Grow Your Own Food is an information series on Gardening in Canada that covers every aspect of growing your own food at home. I help you every step of the way so that you can have the garden you dream of. This series was originally written for and published on Food Bloggers of Canada
We all know how important water is in the existence of plant and animal life. It is one of the earliest chemicals we learn about in school. From how our bodies and planet is mostly made up of water to the science behind how water creates weather and how plants use water and sun in the process of photosynthesis.
In just a few short days of extreme heat a lack of water can cause wilt and possible loss in the vegetable garden.
What Are The Basics of Garden Irrigation?
Water is essential for all plant crops. There are a few ways we can get the water to the plants in a smart efficient way that not only can save you money and time but is also environmentally friendly.
Long gone are the days of freely running the big overhead lawn sprinkler, you know the ones we used to run through on hot summer days where our parents were watering not only the grass but the sidewalk, the side of the house, part of the road and areas of the yard that do not require moisture. Not only is that a waste of water you may be doing your plants a disservice by excess water leaching nutrients out of soil.
Our goal is to water according to the depth of the roots of our plants. Early in the season we will water more as the plants are young and the roots only go to a depth of an inch or two into the soil as the top soil dries out quicker. If you find the top soil dry, do water.
As plants mature the roots go deeper we will increase the amount of water according to the needs of the plants. A good rule of thumb is to head out to the garden and do a simple test by sticking your finger into the soil to determine how far down the soil is dry.
Once the garden is more mature it is good to allow the soil to dry out a touch. For more established plants allow the top soil to dry out between watering. It is fine to have the first 1/2 to 1 inch of soil dry. This encourages the plants to grow deeper roots in search for water which in turn makes the plants more drought tolerant. The longer the roots the more access they will have to the nutrients that are deep in the ground.
Types of Irrigation
Hand Watering Your Garden
There are a few ways to get water to our plants. Hand watering is a great option for a few reasons. It gets you out in the garden! You get up close and personal with your plants which is one of the reasons we love gardening so much! Playing with our plants gives us such a feeling of accomplishment and gives us a huge amount of satisfaction for a job well done.
But more important then that it is very controlled watering. This is my preferred method of watering as water only goes where I want it. It is one way to conserve water, it gives me the control of where the water goes, I have the option to fertilize and it is a major way in reducing weeds by not having water in between the rows where weeds like to grow. By hand watering along with doing the practise of mulching you can have a mostly weed free garden!
In my smaller garden I use a watering can filled with the hose to do all the watering. In the big 4000 square foot garden I had large tubs which collected rain water to make for less work for myself and the well. If watering cans are not your thing take the garden hose into the garden and use a good quality sprayer attachment. The have various settings depending on how vigorously you want to water.
Drip or Micro Irrigation
Drip or Micro Irrigation systems are another fantastic option and can cut your garden water consumption by half! They are sold in kits at all the major hardware, home and renovation supply stores and Amazon and are well worth the money. Prices are very reasonable and you can grow the system along with the size of your garden space.
It takes a bit of work in spring though no fancy tool are required to install the system and it is a huge time saver as well as being very environmentally friendly. It is also a great option for those who want to garden but do not have a lot of time or for those who spend much of the summer holidaying away from home.
Flexible water lines are run through the garden at root level or just below the soil surface assuring water is only delivered to the root systems. The water is delivered through drip or weeping lines keeping foliage dry which in turn reduces diseases in plants like tomatoes or eggplants and reduces evaporation.
Kits also come with sprayer attachments for areas of the garden like the lettuce patch where getting water on the leaves is appreciated or for the flower garden where it is fine for the leaves of the plants to be wet.
All of this is simply attached to the outdoor faucet on your home along with a timer so you can set it to water on demand. There are many videos on YouTube so you see exactly what it details before you head to the store. Investment wise this is the biggest time and money saving practise you can utilize in your garden for years to come.
When Should You Water Your Garden?
No matter which method you use to water the garden the best time to water is in the morning. When we water in the morning the loss of moisture through evaporation is low and the water has time to soak into soil. The warmth of the sun through the day allows the moisture to dry off the foliage reducing the chance of fungal diseases. And it assures optimal growth during the hottest of days and allows your plants to be healthy and produce bumper crops.
Be sure to check with your city as well – most major urban centres in Canada will have well publicized watering restrictions in place during the summer to ensure water consumption doesn’t exceed supply. Watering may only be allowed on specific days and during specific hours. There may be exceptions for vegetable gardens.