Friday, June 4, 2010

No Rain, No Pain





You’ve probably heard that every week a vegetable garden requires 1 inch of water per square foot. What you have probably not heard -- I only calculated this recently, after getting no rain for 10 days, per my rain gauge in the photo -- is that this translates into 0.62 gallons of water per square foot. The next calculation (I should stay away from math!) startled me. My 146 square feet of raised vegetable beds require 90 gallons of water per week, which is the capacity of 1.5 of my rain barrels.

I lead a busy life, and don’t have the patience to water for a long time. When I need to water (where are those rains now?), I’ll usually irrigate each bed with a hose, just long enough to ensure that the surface looks pretty wet. It would be better, however, to water deeply once a week than water shallowly several times per week. Deep watering promotes roots that go deep into the soil in search of water and nutrients, therefore stronger and more nutritious plants.

So I asked myself, what would it take to give my garden a deep and satisfying 90 gallon drink?

I chose to use a 2-gallon watering can instead of the hose, and calculated how many cans each bed requires. 45 times I emptied the can, rotating among my several beds so that water could seep down before I returned.

It took me two hours.

Surprisingly, it was a delightful experience, not a chore! Standing over each square foot and mindfully LOOKING at it while I watered allowed me to experience each plant in a new way. The second and third times I returned to the same bed I was able to notice weeds that had escaped me earlier. I did some thinning of seedlings while watering. I checked for egg masses on the underside of leaves, and for signs of disease on leaves and stems. I pruned tomato suckers, and properly trellised new tomato growth. I had time to think about re-planting seeds that hadn’t germinated and of interplanting different kinds of seeds.

On the next day, all plants had a renewed vitality and vigor. I could actually feel it!

Next step? As enjoyable as this experience was, I don’t intend to repeat it many times. I plan to install a drip irrigation system, which will enable a gentler deep watering than I performed with the watering can. I will also continue to take the time to bond with my plants and get to know them... but without having to worry about lugging watering cans and dealing with hoses!

3 comments:

  1. hmmm, lots of interesting things to think about in this post! I did not realize how much water that amounts to.

    My system works pretty well. The rainbarrel seems to carry just enough between rains to water my small veggie garden. I've got 2 watering cans, one fills, while I'm watering with the other. While watering, one arm dumps the water out, while the other hand is doing some spot weeding. It takes a while, but is pretty good regular maintenance.

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  2. That means my garden takes 186 gallons of water! Wow! I enjoyed reading this. Thank you so much for the info! Are you using the square foot gardening method? I am using it in one section of my garden to try it out for the first time.

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  3. Thanks, Wendy, for your kind words and for the suggestion to use TWO watering cans. Brilliant!

    Diva Gardener, I'd love to see your huge garden! Last year, which was my first year growing veggies, I used the Square Foot method (including soilless mix) straight out of Mel's book. This year in my new beds I'm using regular soil, loads of compost, and some peat moss (NOT 1/3 of the bed's volume).

    I really like the SFG method with two caveats: 1) it requires great attention to plants becoming crowded, especially squash; 2) the gardener needs to be very mindful of placing tall plants in the northern end of each raised bed, or they'll shade out the rest. Last year I had little idea of how tall each kind of plant would get, and other crops ended up shading all my carrot seeds which never germinated.

    Finally, I don't think the SFG book suggests mulching the beds with straw, but I'm doing so this year. I find straw helpful to conserve moisture in the soil and to prevent weeds, a bigger problem when you're using real soil instead of "Mel's Mix."

    I hope this helps!

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