educator, and a single mother of eight grown kids. I currently own and operate an educational and research farm in the southern Mojave Desert, Rainshadow Farm. I'm 100% West Virginia hillbilly. Not necessarily in that order.
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9 Responses to drought in the desert

  1. Jardin says:

    I’m currently in South Africa. Joburg had a rain shower last Saturday but is badly short of Spring rain and there are water shortages in the city. In the bushveld, the arid landscape is browner than ever … we need rain here too.
    Back home in Ireland I doubt that there will be any water shortages ..
    Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. gmaali says:

    As a neighbor (of sorts) I always look forward to August Thunderstorms and this year it seemed like we only had one. Are you growing a lot of barley? I am trying to grow some for the goats and chickens to enjoy – but I am not sure how long it will last once the cold sets in..I am only growing a few flower pots full to see if I can, but if it works well I am hoping to increase the amount soon. Other than that, we are piling up rows of spent hay and goat manure across the property, in staggered 15 ft long x 2 ft tall x 3 ft wide sections, hoping to slow down any rain that may come our way. I just wish we would get the chance to see if it will work…

    • I miss the thunderstorms too. Maybe they’ll arrive later this year. You could turn those rows into raised beds – pile dirt on top, even our poor high desert dirt. It could be a high desert version of hugelkultur. I tried my first barley last year. I grew some in pots in the greenhouse and I tried a patch about 5′ by 6′ in the orchard area. I planted it in October and the barley outside did as well as the barley in pots in the greenhouse. It took longer to reach maturity in the garden patch but did extremely well. It’s cold-resistant and drought-resistant. We did give it some water throughout the winter when it seemed too dry. The cat played in it. It’s resilient and easy to plant. You should try it and your goats will love it! I gave ours to the chickens. This time, I’m going to make soup with it.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    We’re trying to figure out how to replace our grass with xeriscaping (I think that’s what it’s called), and while we have lots of ideas, we have no money, so it’s difficult!

    • If you come out here, you can dig up some of my desert plants. And cacti. Problem with that is, it’s probably not dry enough for most of this stuff where you are…cactus will do fine anywhere fairly dry and sunny though. The one thing the xeriscaping people never tell you is that it will cost to transition from ubiquitous lawn to drylands plantings. And California isn’t one single climate zone. They tend to neglect that point when they tell you about it. We vary all up and down and across the state. But once you’ve done it, then it’s all gravy. Start small and enjoy. Good luck!

  4. I’m planting my butt on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate and schnapps. We’ve got another rough winter in the forecast — worse than last year, they say. I expect a lot of snow days. Too bad we can’t give you some of our moisture, but Nestle would just ship it back to us in plastic bottles and make us pay for it.

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