Reconsidering watering practices in a drought
While we have had some lovely misty rains in the past few weeks, this does not mean that the drought is over. Our total rainfall so far this year is still less than 50% of our average annual rainfall.
The two most water conserving watering methods are hand watering and drip irrigation systems.
First, your soil needs to be well worked as this aerates the soil allowing for good water penetration and it is necessary to use a watering can with a very broad rose a or a rose type attachment for the hose. This type of hose attachment allows the water to fall gently on the garden bed, packing down the soil in the bed less, and the plants are not hit and damaged by a hard water spray. If you choose to point the fan downward, stand as far away from the plants as possible and/or keep the water pressure adjusted to a low point to minimize soil compaction and water damage.
The advantage of hand watering over drip irrigation is that dust, grime, and insects are washed rom plant leaves and it also creates a deliciously moist atmosphere conducive to good plant growth and thriving microbial life. With hand watering, water needs can be tailored for each crop. Every plant receives the specific amount of water it needs which results in better growing conditions and more productive harvests. Freshly seeded beds are watered lightly and more often, established beds are watered more deeply. Some crops are watered daily, others every second or third day, or as the weather dictates.
To determine how much water to give a bed each day, strive for a 3 to 15-second “shiny.” When you first begin to water, a shiny layer of excess water will appear on top of the soil. If you stop watering immediately, the shiny layer will disappear quickly. You should water until the shiny layer remains for 3 to 15 seconds after you have stopped watering. The actual time involved will differ depending on your soil’s texture. The more clayey the texture, the longer the time will be. A newly prepared bed with good texture and structure will probably have enough water when a 3-second shiny is reached. A month-old bed (which has compacted somewhat due to the watering process) may require a 5-to 8-second shiny, and beds 2 to 3 months old may require more than that. Note: It is important to realize that we are watering the soil, so that it may thrive as a living sponge cake. We are not watering the plants. The soil in turn then “waters” the plants. Keeping the soil alive will help retain water and minimize the water consumed.
When you water is also an important aspect. Watering is best when the heat of the day first subsides. This is about 2 hours before sunset during the summer and earlier during the winter. Also, plants do a significant amount of their growing at night, and this ensures they will have plenty of water to do so. If you water early in the morning, much of the water will be lost in evaporation caused by the sun and wind, and the watering will be less effective. By watering in the late afternoon, the water can percolate into the soil for 12 hours or more before the sun and wind reappear in strength. When they do, the bed will have a good reservoir of water from which the plants can draw before their next watering.
(reference: How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons)
Drip-irrigation systems are efficient because the water is delivered drop by drop over a long period of time, and this provides plant roots time to absorb waterborne nutrients gradually and continuously.
Our current watering practices at Wynlen House is a mixture of both hand watering and drip irrigation. We are hand watering beds when they are first planted for about 6 to 8 weeks depending on plant growth. Once plants have grown to where they are covering the bed and little soil can be seen we are using our drip irrigation system.
In this picture we are still hand watering this bed, however we have the drip irrigation system in place for when the plants are larger
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm