Friday, July 18, 2008

Wise Water Usage in the Garden

Here are some tips on how to conserve water while still growing great vegetables and flowers.

When you lay out your planting beds, use the row and trench method: plant seeds in mounded up rows and water in the trenches. This allows water to collect and sink into the soil, rather than running off. Build soil dams at the end of the trenches to prevent water from flowing out the ends. You can also plant in little hills surrounded by a moat. The moat allows water to sink slowly into the soil. If you don’t have a problem with damping off (when seedlings fall over due to rot just above the soil line), you could even try planting in shallow depressions. This again keeps the water near the plant where it will soak in.

I can’t say enough about mulch. Not only does it slow the evaporation of moisture from the soil, it keeps down weeds and prevents dirt from splashing up onto your vegetables. When you plant seeds, sprinkle a thin layer of fresh grass clippings, barely covering the ground, to help even out germination. Once your seedlings are up, or after transplanting, mulch with about an inch of grass clippings. Be sure your clippings come from a lawn where no herbicides, pesticides, or weed-n-feed type fertilizers are used. When your plants are larger, begin mulching with two to three inches of brown leaves if you saved any from last fall. Otherwise, mulch with two or three inches of chopped garden debris or purchase bagged mulch from a garden center.

Mulch also evens out the wet and dry cycles between watering. This helps vegetables develop more evenly, and can prevent fruit from splitting if it gets too much water at once.

Try to water in the morning before 10am. This allows leaves to dry off quickly, preventing mildew. Later in the heat of the day, more water will be lost from evaporation. Try not to water in the evening: that leaves soil and foliage damp for hours, encouraging mold and attracting slugs.

Water slowly and deeply. If you try to put too much water on the ground all at once, much of it will run off. Any water that does soak in will likely stay in the top few inches of soil, causing roots to grow near the surface where they will quickly dry out. Watering slowly soaks the soil more deeply. This encourages roots to grow downward, where they will be less susceptible to drying out.

Be smart about how you apply water to your garden. Don’t water the leaves, water the roots. Spray nozzles are great for washing your car, but are not so great for watering your garden. You end up shooting high pressure holes in the soil, or much of the water simply blows away in a fine mist. The rest of the water ends up on the leaves where it either evaporates or causes mildew. If you use a small sprinkler, don’t leave it unattended. We have all forgotten to turn them off, flooding the garden and wasting water! Water wands (those 2 foot metal watering attachments with what looks like a shower head at the end) or sprinkler cans are the best tools to gently apply a lot of water right where you want it.

The flavor of most fruit and tubers actually improves if you stop watering about two weeks before harvest. Too much water near harvest time may cause tomatoes to split, or potatoes to rot. Allow onions and garlic to dry out before harvesting.

Following these simple tips, you can conserve water and improve the production of your garden at the same time!

Copyright © 2005 Brian Ballard. All rights reserved.

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