Even home gardeners are feeling the pinch, and in the agriculture industry, there are ongoing discussions as to whether certain crops (such as rice, almonds, and citrus) are sustainable food sources for the future, due to the amount of water they need to thrive.
It is likely that our future food supply will consist of fewer of these “water hogs,” and more drought-tolerant crops. The following crops require minimal water input to thrive and produce food. Whether you’re a home gardener or large-scale farmer, it may be time to consider replacing some of your water-hungry crops with these varieties instead:
Fig trees need to be planted in a spot that has seven to eight hours of full sun. This plant also needs well-draining soil, with a pH anywhere from 6.0 to 6.5. Sandy soil is preferred over loamy or clay solutions.
Plant your trees in late fall to early spring. In addition to full sunlight, fig trees appreciate a lot of room. If you’re planting more than one tree, make sure they have 15 to 20 feet between them. We suggest providing your figs with somewhere between 1 and 1½ inches of water per week—either from rainfall or irrigation. You will know if it needs to be watered if its foliage starts to turn yellow or its leaves drop off.
Improve a new tree’s chance of survival by planting it so that its roots are two to four inches deeper than they were in the tree’s nursery container. Fig trees planted in the ground may take eight to 10 years after planting before they begin fruit production. The common fig, Alma, Brown Turkey or Black Mission are all popular options.
Hardiness zones: 8-11
Once they have grown to establish long, deep root systems, grapevines can sustain prolonged periods of time without water. They should be planted in a spot that has six to eight hours of sun each day. Grapes prefer well-draining, sandy, loamy soil. Avoid planting anywhere near areas that collect water after it rains, as these plants don’t tolerate wet conditions very well.
If there’s no rainfall, saturate the soil at the base of each vine every seven to 10 days. If the leaves are wilting and the fruit is small, hard and dry, your vines need more water. If the leaves of your grapes are yellowing or if the tips of the leaves turn brown, this means you’ve watered it too much.
Read our guide to growing wine grapes for more information on planting and harvesting. On average, it can take two to three years for your crop to start bearing fruit.
Hardiness Zones: 7-10 (but some hardy varieties will thrive down to Zone 5)
As a staple in many southern dishes, it may not come as a surprise that okra can withstand the heat and will fare without copious amounts of water. For varieties that are extra tolerant to dryness, we suggest Hill Country Heirloom Red, Gold Coast or Jing Orange.
Okra grows best when planted in a spot with full sun. Plant it in sandy, well-draining soil that’s high in organic matter. Provide one inch of water per square foot once a week. You can determine how to calculate that in gallons here. To improve the germination process, gently scratch the seeds with sandpaper and soak them in water for up to 24 hours before. You can plant your seeds with nine to 12 inches between them, so that seedling roots don’t get tangled. On average, this vegetable is harvestable within 60 days after planting.
For the best yields, plant okra in the spring two to three weeks after all danger of frost has passed. For a good fall crop, plant at least three months before the first fall frost.
Hardiness Zones: 6-11
Did you know that pole beans produce two to three times as much crop as bush beans would in the same amount of space? They rely on residual water found in the soil. They also prefer a spot with full sun and well-draining soil that has a pH level of 6.0 to 6.5.
For drought-hardy varieties, opt for the Rattlesnake or Preacher Bean. Willow Leaf, Louisiana Purple Pod, Worchester Indian Red, Ruth Bible and Garden of Eden Romano are all great options.
Upon planting, wait until the soil temperature is above 60°F. That could occur as early as April in southern climate zones and as late as June in cooler northern regions.
When it’s time to plant, ensure that there are three inches of space between each seed. This vegetable needs one inch of water for every square foot once a week. And it takes about 65 to 75 days for the plant to mature.
Hardiness Zones: 3-11
Swiss chard is a good leafy green option for those either looking to cut back on their water use or needing to do so. Not only is it drought-tolerant, it’s also cold-hardy. Your chard will prefer to be grown in a spot with full sun and rich, well-draining soil. Its pH level can be anywhere between 6.0 and 8.0.
When planting, ensure that seeds are two inches apart from each other. Its water needs are roughly one to 1½ inches of water each week. If hand watering, be sure not to get the plants wet. Wet foliage promotes disease or fungi, so apply water at the base of the plants, under the leaves instead.
On average, it takes about 50 to 70 days before harvest. The ideal time to plant is from early spring to mid-summer, and optimal soil temperature is 50-85°F. Bright Lights, Lucullus and Fordhook Giant are all great options, although most chard varieties are pretty drought-resistant.
Hardiness zones: 3-10