Jane's Delicious Garden Blog


Water-wise Vegetable Gardening

Posted in Garden Diary by Jane Griffiths on the October 25th, 2019

It is very disheartening seeing our lovingly tended food plants die because of heat and lack of water. However, we can prevent this by following a few simple techniques and methods.


Create healthy soil

Water does more than provide liquid for our plants to drink. It breaks organic matter in the soil into soluble nutrients. Water carries these through the soil, to the roots and into the plant where they are put to use. Healthy soil will allow water to soak into it (rather than run off immediately), holding onto some but allowing the excess to drain away. This leaves both moisture and air in the soil pores. No-dig gardening and increasing the amount of organic matter and humus in the soil, will improve its water retention ability.

· When preparing beds for the first time, remove the topsoil and dig a 30cm deep trench.
· Add a thick layer of well-rotted manure and compost. Fill in the trench, adding the topsoil last.
· After this, never dig the soil again. Digging up and turning over the earth is more harmful than beneficial to the soil. Digging upsets the balance in soil life, destroys beneficial organisms and loses moisture and nutrients.
· Maintain fertility by adding compost and well rotted manure regularly to the surface of the bed.
· To avoid the soil compacting, never stand on the soil. Create small beds with pathways around them and edging to keep the enriched soil inside.

Mulch, mulch and more mulch

Mulching (adding leaves, compost or other organic matter to the surface of the soil) is one of the simplest yet most beneficial things we can do in our gardens. A mulched surface creates a forest floor environment that plants love. It reduces weeds and spread of disease, strengthens roots, improves the quality and fertility of the soil and most importantly retains moisture and regulates temperature.

· Preferably use organic mulches such as compost, straw, leaf mould, grass clippings, autumn leaves and clippings from shrubs – especially artemisia, sage and lavender, which constantly need trimming. Artemisia has the added benefit of repelling bugs, which hate its smell.
· Apply when seedlings are about 3 to 5 cm high. Depending on the material, mulch can be anything from 5 to 15 cm thick.
· If using fresh grass clippings, mix them with leaves first, otherwise they become dense and slimy, preventing water and air from reaching the soil.
· Leave a mulch-free circle of about 3 to 5 cm around stems to prevent rot. For larger plants with woody stems, leave a mulch-free zone of about 10 to 15 cm to prevent the bark decaying.
· Always weed and water the beds well before applying mulch.

Waterwise planting

· By practicing no-dig gardening and using smaller beds, we can space plants close together, so when they grow to full size, their leaves just touch one another. This creates a living umbrella which shades the soil, keeping it moist and requiring less watering.
· Plan ahead by sowing seeds under plants that will shortly be harvested and removed. Their leaves will provide protection and help retain moisture for germinating seedlings.
· Group plants with similar watering requirements together.
· On a slope, create terraces along contours to retain water.
· Plant cover crops such as mustard, clover and buckwheat to improve soil and avoid leaving it exposed.

Choose drought tolerant plants

You will be inviting disappointment if you sow lettuces or coriander during the hottest summer months. Rather choose plants that enjoy the heat and don’t go to seed quickly. Examples are: sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, tomatoes, beans, eggplants, rocket (which becomes spicier in hot weather), spring onions, chives, chilies and Mediterranean herbs such as oregano, sage, thyme and rosemary.

Go undercover


Erecting a shade cloth covering or roof will reduce the effects of the sweltering sun. Keep the sides open to allow air to flow through. In hail prone areas, make the roof pitched – if flat, the stones will quickly collect and their weight will break the supports or tear the shade cloth.

Be water savvy

Even when using these methods, if there is no rain, we need to water. Drip irrigation is the most effective way to deliver water directly to the roots, without any wastage or loss from evaporation. Drip irrigation can be connected to a timer to ensure regular watering.
· If plants are drooping during a hot day, don’t worry, they are just closing stomata (minute openings in their leaves used for respiration) to retain water. If they are still drooping when it has cooled, it is time to water.
· Rather water deeply and less often than shallowly, often.
· During hot weather water either early in the morning or after the sun has set to reduce loss of water through evaporation.
· Overhead watering – especially during summer – can increase the chances of spreading disease such as mildew. However, there are times when plants benefit from increased moisture in the air from overhead watering. During hot, dry weather, increased humidity will encourage vegetables such as chillies, beans and tomatoes to flower.

TIP

Home made drip irrigation hose
You can make your own drip irrigation by piercing holes in an old garden hose using a punch or a heated needle. Attach one end to the tap and place a stopper on the other.

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