Pros and cons of watering your garden
gardeners don't water their garden at all, or just spot-water with a
cup or hose during transplanting or when specific plants wilt.
However, water is one of the most common limiting
factors, even in a
very wet climate like ours. Long before your plants droop,
they'll slow their growth to conserve moisture, so your yields in an
unwatered garden will be much lower.
The importance of
regular irrigation was brought home to me this year when I got sick and
skipped watering for one hot week right when our earliest bed of Sugar
Baby watermelons was bulking up. Those fruits clocked in around
five inches in diameter, compared to the fruits on a later bed of the
same variety (well watered throughout their life) that produced ten
inch fruits. The moral of the story is --- your yields may double
if you provide a steady supply of water for your crops.
course, watering your garden has many disadvantages. When you
look at the bigger picture, using more than your fair share of rivers
can cause them to dry up downstream, and there's nearly always at least
some energy required to move water to your crops. Closer to home,
irrigation equipment costs money, and so does either paying for city
water or paying the operating costs of your own pumps. I estimate
that we use a phenomenal 11,000 gallons of water every week during the
height of summer (exempting wet periods) to keep our vegetables
growing, which adds about $125 per year to our annual electric bill.
At the plant level, watering
can even do harm.
Overwatering hurts plants, and so does irregular watering. If
your crops are used to getting a regular dose of water every time the
soil starts to dry out, they won't have grown the deep roots needed to
withstand a drought (or to survive a week when you forget to water),
and wet leaves promote fungal diseases (like my tomato blights.)
If you water too much, you can also wash nutrients out of the soil,
which can stunt your plants and make your homegrown food less tasty and
nutritious. The trick here is to know your system and water
your climate is very arid (in which case it may not be sustainable to
live there in the first place), you can work around the other
irrigation-related problems as well. Catching rainwater is
something we want to get more serious about --- if you live in a large,
modern home and just have a small backyard garden, chances are your
roof runoff may be all you need to keep your plants hydrated. We
live in a small, unmodern trailer, but we're pondering adding gutters
to the East Wing, the barn, and/or the dreamed-of summer kitchen.
The next step to
watering in a sustainable manner is to make the water you do have go
further. Our watering method is the least efficient one out there
--- sprinklers --- which we chose for the
reasons listed here.
Using sprinklers means that we consume four times as much water as
necessary every time we irrigate --- some of that extra water hits the
garden aisles, some falls outside the garden perimeter, and some
evaporates into the hot summer air. Drip irrigation is the
typical solution to this problem, but it's far from my favorite since
turbid water messes up the system in short order, you have to use lots
of expensive, plastic hoses and replace them often, and drip irrigation
works much better with row crops than with beds. Pitcher
irrigation is a more
permanent solution, but one that only works on a very small scale and
is labor-intensive. I'm still pondering a more efficient watering
option appropriate to our vegetable garden layout.
Meanwhile, there's always
mulch! Mulching around your plants cools the soil surface and
keeps water from evaporating away, so there's more water available for
your plants and you don't have to irrigate as often. Adding
organic matter to your soil with cover crops and compost will also make
watering less essential every year since this black gold acts like a
sponge, grabbing excess water during heavy rains and then releasing it
to plant roots on demand.
What watering system do
you use in your garden? Why did you choose it and what do you
love and hate about it? I'm especially curious to hear from
large-scale, no-till gardeners, of course, but everyone should feel
free to chime in!
Our chicken waterer is the most water-efficient
way to hydrate your flock since your chickens only consume as much as
they'll drink, never fouling or spilling extra water.
to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the
RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.