Calapooia Food Alliance column
June 7, 2017
By Gini Bramlett
Water conservation in the garden
(This column was originally run June 11, 2014)
Did you know the mighty Colorado River has not run to the sea on a regular basis since the 90s? Water supplies, based on what’s left in the basin’s big reservoirs, have dropped from full just over a decade ago to 64% today. Scary stuff! In addition, the population in the Southwest is expected to continue growing at an alarming rate. Projects are underway to “fix” the water problem, but results remain to be seen.
Water conservation has become serious business. We are literally facing the possibility of not having enough water to go around, and the problem is only getting worse. Water usage, or should I say over usage, has become a hot topic over the last decade or two, and it’s not somebody else’s problem. It’s our problem.
What as individuals can we do to conserve water in our own yards and gardens? Watering lawns and vegetable gardens can take a bite out of our local water supply, not to mention can hike up those water bills in a hurry. Why not find ways to cut down usage. Here, I’ll share some water saving tips that can make a dent in our monthly usage, help us water more conservatively and sustainably.
Mulch– Mulching is the single most water conserving thing you can do in your gardens. Up to 70% of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day if you don’t have mulch to protect your soil. Not only that, mulch suppresses weeds and adds nutrients to the soil at the same time. Always use fairly course mulches such as mint straw, dead leaves, grass clipping, alfalfa straw or one or more of the many other compostable materials available. And, the thicker the better, too. Mulches that are too fine tend to clump and repel water.
Organic matter-Organic matter absorbs many times its own weight in water which is then available for your plants, which results is watering less often. It also provides benefits such as amending clay or sandy soils. You can add organic matter with worm castings, alfalfa, pea straw, lawn clippings and leaves.
Morning watering-The optimum watering time for the garden is early morning before temperatures begin to rise. Winds are lower and there is less evaporation as well. Avoid watering in the evening. Night time temperatures don’t adequately dry leaves which can encourage fungal pathogens to establish. Even watering in the middle of the day, if absolutely necessary, is better than in the evening.
Harvest water– Save and reuse water whenever you can. Install a water tank to catch roof runoff rather than wasting rainwater. Slimline tanks and water harvesting systems are available for even the smallest spaces.
Save cooking water– if you steam or boil, save the water rather than pouring it down the drain. It’s full of nutrients, and when cooled, makes a free fertilizer for watering indoor or outdoor plants.
Drip and soaker hoses-Use drip line or soaker watering systems rather than overhead sprinklers. Soakers and drip hoses direct water only where you need it, not on the driveway or walking paths where you don’t.
Plant close together-Plants in close proximity to each other shade the soil and prevent moisture from evaporating too quickly. Instead of planting vegetables in straight rows, try the square foot gardening approach, or at least plant double or triple rows to save water and space.
As you can see, with a little imagination and effort, water saving is not so difficult. Collectively, we can help conserve our water supply so our children and grandchildren will have adequate water in the future. Implementing even just one of these methods can make a difference.
Brownsville Thursday Market
And, don’t forget to stop by the farmer’s market on Main Street in Brownsville Thursdays from 3-6pm for locally-grown plant starts, homemade soaps, local honey, fresh eggs, baked goods, nuts, jams and so much more. And, you can even get a cup of coffee while you shop.