Monday, August 22, 2011

Hill Country Drought

Pretty soon water will be more valuable than oil in Texas. 

If you squint, you can see Denny and me in the middle of the exceptional-drought-brown heart of Texas.  Over the last ten months, the damp in our rain gauge totaled 7+6/10".  Or, to put it in Texas terms, 2/3 of a beer bottle.  Ten months.  That's a twisted teetotal. 

And as of yesterday, we'd had 67 days at 100F or more this year. Rivers are drying.  Crops are wasted and ranchers are selling livestock because feed is expensive and hard to come by.

Forecasters say more of the same for the fall as La Niña continues to develop in the Pacific. According to NOAA, La Niña often correlates with drier than normal conditions in the Southwest, late summer through the subsequent winter.  A typical La Niña lasts 9-12 months, some episodes as long as two years.

My livelihood doesn't depend on rainfall but my heart does.  We garden for wildlife. Our bird list for this property is more than 90 species now, including an endangered golden-cheeked warbler who occasionally shops and bathes in our backyard.
We don't water the established trees, back thicket, open woodlands, native grasses and wild-flower swath.  Those areas will make it or not on their own, although I have doubts about the wild-flower area, where deer hooves leave dusty pockets of scarred earth through the stubble.  At least the thicket and woodlands have thick blankets of needles and leaves.

Last spring we replaced ground covers with mulch to conserve water.  Our modest lawn is buffalo grass, a native which can get by on 18" of rain a year.  We've watered it but not much.

Which leaves 30 or so youngish trees and the gardens surrounding the house, wildlife habitat.  Oasis for hummingbirds and goldfinches in this bare-dirt summer.  With water and food stations, we host golden-fronted woodpeckers, western scrubjay families, house finches, roadrunner, and dozens of cardinals, chickadees and blackcrested titmice.
  View from back porch, see the hummingbird in the upper right corner?

The plants are drought-tolerant.  But only a few would live in the desert.  So we sprinkle the densely planted areas (when watering restrictions allow), run soaker-hoses and drip irrigation in cooler hours... 

And do mother-of-invention kitty-litter bucketing.  Three tiny holes let 3.5 gallons/bucket drip into the earth in an hour.  Refill 4-6 times, depending on size of tree and number of buckets.  Deep watering, only when the trees say they need it.

As I fill the buckets, I tell my trees their roots are stretching. They'll be stronger and the next La Niña will be easier. I hope.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.
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