Gardening Tips for Seedy Characters: Week 31

What to do this week

Gardens may have to be watered mid-summer, and maybe even fed, but not quite as much as you might expect. We have been having a rather dry spell, so the current rain is very welcome on my farm. I have drip irrigation in certain delicate areas, but mostly it is nature that helps me bring you well-watered veggies.

Drip irrigation system. (Photo via Michigan Famers Market http://mifma.org/)

Drip irrigation system. (Photo via Michigan Famers Market)

Water is a precious resource. We live in an area where there is abundant water, but it still has to be treated, pumped to you, and paid for, and it is not an infinite resource even if you have an infinite budget.

Considering that, and your time too, it is not necessary to water your garden every day, even in very dry times. You might want to take extra care of recently planted seedlings, or a small tree in its first year with you, but it is by far better to really soak your garden every two or even three days than to water it a bit daily.

Try putting a whole gallon of water on each individual shrub, and equally heavily watering other things, so that the water gets down deep to the roots. If the soil is very dry, most of the water will just run off, so let some of it soak in, then add the rest.  If you are in a heat wave, you may see greens looking very wilted in the late afternoon sun on the following day, but that is more likely the plant’s strategy to cope with the sun. If you hold off, you will see that the greens are perky and crisp in the morning.

Also, those roots are going deeper for you, looking for water, not hanging around at the surface for the regular daily sprinkling. The top part of the soil dries out the quickest, so you want your plants to root deeply. This can be important even for your perennials. The surface of the soil is much more vulnerable to frost and freezing damage during our winters, which is another reason why you don’t want your plants to have shallow roots. If your plants do have deep roots, a bit of water every day will not even get down to them.

You can save yourself a lot of water and time by using a drip irrigation system. A soaker hose is the simplest of these systems, although I don’t find them very effective. I have a drip irrigation system for my greenhouse that wasn’t too expensive, and I am sure you can find something like it at any good garden store. Drip irrigation is good because it saves a lot of water by sending it only where it’s needed: the roots. You are not losing water in the air, or on the foliage, where it can actually cause problems.

You can also experiment with grey water — water that has been used for, say, washing dishes, but which doesn’t contain chemical detergents or other toxins. To be on the safe side, limit the use of any water that may have bacteria (even helpful bacteria) on low-growing foods you are going to eat right away, especially greens.

Compost tea. (Madeline Yakimchuk photo)

Compost tea. (Madeline Yakimchuk photo)

Related to the water issue, a lot of people like to use mulch. It does keep the moisture in, and allows rain water to be dispersed gently, but it can also harbor pests and rob soil of nitrogen as it breaks down. I have not had good experience with mulch. The pests that live there eat all of my vegetables. Our summers are usually moist, so I manage without it, but with dry periods like this summer it can be useful. So what can you use for mulch if you decide to try it?

Not hay — it has too many weed seeds in it and will keep you weeding way more than you want to. Some people choose straw, but it does rob the soil of nitrogen as it is decomposing. It will add organic matter to the soil, eventually, but it binds the nitrogen to its carbon in order to digest that carbohydrate as it breaks down. Seaweed is good, if you have access to it. You can use grass clippings if your lawn doesn’t have many weed seeds.

In addition to water, you may want to feed some of your plants now and then. Compost tea is good for that. It is a light boost when needed. To prepare it, get a large bucket or small barrel. Put some well-aged compost in, fill it with water and let it sit for at least a few days. You can strain out the bigger clumps of compost and use the water to add some nourishment to heavy feeders like corn, beans, squash and all of the alliums.

Don’t feed tomato plants at this point — they will think that life is too grand to bother to reproduce for survival, and may not make any more tomatoes. Be careful not to use compost tea on anything you are going to eat within six weeks, or things that grow close to the ground, like lettuces. There are lots of beneficial lifeforms in a good compost tea, but you don’t want to be consuming them directly yourself. Use it at ground level on anything that has its edible parts well above the ground (except tomatoes) and on things that are to be stored. Don’t use it on things that grow low to the ground, like nice leafy veggies, or things you are going to eat right away.

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Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.

 

 

 

Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.

 

 

 

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