Your Small Kitchen Garden blog recently received a question about watering. The question was fairly general, and I ended up writing a detailed answer that would make a good post. So, here it is:
Rain in a Small Kitchen Garden
In early spring, young spinach sprouts pop out in the bottom of a furrow in my small kitchen garden. I deliberately plant in furrows and basins so water will collect around the plants and soak in there.
Ideally, it will rain on your garden, and that will reduce your need to water. Sadly, it may rain too much on your garden as it did for most of us in the northeastern United States in the summer of 2009. Once you’ve planted your garden, there’s little you can do when it rains too much; roots may drown where water collects and foliage may rot. Molds such as late blight thrive in wet growing seasons.
So, plan your garden with torrential rain in mind: don’t place beds in low spots. Better still, build raised beds that assure roots won’t steep in standing water should it rain heavily one year.
Optimize Water Use
Your plants will appreciate good drainage. As a favor to the environment (and to your finances if you use tap water in the garden), optimize the garden’s use of whatever water it gets. Assuming the garden bed drains well even in torrential rain, set your rows deeper than the surrounding soil. This means your plants will grow in the bottoms of troughs. For an individual plant such as a tomato, eggplant, squash, or pepper, create a small depression—a basin—with the plant in the middle of it. These low areas will collect rain or hose water and give it time to soak in around the plants’ roots.
How much Water is Enough?
As for knowing when you’ve watered enough? I wrote an earlier post on the topic titled Watering Your Small Kitchen Garden. My approach isn’t rigid; I simply try to keep the plants alive with the least amount of watering they’ll accept happily. I note the weather and I watch the soil and the plants. If there has been no rain in several days and the soil looks dry… or worse, leaves are starting to droop… I water heavily. If there is a sustained dry spell—several weeks or more with little or no rain—I change my watering strategy: I water lightly every morning. The idea is to provide just enough water on top so that any moisture that is already below the surface stays there.
Whenever I water, I target the soil line of my plants. If it’s a tight row of greens, carrots, peas, and such, I distribute water evenly along the row. If I’m watering individual plants such as tomatoes, squash, and peppers, I make sure the water lands where a plant emerges from the soil. There may be a relative desert between my tomato plants, but the soil extending a foot from the stem of a plant receives several light waterings a week during a dry spell.
Spot Water Your Small Kitchen Garden
It’s important to note: when I water, nearly every drop ends up in the depressions in which the plants grow. For heavy watering, I try to fill the trench that defines a row, or the basin holding an individual plant. After that soaks in, I fill the trench or basin again. For light watering, I may not fill the trenches and basins, but I direct the water into them.
Finally, I can’t emphasize enough the advantages of mulching close to your plants, and mulching heavily. Having a lawn, I believe, is a horrible affront to Planet Earth. However, as long as I have a lawn I’ll use grass clippings to mulch my small kitchen garden. Lawn clippings, fallen leaves, newspapers, cardboard, black plastic, pine needles, pine bark… come up with something that’s easy enough to manage that you’ll actually manage it. Mulch lets water through to the soil and significantly reduces the amount that evaporates on dry days.
I shot this sequence of photos one day when I was watering some newly-planted tomatoes. The photo on the left shows a tomato plant in its own basin freshly filled with water. Subsequent photos show the basin over the next 40 seconds as the water soaks in around the plant.
Further thoughts about watering and responsible ways to conserve water:
Tips For Watering Tomatoes Deep For Awesome Results : Veggie Gardener – Properly watering tomatoes is arguably one of the most important steps for growing plump, juicy tomatoes in the vegetable garden. Watering too much or not enough can destroy or limit tomato plant production and can contribute to …
How to Raise Organic Vegetables : How to Water Your Garden … – How often should you water your garden, and should you water it by hand or use an irrigation system? Find out in this free.
Become a green gardener « Buck BIG – Besides water, your garden needs nourishment. But many gardens get a diet of fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers that are heavy on chemicals, which can also enter the water system. Consider using organic or natural products instead …
Video: Cedar Rapids group issues a “Million Gallon Challenge” to … – The 65 gallons of water sitting in a rainbarrel is a lot, when you’re a homeowner looking to water your garden. It is a drop in the bucket when you look at the watersheds, communities and individuals across the state that could rise to …
How to Water Your Garden in the Right Way – How to Water Your Garden in the Right Way Water Your Garden. ALWAYS WATER: 1. Container-grown stock before planting out. 2. The bottoms of seed drills before sowing in dry weather, using a can with fine rose. …