Neighbours talking over the garden gate has long been a tradition. They share gardening tips, complain about the weather and pests yet are ever eager to discuss their gardens. That is what I had in mind when creating this blog. So stop by my garden gate to find out the latest happenings in my garden.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome
"All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child." ~ Madame Marie Curie"

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Thoughts on Watering

Watering is a concern that comes up every year. Everywhere I stopped for plants this week the common complaint was lack of snowfall that translates into it is already too dry. I'm already preparing to deal with another hot dry summer. Last summer was so hot and dry that watering was almost a daily chore. The problem was we are under a watering restriction so can only water every other day. This seems rather funny since we live on the water and could easily cart water from there but unless we are desperate we don't. I physically can't cart the water myself anyway. One solution my neighbours have come up with is to pump water from where it is to the gardens. This is a round about way of getting around the water restrictions because they aren't using municipal treated water. I decided to do it a little bit different.

A rain barrel is the perfect solution and if done correctly eliminates the need for using any treated water on your gardens. I've found using two rain barrels and rotating them to be fairly effective. We added a hose attachment near the bottom so the barrels work passively. The threat of West Nile Virus is a concern and standing water attracts mosquitoes so we control the mosquitoes naturally in the barrels. Rosy red minnows or feeder gold fish are an inexpensive solution to the mosquito larva and they add nutrients to the water so it becomes a cycle. Instead of screening, add floating plants to the barrels. They will help keep the water clean and allow fresh rain water in creating a nice little ecosystem. Your garden will reward you with increased yields!

Watering restrictions are a pain yet watering naturally can be rather pleasant. Yet no type of watering system is going to be effective if you don't water properly.

First take a good look at your soil. The soil mixture should contain enough organic matter to hold water longer. If not, seriously look at ammending your soil. This is so important when growing in raised beds or containers! The soil must be light and fluffy for both raised beds and containers, in my experience. That means you may need to add one of more of the following: peat moss, compost, humus, wood ash and in some cases vermicullite or perlite. There is a relative new product out called a water gel. I've seen it under a couple of brand names. It's been available for years but only recently in bulk for larger gardens. This gel absorbs water then slowly releases it back to the soil. The nice thing about this gel is it is non-toxic and regenerates when watered however, it is expensive. The main problem I see with the gel is it gives nothing to the soil as far as nutrients so why use that when you can add something that will add nutrients. Once the water is on your gardens, you want to keep it there to some degree. You want a nice balance of enough water yet well drained soil. This is where mulch comes in.

Mulch helps keep the soil moisture while still allowing drainage. In general you will have to find the mulch that is right for your garden. Pine needles raise the acidity so using them as a mulch on plants that don't grow well in these conditions is not a good idea. Black plastic will work but will also raise the temperature of your bedsl. While this may be desirable in the spring, it will work against you during the summer months. Newspaper will work too just be careful not to use glossy paper. I tried straw and found it to be somewhat helpful but messy especially for planting. Personally, I don't use any mulch that will not give something back to the soil in terms of nutrition. The best solution I have found is a 1 - 2" layer of chopped of leaves replenished as needed. My husband uses a leaf vacuum in the fall that chops the leaves up into small bits. We store these in garbage bags over the winter allowing decomposition to begin. Then I add them to the raised beds as needed. The leaves add organic matter and bulk to the soil. I figure since nature put them there, I might as well use them.

When watering, use a soaker hose and water at the base of the plants. Don't waste water using a sprinkler. The water is wasted and the plant leaves get too wet opening up problems for fungus especially if you water too late in the day. Improper watering will just add more problems.

Extended periods away from your garden can really be a watering nightmare. An automated watering system or a very good neighbour can help with this situation. I prefer my neighbours because they garden themselves so will be on the lookout for any other problems. However, the wick method of watering works well for containers and lessens the imposition on the neighbours. The greenhouse watering would really be an imposition so when I know we will be away more than 24 hours, all the plants in the greenhouse are moved into the house where one of my kids keeps them watered.


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