If you haven’t already, it is time to get your vegetable garden going. You can plant seeds directly in the ground now that we are not worried about freezes, so you don’t even have to start your seeds indoors. Just get out there in the sunshine and fresh air and get some food plants planted.
Of course, there is the issue of water and how we really do need to be conserving it everywhere we can. Since we are not in an area where we can rely on April showers to bring those May flowers, this means best practices for gardening here include water-saving measures. Fortunately, small changes in how we plan and irrigate our gardens can make a big difference.
Let’s go over some options that will allow us to save water while enjoying the benefits of growing our own food.
1. Replace your lawn.
I know this sounds like it has nothing to do with your vegetable garden, but if you remove or reduce your natural grass lawn, you will save so much water that it will offset your water usage elsewhere on your property.
Water usage studies on community gardens in Denver showed that traditional bluegrass lawns used up to 18 gallons of water per square foot per year, whereas, the community gardens used just 11 gallons. (denverwater.org)
California Farm & Garden found that an edible garden in the same space as a lawn reduced water usage by up to 75%. (cafarmandgarden.com)
2. Choose lower-water food plants.
There are lots of food plants that are drought-resistant and thrive with less irrigation, including black-eyed peas, summer squashes, tomatoes, sunflowers, pole beans, fava beans, eggplants, peppers, mustard greens, Swiss chard, pomegranates, and grapes. Also, most herbs, as well as some legumes and grains, require less water than other choices.
3. Install ollas.
Sometimes it amazes me that we continue to jump on the latest, high-tech trends when our ancestors have been using elegant, effective solutions for centuries. Ollas are a great example of this and show how looking to the past just might help save our future. These low-tech, low-cost irrigation systems are used around the world in dry climates to help gardeners successfully grow bountiful crops in areas where wasting water is not an option.
Ollas are large, porous, non-glazed pots that are buried among your fruit and vegetable plants with their necks above the soil. Once in place, these water-conserving pots are filled with water about once per week. Plant roots grow towards this water source, and water seeps into the soil only as needed, making this an incredibly efficient irrigation system. Delivering the water directly to the roots beneath the surface also helps you avoid runoff, evaporation, soil compaction and weed growth.
4. Install a drip system – or upgrade the one you have.
If you are currently watering your garden by hand, you can save time and water by installing a drip system. This is a far more efficient way to deliver water directly to the roots of your plants. If you already have a drip system, check for leaks, make sure your emitters are working and watering the right spots, and install a smart controller that automatically adjusts your irrigation system according to weather conditions.
Using an automated drip system also allows you to more easily adjust timers to save water by irrigating your garden in the early morning or late evening and allows you to water your plants more when they are young, and then reduce water once they are established. Keep in mind that it is best to water food plants in the morning. This helps fortify them to get through hot days while avoiding the diseases and pests that sometimes come with evening watering.
5. Add mulch.
A layer of mulch around your food plants will help retain soil moisture and keep soil temperatures cooler. It has the added benefit of limiting weed growth and breaking down over time to add nutrients to the soil.
If you pull back on water too much, your plants may wilt, bolt, produce little or no fruit, or die, so be sure to keep an eye on them and adjust the watering schedule accordingly.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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