Mary Lowther column: Prepare for need to conserve water in summer garden

We can have a productive garden with far less water than one might suppose.

World class water grows great vegetables. (Mary Lowther photo)

World class water grows great vegetables. (Mary Lowther photo)

Watering restrictions won’t bother the prepared gardener.

We can have a productive garden with far less water than one might suppose. As I have learned and implemented water-conserving techniques, I use less water and produce healthier, tastier crops because overwatering removes nutrients from the soil.

If you’re lucky or clever enough not to have a slug or sow bug problem you can have a lovely spring garden without watering. I’ve only just now set up my watering system but if it had any clay I might not need to water just yet because clay and compost form spongey humus that retains water.

Use soaker hoses. I’ve tried various kinds but found that the round black ones that exude water evenly along their length work best. If they are drained at season’s end, carefully rolled up and stored out of the elements they can last for years and, because they are light, they store easily. They don’t need purging because of any buildup, go around corners easily, can be pinned into place and can be joined together for a long run. I have repaired cracks by cutting out the damaged area and re-joining the cut ends with a joining kit from Home Hardware. These hoses are cheap enough that you can just throw one out when it finally wears out and get a new one without breaking the bank.

Because soaker hoses use water so efficiently, the CVRD approves their use during drought, but soaker hoses shine in more ways than mere water conservation. Since soaker hoses only water where our crops grow, leaving the rest of the soil dry and hot, slugs and sow bugs disappear and weeds are no problem. I’ll give it a week or two more before I cover the soil with mulch to keep it cool and by then there shouldn’t be too many slugs around.

Use Teflon tape on all hose connections because it seals them and prevents water leakage. You want every drop to reach the garden and not get wasted from a drippy connection. Wind the gossamer tape around the male end before screwing on the female end and at the ends of the hoses before screwing on the end caps. Also, replace the sealing rings inside the female ends of hoses when they dry up, crack and leak over time.

By providing an abundance of nutrients in the form of fertilizer and compost rich in humus and spraying with compost tea, we can grow healthy crops that thrive on less water. Plants grow more extensive and deeper root systems that absorb water and enable plants to withstand life-sucking diseases. Long lasting humus develops in the guts of red worms that inhabit the compost heap when they ingest clay and soft rock phosphate along with the rest of the compost-building ingredients. I’ve learned to add these two amendments when I build my compost heap.

When the ground still retains water in the spring we can plant them closer together, but as the weather gets drier it’s a good idea to plant them farther apart so the roots of each plant don’t compete for nutrients and water.

Nutrients, enzymes and probiotics can be boosted all summer for next to no cost if you make compost tea to spray on the leaves or the soil.

Fermenting compost in water increases its ability to be absorbed by plants and coats the plants with friendly bacteria that kill off possible pathogens. Dilute it to the strength of weak tea and don’t spray when the sun is out because it can burn the leaves. I was a bit zealous one year and burned my cabbage with strong compost tea.

I haven’t tried the following last technique yet because the water I’m allowed to use has been enough, so far. Southern growers make sunken beds by taking off the topsoil, removing several inches of the subsoil and placing the topsoil back in. Crops planted in these beds benefit from the extra water that flows into it from higher ground.

The way things are going, this conservation method may be just around the corner.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.