Raising Succulent Veggies in Harsh Climates

October 13, 2009

The following message arrived via my Facebook Page from a gardener in Israel who is fervently searching for new edible plants to raise in the veggie garden. The difficulty revolves around a very limited water supply and tough growing conditions that can quickly turn a productive garden into a barren plot.

Here is Trish’s account along with a special request for crop recommendations from any experienced gardeners out there; particularly if you have grown vegetables in an arid climate:

Vegetable Gardening Successes and Challenges in the Mediterranean

As a fledgling veggie gardener, I love your gardening secrets newletters! They’re great and give me a host of information. Our Mediterranean climate is perfect for growing almost everything but I’ve not been able to grow anything for years – a total failure.

Now, with your help, I have tomatoes and eggplants in raised beds and I’m planning asparagus and blackberries although I have to take sun and heat and very limited water into consideration.

Our latest challenge is the newly issued water limitation for every household to 2.5 cubic meters of water per person per month. And that includes showers, toilets, gardens, washing machines – the lot! SO I have to find edible, drought resistant – nay drought loving plants. Now there’s a challenge!

Do you know anyone who might be able to help? I do use mulch and drip irrigation. However, winter is on its way (lowest temperatures 8 degrees centigrade) and hopefully, rain. So the pressure will only be on next summer and until then I might be able to prepare myself. Thank you and shalom.

Embracing Wild Edibles to Tame Unfriendly Climates and Conditions

Shalom to you Trish! Have you considered introducing some edible weeds and native plants into your landscape? I would bet there are edible plants that grow wild in your climate and that they are capable of producing routine harvests with no assistance from any gardener.

Here in the Northeastern U.S. there are fruits like blueberries and blackberries that grow wild but can also be cultivated in the backyard garden. Likewise for edible weeds like lambsquarters, purslane, and dandelion; each of which is available in cultivated varieties that are even better served and enjoyed at the dining table.

If a plant grows wild in a particular region, it’s guaranteed to have the growth characteristics, hardiness, and some natural resistance to the localized pests and weather conditions. Those features would make it even easier for these wild edibles to flourish in the comfort of a garden in spite of a harsh growing environment.

Recommendations for Cooperative Veggies that will Grow Well in Israel

Are you aware of any wild edible plants in your region that could also be raised as garden crops? If so, you could include them in the veggie garden to supplement your other crops and to provide some insurance anytime the less hardy cultivated plantings fail.

Trish just followed up with me to add the following… “I do have rosemary, lavender, shiba (artemisia) and sweet geranium (we put in tea) none of which require a lot of water and when pruned during the summer spring back in the winter like crazy. But there must be other plants and I’ll ask around.”

Can anyone recommend drought loving edible plants that would be suitable for growing in a Mediterranean climate? If you have any suggestions or ideas that may be useful to Trish please leave them in the comment section located below. Thanks!

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • My first thought is to learn how to recycle the water that they DO have available to them. I did a quick search and found this:

    How do we recycle water?

    All water from our showers, baths, hand-basins and washing machine is redirected to a 100-litre (20 gallon) water sump in the basement of our villa. When this is full, a float switch detects it and the water is automatically pumped to a 1000 litre (200 gallon) tank above ground. This water has chance to settle, then is used to water the plants in the garden – and there is always plenty to go around. Dish washing water is removed separately to prevent trapped food particles entering the water system, but is still used in the garden.

    About twice a year, we empty the 1000 litre water tank and clean out the settled ‘mud’.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Faith, thanks for the suggestion and that’s a great idea that I really hope they have already begun working on considering how severe their water shortages are, but I will have to ask Trish about that. On a related note, I put together a rain barrel kit this summer to catch runoff rainwater and I absolutely love it and plan to write a post about it in the near future.

  • Kathy

    I recommend checking out the Phoenix Arizona Permaculture Guild’s website. There is a pdf version of their Desert Planting and Harvest calendar that you can download and lots of discussions on their forums and pictures etc. that might be of interest to those in a similarly challenging environment. There are books about desert gardening such as those by Mary Irish and Scott Calhoun that you might want to check out, if available to you.

  • DrJohnandBruno

    One thing to try is to amend the soil. Increase the soils ability to retain water by using compost and biochar. Then put a heavy mulch, even newspapers will work.

  • I love the idea of wick watering.. it waters only when necessary and if it’s stored right, it will use significantly less water. There’s a bunch of ideas on how to do this right.. but I’ve read that you can take perhaps a 3-5 inch diameter soaker hose and fill that with water and put that in the bottom of your raised bed. The water will slowly soak into the ground around it and the soil will wick it up to the plant roots. The trick with this is you don’t want the soaker hose to be too shallow as the soil at it’s immediate depth tends to be more water saturated.

  • Churchill Mallison

    Check out edible cactus. We have 8 months of drought, and cactus is a valuable edible.

  • This really helped… thank you very much! I will have to apply the same technique in my indoor garden.

  • dee

    How about using something like a plastic container to help catch the water.. I don’t know how much you could gather but the idea is to bury a container.. (like a tupperware bowl) sealed, the water is then formed from the trapped air. It might not be much but it could help. Or maybe the idea could be tweaked using plastic, or plastic pipes.
    Do be careful with plants like lambs-quarter.. you have to drain the water off a few times before eating or it can be poisonous.
    Good luck and keep us posted with your progress.

  • Faith

    Oh, and I don’t know why I didn’t notice this before…

    Why have you chosen raised beds? Usually those are for wetter climates where the soil has a hard time draining off. I have done raised beds in a Mediterranean climate and they did well ~ BUT ~ I watered them ferociously.

    Not having other info, what I would do is have level beds, and keep them covered in straw all year long. Just keep adding to it. It smothers the weeds, protects the soil from drying, and adds wonderful organic matter to the soil, year after year.


  • Wow Faith. You really got me thinking.
    I hear what you are saying and must confess I will stay with our raised food beds as what we are offering is there service of building them and integrating the watering system into roof catchment. A rain garden, if you will. There are photos of my rain garden here;

  • I would also like to add that we had a spectacular harvest of white potatoes this year, our first attempt. In So. California we have the Mediterranean environment, and it seems to make a big difference which plants like to be ” dry farmed “, like onions and rosemary, meaning they get enough water from the soil itself that they do not care to be soaked.
    We watered the potatoes about once a week.

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