Garden Geek’s Geeky Garden Basics: Day Two- Water

geeky garden basics series day two

 

How exactly does one water one’s garden?

Generally, us beginner gardeners think that this must be an easy subject to approach. It’s water. We have plants. Plants need water. Simple. And then we start to garden, and we water, and questions start to pop into our heads. Doubts. Am I giving my plants enough water? Am I drowning my plants? Am I wasting water? 

These questions have gone through my mind, and I am writing this blog post, in part, to answer them for myself.

My experience

I started with a plastic watering can and I loved it.

green watering can

My green watering can gets used often in my garden

Miss Toddler joined in and now loves watering with her watering can too.

Toddler Watering Garden

Miss Toddler learning to water the garden

But before I knew it, I was lugging my watering can from my garage sink to my plants and back for an hour to get my plants watered. I moved on to a hose and nozzle system, which is what I am currently using today. A much faster way to water my garden, the hose makes life easier for me. But it does come at a cost- I waste water with this method and I risk damaging young plants if the water pressure is too high.

Is There a Better Way to Water?

drip irrigation kitNearly every garden book I pick up recommends drip irrigation. Drip irrigation seems a little scary to me- it seems complicated and tricky. Nonetheless, I have bought myself a drip irrigation starter pack. This may not be the most economical way to purchase the necessary drip irrigation parts- but I’m such a rookie that I needed to simplify the process. I have not done anything with this starter pack just yet. I simple look at the box a couple of times a day and tell myself that tomorrow is the perfect day to get in a tangle with tubing and drip lines. That tomorrow has not yet come, but when it does I will be sure to write a post about my triumph.

 

How much water?

When I water my garden I try to focus on promoting healthy, deep root growth. Generally, longer soaking of your garden a couple of times a week is better than shallow watering often. In my garden, my plants are mostly in their first season of getting established. Because of this, I do regular deep soaking, about five times a week.

The ‘one-inch’ rule:

  • The common rule is that our gardens require one inch of water per week.
  • It is helpful to purchase a rainfall gauge to measure whether or not your garden is getting the standard one inch- through rainfall and/or watering.
  • FYI: One inch per week is around 6 gallons per square yard per week.
  • The once-inch rule is a guideline, more water will be needed on super hot days for example.
  • We also need to water our seedlings and new perennial transplants more often in their first year.
  • All that seem to abstract?

Chilled out methods of judging how much water your garden is getting:

  • Dig into your soil, to see how deep the soil retains moisture. This is a simple way of judging whether you’re watering enough. The soil should be wet to at least one foot after watering (not including top layer of mulch)- if you plan to soak your garden once a week.
  • Look at your plants. Are the leaves drooping? If they are drooping during the heat of the day that might be ok. If they are also dropping in the mornings and evenings then you probably need to give them more water.
  • Are your plants lighter green than normal and wilting? Is the soil wet and your plants are still struggling? You may be overwatering your garden.

And Don’t Forget the Mulch

photo of mulched plants

I recently mulched these few transplants in my frontyard using compost

  • Mulching is a crucial step in gardening.
  • Mulching helps the soil retain moisture, suppresses weeds and helps plants establish themselves.
  • I use compost for most of my mulching. I also use shredded leaves and newspaper, as well as grass clippings- if I have any to spare.

 

 

 

 

Now step outside and see if you can improve your garden’s watering system today. Can you add mulch to your plants? Maybe you have the time and energy to install drip irrigation? Maybe you just want to observe your plants closely to see how much water they truly need. Whatever we do, we must remain mindful of our water use, always seeking to conserve.

Until next time,

Happy Gardening

 

Garden Geek’s Geeky Garden Basics

geeky garden basics series

Today I am launching a series of posts called Garden Geek’s Geeky Garden Basics (As I’ve Discovered Them to be Thus Far). This series aims to discuss a few of the basics of gardening from a beginner’s perspective. Consider it to be peer-to-peer learning for beginners. If you have a differing opinion on how something should be done, or expert knowledge to add, I welcome comments and gentle corrections.

Day One: Love Thy Soil

If you love your plants then you need to learn to love your soil. Your soil is an amazing micro-ecosystem teeming with life. It is incredibly complex and delicate.

Amend Thy Soil

Collage depicting soil being amended

I amended this soil with a mix of organic store-bought compost and homemade compost that was still alive with worms and bugs and microscopic goodies

If you love your soil you will always seek to improve it. I’m still learning how to garden, so I am experimenting with different methods of improving my soil. I’ve experimented with double digging (a lot of work), slightly raised beds, and simple tilling and mulching methods. I am becoming more interested in the no-till method of improving soil as it appears to be better for our land in the long run.

My soil has a slight clay consistency. Adding organic matter helps to make my soil easier to work with. It also makes it a much more welcoming environment for my plants. As for my soils pH and nutrient balance, I have home-tested it, but was not confident with the results. I tried to save money on a cheaper testing kit and the results were ambiguous, to say the least. I recommend spending the extra money on a good quality testing kit, or better still sending a sample to a lab. As a renter I’ve opted not to go the lab-testing route, as my husband and I do not plan on being here for more than a few years. Thus I generally seek to amend my soil according to the needs of the plants I’m dealing with. When in doubt, I just add a layer of compost- which leads me to the next point.

