Skip to content

Mary Lowther column: Now it’s all about water conservation

I lay out soaker hoses along the rows and hook these up to a water timer
Starting to set up the hoses to the water timer to keep the garden watered for the summer. (Mary Lowther photo)

By Mary Lowther

We often do things a particular way simply because our elders taught us “that’s the way we always do it,” without explaining why. This is particularly true when dealing with gardening, where generations before us have worked out best practices through millennia of trial and error. Usually the tried and true works the best, but occasionally somebody comes up with a new and potentially better idea that deserves our attention.

One grower, for example, noted that regardless of how deeply he planted asparagus roots they always muscled up to a depth of four inches, so why not plant them at that depth to start with and save yourself the trouble of digging more deeply?

That seemed reasonable to me, so I enthusiastically planted my entire asparagus bed four inches deep. I should have tried a smaller test, because they all moved themselves up even higher, some coming to the surface and drying out. Unfortunately, I only discovered this after sharing the idea in last week’s column. Now I am playing catch up, spreading compost on top to cover all the roots, which is a ton more work than digging down the initially recommended 10 inches for each root. As Lucius Junius Columella would have said, mea culpa.

Moving on, this week is all about conserving water in the garden. With so much rain over the winter we should try and retain as much as possible in the soil to carry crops through the summer drought. Some soils have a hard pan under the top layer, and since crops cannot penetrate a hard pan to access water beneath, it behooves us to dig down at least 12 inches to see if we have one. If there is one, a person can dig down and pop it every few inches, nibbling away until the whole garden has been done. Some authors say that regular composting and fertilizing can soften up the hard pan but I figure, why wait?

Author Steve Solomon recommends growing plants farther apart than usual so they will have more access to water and other nutrients and will grow bigger than if they were planted more closely together; the harvest is not as much less as one would imagine. I also feed the roots of larger plants every two weeks with a quart each of diluted compost tea. Following Solomon’s advice, I drilled quarter inch holes in the low edge of the sides of several small buckets and laid them beside the roots of the plants, then poured the compost tea into each of them and when they were all drained, I moved them over to the next plants.

When watering, I lay out soaker hoses along the rows and hook these up to a water timer with four spigots that water each section of the garden for half an hour, starting at 3 a.m. every three days. Now that the days are hot, my soil is dry and doesn’t attract slugs, so I’ll mulch it with straw and weeds that haven’t gone to seed. This watering plan keeps my plants well hydrated throughout all watering restriction stages.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.