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Six smart ways to save water in your vegetable garden

Edible gardening guru Jane Griffiths shares simple tips to help you make every drop count

03 October 2021 - 00:02 By Jane Griffiths
Permanent pathways and beds allow water to be directed where needed.
Permanent pathways and beds allow water to be directed where needed.
Image: Keith Knowlton

Water not only provides liquid for our plants to drink, it also feeds them. Water assists in breaking down organic matter into soluble nutrients, which it carries into plants via the roots.

That said, water is a precious resource so it is important to make every drop count.

Follow these six tips to not only save water in your vegetable garden, but also save money on your water bills:

1. WATER DEEPLY LESS OFTEN

It is best to water early in the morning or after sunset to reduce evaporation, and to water deeply less often. Shallow watering causes roots to grow up towards the surface in search of moisture, weakening the plant.

A thorough soaking every four to five days on light, sandy soils and every seven to 10 days on heavier soils is a general guide during dry periods. During hot weather, the period between watering should be shortened.

During hot, dry weather, plants close their stomata (breathing pores on leaves) to minimise moisture loss. If plants look wilted in the middle of the day, don’t worry: they’re protecting themselves by conserving moisture. However, if they’re wilted in the evening, it’s time to water.

Keep in mind that containers dry out more quickly than garden beds so get into the habit of checking them daily.

2. AIM FOR THE ROOTS

Drip irrigation and soaker hoses deliver water to the roots of plants, wasting very little water. They also prevent soil from splashing onto the leaves, minimising the risk of spreading soil-borne disease.

Setting up a drip irrigation system neednt be expensive. You can make a simple one by recycling old hoses.

A PVC pipe watering funnel.
A PVC pipe watering funnel.
Image: Jane Griffiths
Recycle old hoses to make a simple drip irrigation system.
Recycle old hoses to make a simple drip irrigation system.
Image: Jane Griffiths

Recycled plastic bottles also make a simple yet effective irrigation system. Using a heated metal skewer, punch a few holes in the neck and shoulders of a 2l plastic bottle, leaving the cap on. Cut off the bottom of the bottle. Bury the cap end near the roots, with the cut end just above the surface. To water, fill the bottle and it will slowly seep out through the holes, delivering water directly to the roots.

You can also drill holes in PVC piping and bury it next to your plants, with the top sticking out and a cap on the bottom.

3. INTENSIVE PLANTING

Creating permanent pathways and beds — as you would when following the no-dig gardening method — allows water to be directed where needed.

To start a no-dig garden, create raised beds that are small enough (about 2m x 1m) to allow you to reach the middle easily without standing on the soil. Alternatively surround these beds with edging that is high enough to retain enriched soil inside them. Make pathways at least 90cm wide for a wheelbarrow.

Intensively planted beds save water.
Intensively planted beds save water.
Image: Jane Griffiths

Most seed packets give spacing recommendations based on planting in rows with wide spaces in between. With no-dig gardening, there is no need to leave spaces between rows as we are using smaller beds and not walking in them. Hence we can plant beds more intensively with a variety of vegetables.

Space plants so their leaves just touch one another when they are full size. The resulting canopy creates a moist microclimate underneath, reducing the amount of watering required.

WATERWISE TIP: Group together plants with similar watering requirements when planting.

4. KEEP SOIL HEALTHY

The best place to store water is in the soil. No-dig methods increase humus levels in
the soil, soaking up water like a sponge (without becoming waterlogged) and releasing it slowly.

5. ADD MULCH

Adding organic matter to the surface of the beds is one of the simplest things to do, yet it makes a world of difference to our gardens. Mulching retains water in the soil — where we want to keep it. A layer of organic mulch keeps soil cooler in hot weather and increases the overall strength of plants, enabling them to better withstand the stress of dry, hot weather.

6. MAKE THE MOST OF RAIN

Use rain wisely — 1mm falling on 1m² of roof will supply 1l of water. Rainwater tanks are easy to install, or you can attach a flexible tube to the downpipes.

Another option is to create channels to catch the rainwater falling off the roof and feed it elsewhere in the garden.

WATERWISE TIP: On slopes, create terraces along the contours to catch the water.

• Griffiths is the author of four popular vegetable gardening books including ‘Janes Delicious A-Z Of Herbs’. Visit janesdeliciousshop.co.za


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