As mentioned multiple times now, this year I’m really zoning in on water conservation – both inside and outside of the house.
One of my significant water-suckers last summer was my vegetable garden. While I certainly wasn’t a crazy hose-wielding maniac like my neighbour across the street (who seems to love watering his grass, washing down his multiple vehicles, and even pressure washing his driveway during summers droughts), I still needed to give my plants a decent amount to drink so as not to stunt their growth.
This year I decided to impliment some additional water-conserving strategies to help reduce the amount of tap water needed to keep my crops in good shape.
Mulch – I decided to lay down straw on my vegetable bed this year to help reduce water-loss via evaporation. You do need to be a little careful when using a carbon-rich mulch like straw (wood chips etc) however since it can lead to loss of nitrogen from the soil (microbes breaking down the straw take up the N to help maintain C:N balance).
I decided to use slow release fertilizer sticks to help ensure the plants have a constant supply of N (and P). In future years I would love to use strictly organic methods, but unfortunately my soil is just not rich enough yet. If you ARE going to use inorganic fertilizer I highly recommend taking the slow-release route.
Targeted Watering – Using a watering can, and pouring water under each plant (vs general watering of beds) can save a lot of water. To further prevent excess run-off, I like to water 2 or 3 plants at a time. I’ll start with the first, counting off 3-5 seconds as I pour, then move to the next and so on. This allows the water to percolate down, making it much more likely that it will reach the roots where it is needed.
Depending on how serious you are (about water conservation, and about your veggie garden in general), you may even want to set up some sort of slow-release system, either in the form of a drip-line, or slow release reservoirs.
As mentioned not too long ago, the latest Mother Earth News has some great info on the subject. In the article “Wise Watering”, one method the author suggests is creating slow-release water bottles by punching small holes in the bottom, placing them near your plants then filling them up with water. I think this is a great idea.
Here’s a related idea that popped into my head recently: if you happen to have 2 litre pop bottles, why not make a series of punctures or slits then bury in the ground with only the lid showing (could easily be hidden from view with mulch). To water, simply open the lid and pour water down into the bottle.
Rain Barrels – I highly recommend using at least one rain barrel to capture run-off from your roof during summer showers. I’ve been absolutely loving my rain barrel this year, and actually really want to create a multi-barrel system. One of my dreams in the past has been to create a huge underground cistern for rainwater, but I think I’ll need to wait until I get a country property before it makes sense to do that.
Sadly, I just used up the last of my rain barrel water the other day. Things have been utterly desert-like as of late! Speaking of which, if you do only have one barrel I would recommend trying to use as much of it as possible between rainfalls. I’m always frustrated when I’ve been extra-conservative with the barrel water, only to see it overflowing after a couple minutes the next time it rains. You could also simply move the water to other containers so as to ensure that you will always collect a full barrel each rainfall.
Indoor Water Capture – Assuming you don’t already have a greywater system in your home, why not capture excess water from rinsing dishes, washing fruit/vegetables, showers etc etc. (I’ll be talking a lot more about this in our first newsletter). It’s amazing how quickly this adds up. Of course, I’d recommend you keep the soapy water in it’s own container since it’s probably not the greatest water for your edibles – you can however use this for your shrubs and other ornamentals.
Timing – Another way to help reduce the amount of evaporation is to water your plants either earlier or later in the day, when the sun is lower and temperatures are cooler. Early morning is your best bet since this provides your plants with a nice dose of water for their most active hours, and also reduces the chances of diseases developing (watering at dusk is not as ideal for this reason). I’m far from perfect myself, so my timing is not always the best. Now that the weather is really heating up however, I think I’ll be working a little harder to ensure I time my waterings a little better.
So there you have it – just a handful of ways you can save a considerable amount of water this summer, while maintaining lush, healthy gardens.