Friday, July 28, 2006

Efficient Garden Watering During Drought Conditions

By Christina VanGinkel

This summer, as the heat drones on, your garden is most likely either swimming under the constant threat of rain or so dry that you wonder how even a weed could be growing. While watering can be substituted for lack of rain, those of us with large gardens and wells might be a bit hesitant to water to the degree that our gardens need to thrive. Other areas might be under water restrictions, due to drought conditions. Either of these scenarios means that our gardens are not getting the much-needed water they require to thrive and grow. There are steps you can take though, to get your garden much of the needed water it requires so that you can still reap the rewards of picking your own vegetables and not just staring at dried up, or non-existent bounty.

Water Smart

Do not use a typical garden hose to spray the garden randomly. Invest in a hose that allows water to seep out, and run the hose right where the water is most needed. This means that no water is wasted watering ground that can stand to be a bit drier, and keeps the valuable moisture in the ground surrounding the plants themselves. A quick search online for this type of hose brought up the term Soaker Hose, and I even learned that you can buy them with splitters and shut off valves, allowing you to run them where you need them, leaving them in place during times such as extreme drought. While this could be costly for someone with a large garden, a smaller garden could be covered quite efficiently, and these hoses should last for many years if taken care of. Once in place, they can also be covered with some light mulch to work even better at keeping the moisture where it is most needed and to help keep it from evaporating so quickly when the temperatures are soaring off the thermometers.

Do Not Over Water

It might seem like the more water the better, but drowning your plants during extremely dry conditions can occur. Check your soil before watering. Do not just assume it is dry. If you have planted well and used mulch where it is called for, it might take longer between needed watering than what you might think. My mother use to actually have a few 'test' plants throughout her garden during summers when it was very dry such as this summer is heating up to be in many locales. She would actually dig down into the dirt around these test plants to see how far down moisture was holding up. I was surprised the first time she showed me how this worked, and how the ground could look saturated on top sometimes, and be dry just a few inches down, but in spots where she had mulch, the ground might not look overly damp, but this level of moisture was distributed well down towards the root structure of the plant. Every beginning gardener should have this demonstration played out for him or her, because it sure drove home to me how moisture can be a fickle thing when it comes to the naked eye.

Avoid Using Waste Water

While reusing bath water and wash water on your garden might sound like a good way to conserve and stretch your resources, this is not usually a good approach to take. Some communities actually have restrictions against doing such. Chemicals in wastewater can be unhealthy for both the ground and the vegetables growing there.

Alternative Watering Methods

If you have a creek or pond nearby, utilize them to water and irrigate your crops. Carrying water by the bucket might seem like a lot of work, but can be well worth the rewards. Get the kids involved, or make use of a garden wagon to make hauling jugs more efficient. If you have access to a pump, pump the water directly from the source. Even small amounts of water should not be wasted during drought. Our family buys bottled water. When I caught myself emptying several partially empty single serving bottles down the drain, I stopped. I now pour such bottles into a gallon jug kept by the sink for just this purpose. When the jug is full, I use it to give a drink to any plants that look like they could use a little extra between my typical garden watering.