Irrigating The Organic Garden

Proper Irrigation Helps Keep Plants Disease Free

July 12, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere….

People who jump into organic  gardening without any preparation often start off
on the wrong foot by  overwatering or not watering properly. They may have
stereotypes in  their minds that are hard to erase. One is the image of lawn
sprinklers  casting long arcs of water into the air, as is often seen in photos
of  golf courses.
While  watering with a sprinkler like that can work, it’s not the best way  and,
if done in the heat of the day or in the evening is an example of  how not to
water your garden and can even be self-defeating. While it  may give the
gardener the impression that he or she has “done some work  in the garden,” it
can be harmful for two reasons: First, during a hot,  sunny day, the water
mostly evaporates before it can soak in to the  plants’ roots where it can
actually do some good. Second, sprinkling  raises humidity in the garden, which
can create ideal conditions for  harmful fungal and bacterial growth, and
rejuvenate viruses in the soil  that can stunt or kill plants. The effect is
worse if you use sprinkling  techniques in the late evening; it allows fungi and
bacteria to grow  overnight and really “set in.”
If  you use a sprinkler in your garden, it’s best to use it in the morning  and
leave it running long enough so that the water soaks in. The garden  will then
have all day in the sun. Water on the leaves, plant stems and  the ground
surface will dry out as the day goes on, leaving the water  where it belongs, at
the roots.
You  will find that morning watering in this way can be a great delight.  Birds
use the puddles to splash in and wash themselves, pollinators will  flitter in
and out, drinking the precious liquid, and your plants will  seem to grow and
blossom before your very eyes as they absorb the  moisture and turn their leafy
faces toward the sun. It can be a  spiritual experience.
The  key is to not overwater. Once a week is plenty, and you may need to  water
less. To test whether your garden needs watering, stick your  finger in the
soil. If your finger goes in easily with a slight feeling  of moisture, it’s
fine. If it’s muddy, it’s too wet.
It’s  a careful balance. Plant roots need to be able to breathe in the soil.
That requires air pockets as well as moisture. You want your soil to be  light
and fluffy (have good “tilth”) with lots of organic matter, but  damp enough so
that earthworms can happy slither through, and beneficial  bacteria and fungi
can thrive. In organic gardening, your soil is  alive. It needs to thrive for
your plants to thrive.
Professional  gardeners, of course, have found more efficient (and often
expensive)  ways to water their crops. Some use garden or lawn sprinklers on
tripods  with timers so that they can soak a large area in a small amount of
time. By moving the tripods, they’re able to cover several acres. If  your
garden is the small, backyard variety, timers and tripods probably  aren’t
necessary.
Drip  and soaker systems are additional watering options for larger gardens.
Drip irrigation sends an even supply of water directly to the root zone.  It
uses less water because it doesn’t run off on the surface (carrying  precious
top soil with it) or evaporate as readily as water mist sprayed  into the air.
It almost eradicates mold or fungal concerns because the  drip tape or soaker
hose is in contact with the soil. In established  crop systems, gardeners often
will bury the hoses so they stay put,  about 4 inches deep, so they water only
the roots. Burying your soaker  hoses to keep them from freezing and splitting
is a good idea if you  plan to leave them out during the winter.
Unburied  hoses will give you the advantage of using them where they’re needed
most and removing them otherwise. But whether you bury your soakers or  leave
them above ground, you’ll need to be careful when you mow around  the garden, or till within it. With buried hoses, be sure to remember  (or mark) where you
buried them!
Soaker  hoses are available at most garden supply stores and online. Because
you want the water pressure to be low throughout your garden, keep your  hose
sections to no longer than 100 feet. If you need additional length,  connect
100-foot sections using garden hose splitters with adjustable  valves. That way,
you can adjust the flow in each section—open the  valves for highest flow at the
end, lowest at the beginning.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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