Watering the Garden

Tips and advice for watering the garden, including proper soil moisture levels, information on soil and water, when to water, how often and how much, watering tools, water-saving tricks and strategies for water conservation.

| July/August 1985

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    Diagram: Water-saving tricks for plants.
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    Diagram: A homemade rain gauge.
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    Watering a vegetable plot is much easier today than it was for our forebears. Most of us—with the twist of a spigot—can turn a garden hose into an umbilical cord linking us to vast (yet not inexhaustible) underground rivers.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF (Better Bush Tomatoes Courtesy of Geo W. Park Seed Co.)

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This guideline for watering the garden stresses the importance of proper water levels and provides information on soil and water. (See the water diagrams in the image gallery.)

"Be sure to realize you are watering the soil, not the plant."
—John Jeavons

At this very moment, somewhere on our vast planet, it's raining. But at MOTHER's EcoVillage garden, we're in the middle of a typical summer dry spell . . . so I've been busy soaking the bases of our tomato plants with a watering wand. I feel that I'm doing my part to carry on a long and valuable tradition, because we humans have always intervened on behalf of our cultivated crops by watering the garden.

And throughout history, that aid has often involved drastic efforts—such as performing rain dances to the heavens, creating miles of hand-dug ditches, or hauling buckets of water great distances. Fortunately, watering a vegetable plot is much easier today than it was for our forebears. Most of us—with the twist of a spigot—can turn a garden hose into an umbilical cord linking us to vast (yet not inexhaustible) underground rivers. And since many of us don't need to worry about the availability of water, being blessed with adequate supplies, we can often afford, instead, to fret about when to water . . . how much moisture to put down . . . what implements and techniques are most appropriate to use . . . and how to conserve as much water as possible while still nurturing the crops.

These are the concerns we'll address in this article. But first, let's review some fundamentals about watering the garden.

Watering the Garden: Soil and Water

Water provides more than just liquid to a plant; it's also the medium that enables nutrients and minerals to enter the roots. (Roots don't digest dirt—they're not "woody earthworms"—but instead obtain their nutrients only in solution.) What's more, through the process of photosynthesis, some of water's hydrogen is split off to become a constituent of the carbohydrate compounds that make up most of the body tissue of growing plants.

2/11/2008 1:33:51 PM

I've got a 110 gallon tandem do-it-yourself system from www.rainreserve.com for a reasonable price. I too found used food grade barrels and installed mine using the installation instructions in the kit in just 30 minutes. Their "eco-friendly" (i.e. parts made from recycled plastic) closed system eliminates mosquitoes without using chemicals and come winter, I just disconnected the barrel and the entire downspout is intact maintaining the integrity of my homes water management system. These guys have thought of it all. The other cool thing is that the proceeds go to support a great organization!

2/10/2008 9:32:59 AM

I made my rain barrel from a kit I purchased at www.Aquabarrel.com. The design is very well thought out and the finished product really works. I would not use a plastic trash can b/c they may contain chemicals that leach into the stored water (anti-bacterial lining?). I found a used food grade barrel on Craigslist for $20. I didn't have to get guppies b/c the the design from www.aquabarrel.com is a fairly well closed system - besides my cats would probably figure out how to scarf them down once we brought them inside ;-) On the topic of running 4" landscape pipe to the bushes. I got tired of looking at all the ugly black pipe snaking around the house - plus I had erosion at the end of the tube. Once again I found the solution to the problem at www.aquabarrel.com - It's called the DrainBox. Pretty clever idea for a way to terminate buried 4" landscape pipe and minimize the erosion at the end of the pipe.

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