Love thy Compost

Whatever your soil tests results are, soil can always use more organic matter in the form of compost. So that is what I have been focusing on adding to my garden.

I buy compost and avidly make it myself. See here for a post about the compost debate, which includes a great TedTalk.

At the moment my compost methods include a rotating bin for food scraps and shredded newspaper. I also have a pile of compost behind my bin that is nearly ready to use in the garden (I have actually been sneaking some into my soil already). That pile you see in the picture below was once over 3 cubic feet in size and has been reduced due to a friendly donation of a huge amount of grass clippings. The pile heated up to about 160º F- which is nearly a composter’s heaven.

picture of compost set up

My current compost set up includes a rotating bin and several different piles

 

Love thy Earthworms

When I first took a shovel to the soil, and uncovered some earth in my backyard, I was horrified. Beneath the soil was a teeming layer of red worms, pill bugs and a billion unknown and unseen creepy crawlies. I think I may have even squealed! I said a quick prayer: “God, please help me to no longer be frightened of worms”. Luckily, He has answered my prayers- worms are awesome!

The amazing thing is those worms, and those other creepy crawlies, are building my soil for me. They are tilling, and amending and fertilizing, while all I have to do is sit back and watch. Of course, I would have to wait a longtime if I only relied on bugs to amend my soil. But that is not the point. The point is this: learn to love your soil and learn to love the bugs in it- they are doing good for your soil!

To learn more about earthworms see this informative article.

Keep Thy Soil Organic

If you love your soil, you’ll be more likely to think twice before you add any chemicals to it. When you do make additions to your soil try to choose organic. It is ultimately up to you to decide how dedicated you want to be with organic practices in your garden. I think organic gardening is wonderful and well worth it. The imperfections, the challenges and the weeding enrich my garden experience (for the most part).

Build your soil. Prepare your soil. Have it tested. Amend your soil. Love your soil. Compost, compost, compost! Think of your soil as a living, breathing microscopic world!

And if I haven’t convinced you yet, then here’s a little video about how amazing soil is:

Our Gardens Are Little Pieces of Our Earth

In honor of Earth Day, which has just begun for you Aussie folks, and which is tomorrow for those of us in the US:

Gardening For Our Earth- Not Against it

Image

A little piece of Earth

Your garden can be your place to start small in making an environmental difference. (Starting gardening on a small-scale in your garden is a whole other story). When the world seems too big to ‘save’, when we throw our hands in the air and say ‘how can one little me make a difference?”, sometimes the best place to start is simply in your own backyard. A garden is a manageable slice of the world to make a difference in.

I am not dismissing the many other vital large-scale environmental causes. We can, and should, contribute to these things- that is one of the things that Earth Day is all about. What I am saying is sometimes it helps to start right here in our own backyards.

Why?

  • It helps us see that we can affect change- When I began to compost, I very quickly saw the beginnings of a closed system style of gardening. It felt so good to make all of my food waste, paper products and garden waste work for me. Each time I added this “trash” to the compost pile I imagined the dump that they might otherwise be rotting underground in. I began to understand that ‘little me’ could do things to affect change.

 

  • It can create a micro-ecosystem- where wildlife and domestic life can co-exist. That same compost supports a budding ecosystem of microorganisms, worms, fungi and creepy crawlies. If you are purposeful, you can also use garden waste to create mini habitats for various animals. Check this article out for inspiration and direction.

 

  • We become more in tune with our consumption- Pushing the whole climate change debate aside, we are still massive consumers of a huge amount of crap. Reducing consumption, reusing and repurposing, growing our own food- all of these things are what gardening should be all about. Gardening in a responsible way allows us to reduce the amount of crap we consume. That is certainly my hope and goal.

 

  • We can begin to appreciate this beautiful earth- Once you’ve seen your arugula seeds turn into super ninja plants you can’t help but marvel at the incredible design of creation.
arugula garden bed

My “Super Ninja Arugula”- prospering despite a slug assault- helps me appreciate the forces of nature

 

What can you do? 

  • I’ve endeavored to use only organic products in my garden
  • I’m weeding by hand instead of using herbicides
  • Compost, compost, compost! Did I mention I love compost?
  • I’ve started to grow my own vegetables- the more I eat from my own garden, the better for the Earth
  • I’ve stopped killing every critter I see!

You, my fellow gardener, can do one of these things, all of these things, or your own thing. When things feel too big and too complicated for you to make an environmental difference, just step outside. Add some compost to your plants, pick some berries, feed some birds, let some wildflowers bloom. Allow your garden to inspire you. And then, when you’ve done all that- if you feel the call, you can move on to the bigger things.

Here is how you can take action, in big ways and little ways, this Earth Day.