Some people think a drip system is the water saving way to go. That’s true if you have a farm or a permanent landscape. In a fast moving small veggie garden hand watering is better for several reasons.
Plants are constantly changing as they come and go. Even in a row, some plants grow faster than others, a gopher might grab one, and as they mature are pulled to make room for new ones. Happily, this leaves late maturers for continued table supply. Often new plants added to the row are a different kind of plant as the season progresses. New ones require more water more frequently to get started. Seed beds need wetting daily. Seed beds vary in size and design depending on what’s planted, where you put it, how much you need.
One advantage of a small garden is you don’t have to plant in rows. Biodiversity calls for putting the same kind of plant in different areas so disease or pests don’t go down a row or through a patch, from plant to plant and you quickly lose them all. Succession planting means you don’t plant the entire area at once, but leave room to plant another round to mature later, to keep a steady table supply. Plants at different stages need differing amounts of water. Hand watering is perfect in these situations.
Leaves don’t need water, roots do! Long water wands let you reach in to water at the root of your plant as each needs it. There is no evaporation from overhead watering or water on foliage. Fuzzy plants don’t like wet leaves, they can’t breathe nor regulate their temperatures properly. Nor herbs. If you live by a busy dusty street, then do wash down your plants occasionally to keep their leaf pores open and dissuade Whiteflies.
Keep the flow low! Choose a water wand with low flow, like the ones they use in nurseries that don’t break the plants. Get one that has an easy to use shutoff valve. Check out this new kind in the image. In a lot of nurseries employees are required to shut off the water while moving from one plant to another! Saves water when you go plant to plant, area to area. Low flow lets the water sink in. The general rule of thumb is water deeply, 1″, once a week. Check that by sticking your finger in the ground. If the soil is dry 1″ down, it’s time to water or water more.
Plants need different amounts of water. Lettuce and short rooted plants like some varieties of strawberries, green beans, onion, need water about every three days or so unless it is exceptionally hot and/or windy. At super hot times you may need to water once a day, twice a day for seed beds. Lettuce may need water every day to keep fast growth and sweet flavor. Big bodied plants like zucchini, some melons, pumpkins and winter squash need a lot of water to support all that plant. And there are times when plants don’t need any water at all, like when garlic and onions mature. They need to develop their ‘storage skin’ that keeps their innards moist while being stored.
Steady water is critical for beans, a heavy producer with small root, and strawberries. Beans curl and strawberries are misshapen, called cat faced, when watering is irregular. Celery and chard are thirsty plants. They need a lot of compost, soil with water holding capacity. Chard naturally wilts in heat, so check first, poke your finger in the soil, so you don’t literally drown it when it is only doing its midday thing!
- Compost before planting! Compost has serious water holding capacity, saves water.
- Except for tomatoes, make planting basins below the soil level. For drier fungi free surface soil for tomatoes, make mounds with the basin on top of it, the bottom of the basin above neighboring soil levels. As soon as you plant, mulch. Put a stake in the center of the basin and water only there at the roots of your plant. Your plant gets water, the basin berms or sunken basin prevent wind drying the soil like in waffle gardening. A few days after you start watering, check to see the basin is still in good shape, doing its job. Soil naturally settles, so add more to tomato berms if needed. Clear out sunken basins if they have filled in a bit.
- Make berms along pathways especially in sloping areas. Pathways don’t need water. The berms don’t have to be big and the berms don’t need to be wetted.
- Sprinkle transplant roots with mycorrhizae fungi at planting time. Mycorrhizae increase water and nutrient uptake. In Goleta ask for it at Island Seed and Feed.
- Except for super heat lovers, Mulch like religion to keep your soil cooler, moist longer.