I wonder why, out of all of B.C., we on the lower east side of Vancouver Island have the severest water restrictions. That understanding is beyond the scope of a backyard gardener trying to mind her own business, so here we are just getting summer started with stage four drought staring us in the face and we must conserve water so it will last all summer. Here are a few suggestions.
Soaker hoses provide enough water for vegetable gardening and they’re allowed by the CVRD. I’ve been using them for more than 20 years and wouldn’t go back to using a sprinkler even if I could. The water goes to exactly where I want it to so weeds don’t proliferate, the plants remain dry above ground and do not fall prey to many diseases and moulds, and far less water is needed because it isn’t wasted through evaporation.
I’ve tried four different kinds of soaker hoses and found that the black round ones give the best coverage and last for years as long as I don’t kink them. I use croquet hooks and pins specially designed for pinning the hose down where I want it and once the hose has been there for an hour I can remove the pins and use them somewhere else. Set up the water pressure by gradually turning the tap on and letting the water trickle through until it beads and drips slowly.
Newly sown seeds should be hand-watered until they’re up and thriving. A timer ensures that crops will be watered at the time of day and for the length of time that CVRD allows and frees you up to do other things like eat fresh peas and raspberries.
My heat-loving tomatoes and cucumbers are watered a little differently, by fertigation. I drilled holes in six buckets and place them beside six plants. I keep a 10 gallon container of water near the bed to warm in the sun and a vat of fermented compost/kelp/fertilizer tea nearby. I thin the tea with the warm water and pour three quarts of this mixture into each bucket. When they’ve drained out, I move the buckets to the next six plants. My theory is that the warm water won’t shock the roots like cold does and maybe I’ll get a better crop.
I’m doing this once a week but intend to extend it one day each week until it looks like long enough between waterings. My tomatoes are three feet apart and chest high, David’s chest that is, after all, this isn’t THAT kind of newspaper.
Aside from soaker hoses, there is more we can do to help vegetables thrive on less water. Compost and fertilizer help soil retain water and the increased resistance to diseases that foliar spraying imparts also improves tolerance to drought. Watering less frequently but thoroughly encourages roots to penetrate deeply, enabling them to access water that has accumulated over the winter. My sandy soil doesn’t hold water well but my plants still thrive on a 30-minute, twice-weekly watering schedule.
Mulching with anything keeps the soil cool and conserves water and I’ve found that even though remay increases ambient temperature, it also keeps things more humid under its canopy. If plants still show drought stress, be brave and yank out every other plant so there’s less competition for water. Half a loaf is better than none.
Looking toward the future, adding clay and soft rock phosphate to the compost heap each year will produce top-quality compost so that when you dig this in, the water-carrying capacity of the soil will increase.
Kind of like back in the good old days when interest accumulated in the savings account.