by George Bushell
Versus Flat Beds
For efficient water conservation, prepare a soil surface for maximum
water penetration. Planting in a flat surface is preferable to any
combination of the traditional raised mounds, beds or hills.
These rounded/raised structures, once dried out, are very difficult to
wet again. Water runs away from the root zone of the plant and is
wasted. Always create a small ridge of soil around each hill to
hold any applied water so it can slowly soak into the root zone.
When using raised mounds or beds, do likewise, or cover with a layer of
compost or mulch to hold rain and irrigation water (if your soil is
prone to flooding or is in a poorly drained wet area, raised beds/hills
may be necessary).
Mulching and Soil
Managing soil tilth to include additional organic matter and compost
will promote water penetration and retention. For maximum water
conservation, apply compost to the soil surface as a mulch after
transplanting and seeding. This will allow the cold spring soil
to warm-up before the application of the cooling mulch layer, thus
enhancing seed germination and early spring transplant vigour.
The surface compost layer will conserve water during the hot summer
season and keep root systems cooler. The compost layer can be
worked into the soil at the end of the growing season or in the early
spring before planting.
A number of good gardening practices will help in conservation efforts.
For example, don't plant in soils that are too cold--seeds won't grow
satisfactorily, and water will not be properly absorbed. From the
start, weed control is very important in your garden. Weeds waste
water, and they compete with vegetable plants for nutrients and
sunlight. For efficient water use, maintain excellent weed control in
your garden. If you are not using a surface mulch, cultivation of
the soil should be shallow. Excessively deep tillage or hoeing not only
damages plant roots but also allows moisture to evaporate. Very shallow
weed control with a scuffle or push hoe is best. (A scraping action
with the scuffle hoe is preferrable.)
Install rain barrels at the base of your down spouts and use this
source of water to irrigate as many plants as possible.
When you use water, try to concentrate it in the plants' root zone. The
less water you apply between the rows where roots can't use it, the
less water you lose to evaporation. In addition, water from a sprinkler
won't all reach the soil surface because of evaporation - a loss of up
to 25%. Several techniques will help place the water in the root zone
where it's needed:
1. For crops like squashes and cucumbers that are
usually grown in a hill, create a depression in the centre of the hill
and surround it with a ridge that will prevent water from running away
from the root zone.
2. You can irrigate individual plants like tomatoes,
peppers, eggplants, flowers and bushes in a similar manner: create a
small depression for each plant.
irrigation. If you use this system, minimize water losses by:
1. using a sprinkler that will cover the garden only,
not the surrounding area;
2. watering early in the morning or in the evening
when the air is cooler, the wind is low, and water pressure is better
on municipal systems; and
3. using a rate of application that permits all water
to soak in and not run off the garden area.
Soak the soil.
When you water, thoroughly soak the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches
and do it infrequently. Depending on stage of growth and temperatures,
watering once per week is usually sufficient, and only then if you do
not receive adequate rainfall during the period.
Try closer rows.
A smaller area gardened more intensively will produce more vegetables
(and flowers) in relation to water usage. You can grow many vegetables
much closer together than in the traditional 2 1/2- to 3-foot rows. You
can place radishes, onions, beets, carrots, etc., in rows as close as 1
foot apart. This way, you make better use of the water you apply in the
root zone. In addition, a soil shaded by vegetable leaves loses less
water by evaporation to the atmosphere.
Container planting of vegetables and flowers will use more water than
in-ground gardening. Containers dry much faster than garden beds and
rows. Nevertheless, when using containers, try insulating them by
placing the plant pot inside a larger one and filling the space between
the two containers with dried leaves, soil or compost.