Field Testing a Water Conservation Method
By: Pauline Vanderwerf
Last spring, someone gave me a great gardening book, “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” by Edward C. Smith. It has changed my garden! He claims that you should only have to water your garden if you don’t receive at least 2.5cm of rainfall in a week. I live in south western Ontario where summers can be incredibly dry. In the past I have had to water every other day, sometimes every day for some of the thirstier plants. I have two 12 feet by 16 feet vegetable plots and I have eight medium sized rain barrels to water with. Not only is it a lot of hauling my watering can every other day, the barrels empty fast.
So, last spring, I followed his instructions and gave it a whirl. The results were so mind blowing, I have to share this! Most times I did have to at least water once a week, sometimes twice, but no more than that. I rarely ran out of water from the rain barrels. And honestly, with a little bit of extra work to prepare the garden, it makes a world of difference.
To prep the garden, you need to take a pitchfork and loosen the soil. Don’t turn the soil, just insert the pitchfork as far down as you can and jiggle it to loosen the soil deep down. Move back about a half a foot and repeat. This takes a while, but what you are doing is creating a reservoir for the water to go to, as well as encouraging the roots to grow deep down to where that water is. The deeper the roots, the less susceptible they are to the heat of the sun. So the idea is to provide a place for the water to go and the roots to grow into without disturbing the beneficial insects and micro-organisms that contribute to healthy soil.
Once you have things planted, mulch well around the plants to further reduce evaporation. As well, this keeps the need for weeding down to practically nil. My kind of garden! He recommends Organic mulches such as straw, hay, wood chips or grass clippings. I used straw on one plot and wood chips on the other. I skimped a little on the mulch, and I think if I hadn’t, it would have meant even less watering. Another great tip he gave was to line in between the rows with cardboard or newspaper to further reduce evaporation. I didn’t do that last year, but this year I think I will. In the past, when I watered my garden every other day, I realize now that I was encouraging my plants to produce most of their roots close to the surface. Then when a heat wave hit, those roots were damaged.
Last year my harvest was the best it has ever been! We did have a wetter than usual summer and I’m sure that made a difference, but even in the couple long stretches that we had of high temps and no rain, it didn’t phase the garden at all! I truly believe that the combination of deeper roots and lots of mulch did the trick. There are lots of other great tips and guides in this book, and I would recommend it highly. Happy Gardening!
Loosing the soil as described above under the Soil Preparation heading. Photo by: Pauline Vanderwerf
Straw mulch around tomato plants mid-July 2017. Photo by: Pauline Vanderwerf
Straw mulch used in whole garden. Photo by: Pauline Vanderwerf
Straw should be thick enough to completely prevent the sun from drying out the soil. Photo by: Pauline Vanderwerf
Straw Mulch at the Rodale Farm Garden. By Final4one (CC BY-SA 3.0)