Water Week – Frosting On The Cake

I was inspired to write this three-part “Water Week” series while reading an article by Nancy Bubel in the July, 1988 Country Journal magazine titled “A Gardener’s Dirty Dozen.”  Number four on the list of garden NO NO’s was “Watering often in small amounts.”

If you’re a wanna-be farmer currently trapped in a chicken coop sized condo like me, Nancy Bubel’s name might sound vaguely familiar.  I walked over to my wanna-be farmer bookcase, pulled out my copy of Root Cellaring and there was Nancy’s name, right on the cover.  She and her husband Mike wrote this popular and perennial guide to preserving the harvest in 1979.

Here’s what Nancy wrote in the July, 1988 Country Journal:

“That evening ritual of spraying the garden with the hose refreshes the gardener.  But such watering encourages the plants to develop shallow roots and makes them dependent on regular, superficial doses of moisture.  If plants are watered less often and more thoroughly, they develop longer roots to seek out deep soil moisture, and so are more likely to survive drought.”

When seeds are first planted, they like a morning and evening sprinkle to get them to germinate in a continually moist soil.  The goal is to get the seeds to germinate as fast as possible.  Once seedlings appear, the objective is deep watering, which means getting the soil wet to a depth of 4 to 6 inches.  As most successful gardeners can confirm, developing strong and deep roots is important.

In a small garden, it’s easy to accomplish deep watering with a watering can, a little bit of energy, and some time.  I enjoy walking in my little rows with my watering can swaying back and forth; I’ll be sure to incorporate this technique when I write the book called Farm Arms:  The Complete Guide to Fit and Flab-less Arms at Any Age.

There are other ways to water a garden; a soaker hose is a long garden hose attached to the water supply; it has lots of little holes along one side and an end cap.  When the water is turned on, the pressure created by the end cap forces the water out of the little holes and creates a slow and steady soaking at the root-level of the plants.  Last summer, my father and I found an old hose at the dump and we drilled holes in it.  We attached it to our rain barrel, wound the hose through the rows of the garden, and turned the spigot on.  It was a fun experiment which worked well.  This summer, I am going to take the plunge and invest in a small-scale drip irrigation kit.

In researching this week’s three part series on water and drought, the recurring theme has been “it all starts in the dirt.”  Watering a garden is really just frosting on the cake and without well-prepared soil and well-mulched plants; a person might just end up with a big bowl of frosting and no cake.

In Texas, they say “big hat, no cattle.”

How are you going to prevent shallow roots this summer? 

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