Maintaining healthy crops in a drought

The green acres of land at the Jones Family Farms in Shelton do not stay alive and healthy by themselves. The farming staff and summer team incorporate hard work and different methods for the crops to survive during the dry season.

Shelton resident and manager at the Jones Family Farm Tom Harbinson emphasized three major factors in assuring healthy crops during droughts: irrigation, weeding and materials around the plant.

He attributed the crops viability during the dry season to the irrigation methods the farm invested in, keeping the strawberries, blueberries and patches of pumpkins alive for harvest season. The rows of irrigation pipes include elevated sprinklers, ground level sprinklers and drip irrigation which goes to the roots.

Harbinson explained the differences between watering acres of commercial land and backyard gardens primarily in the irrigation method. For gardens, Harbinson encourages people not to use sprinkler systems that can water unwanted areas. Watering the ground around the plant can result in weeds.

“If you are watering an entire square garden area you're watering not only the plants but you're watering also all the weeds,” said Harbinson. “So a lot of our crop has drip irrigation and that way the irrigation is embedded in the ground so the water is being directed directly to the plant roots."

Hand watering plants is also a recommended method to assure healthy growing of plants.

Harbinson pointed out that it is important to prioritize where the irrigation water is going. The acres of Christmas trees at Jones Family Farms have to be hand watered during the dry times to be kept healthy while the other plants require water from the irrigation system.

In “Gardening Under Drought Conditions” by  Ann B. Herriott, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland County, it is recommended that the plants with the most value should be attended first to conserve water, annual plants should then have a lower priority. The article also mentioned watering in the morning due to evaporation later in the day.

Harbinson said weeding is also essential when trying to maintain a residential garden or acres of farm land.

“Weeding is important to keep out the other plants that are competing for that water,” said Harbinson.

Placing mulch around the plants can help the crops to grow, according to Harbinson.

"Good compost, leaf matter, wood chips, anything around the plants that helps keep retain the moisture and suppress the weeds,” Harbinson said.

The strawberry fields themselves had hay lining the sides of the crops along the irrigation pipes.

"A neat and tidy garden with good mulch and good watering and good weeding is going to be a healthy garden,” Harbinson said.

For more information on the Jones Family Farms and its hours of operation call their Farmer Jones Crop Line at 203-929-8425 or visit their website at Blueberry season has begun and will continue at the Valley Farm from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.