For Less Disease + Better Vegies – Water Like a Pro

Feb Tomatoes

Sometime this month or next we’ll be gearing up for watering. Before summer hits proper I want to encourage you to ponder the way you water. In part to conserve this precious resource, but also to improve the overall health of your gardens.

Overwatering creates fungus and encourages sappy, pest prone foliage. Underwatering means minerals aren’t converted and plants are stressed. Either way soil life, the key to our whole operation – disappears.

Start the summer season with a new intention – to test before you water.

Tag team this keeping the soil covered with living mulch or mulch + keeping on the job of building gutsy, hummus rich soil and success comes knocking.

Know your soil

First up is soil. Always soil. Hearty soil is water retentive and full of life bringing the mineral exchange and immunity our plants need to go the hard yards of production under a hot sun.

Test your soil with a worm count. Dig out a spade by spade by spade chunk and if you’ve got more than 10 worms therein you are doing good things – keep going my friend. Feel your soil. The ideal fabric feels peaty with a little bit of cohesion. Smell your soil – earthy is good!

Keep your soil covered

Keep the soil covered with mulch or a living mulch, and you’ll be using less water + spending less time watering than you thought possible (and building soil at the same time).

With hearty soil and mulch at play you’ll be amazed at how long you can go between waterings. Freakin’ AMAZED!!

Here’s your do-I-need-water test

just right

Check your soil before you get the hose out. You can turn the health of your garden around just with this one change.

  • Water on a needs basis, not just cos its the end of the day and that’s what you always do when you get home.
  • Only water to that 50% (just moist) mark.

Do these two things and your plants will perform so much better, soil life explodes and the reduction in disease is stunning.

  • For established crops, the tall and the sprawling – test by pushing your finger in. The tip of your finger tells you whether to water or not. Yes, really! All the way down there. I know gardeners who push it out further than this to two fingers deep – go on I dare ya! (I dare myself!) If it’s moist at your fingertip let it be. If it’s dry –  water.
  • For newly sown seed, new transplants, shallow rooters and little guys test by squeezing a handful of soil together. Open your hand out giving it a small shake as you do. If the soil mostly holds together and a few crumbs fall away then it’s perfectly moist. If it holds its shape and you can infact shape it into something – way too wet. If nothing holds together – way too dry.

hand wateringWater Like A Pro

Here’s a snapshot of different watering needs at different times.

  • Baby phase (direct sown seed/ new transplants/ newly emerged seedlings) Begin on a win with a soak at planting/ sowing. Where the water goes the roots will follow. Roots that go deep bring strength and lasting power. Keep soil moist at this vulnerable stage. Never wet, just moist. Like babies, a bit of nurture here pays off later. A thin layer of mulch is really effective at making moisture last.
  • Teenage phase – make ’em work for it! Create robust/ resilient plants by rolling out a bit of tough love once they can handle it (for most plants, please use your common sense here – this means 5/6 leaf). Load on the mulch and push the gap between waterings as far as you dare to force their roots deep. Testing using the tip of your finger as a moisture guide begins here.
  • Mumma phase – flowering/ fruiting is a key time. Pull back on the tough love – go mother love and keep the soil nicely moist. I leave the topsoil to dry a tad between waterings for plants prone to fungal disease like zucchini, basil and tomato.

Exceptions To The Rule

chillis

Of course, there are! Different crops have different water needs, and understanding this is the journey to a food gardener.

  • Chillies develop more spice with less water and tomatoes are tastier by far (think of the watery tasteless offerings in the supermarket).
  • Squash and cucumbers, need more water than tomatoes and potatoes.
  • Beans rot easily and need to be barely moist until germinated, but after that need consistent moisture from flowering for best performance.
  • Avoid fungus-y basil foliage by letting soils dry out between waterings.

Watch and learn. Trust your eyes. (Perhaps not your memory though – notes are always helpful)

3 best times to water

Cloudy or drizzling and definately in the morning = best times.

sniff the soil

Make this coming summer, the summer of testing first and less is more. Look about the world and be inspired by all the food grown in home gardens without pumps and hoses and on a water budget far tighter than ours.

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