Waterwise Gardening

Preparing for the Summer Garden

The practices we follow here at Eagleridge Seeds are all about using water carefully and wisely. Our summers are hot and dry on a good year. Drought has now become a major concern in many places, and climate change is at the top of our minds. And with good reason! 

After a year of record drought (summer of 2021), forest fires, and now flooding in our home province of British Columbia, it is time to rethink the model and evolve our garden practices. 
Planning for Water Conservation
The good news is, there are many things we can do year-round to prepare:
  • Adding organic matter by topdressing with compost and manures in early spring encourages water retention.
  • Adding mulch covers of straw or leaves decreases weed competition and keeps the moisture in the soil. It also protects the root zone from extreme heat.
  • Deep watering is a necessity to help the roots go deeper minimizing heat stress. Surface watering evaporates with little value for our plants. Watering at the coolest times of day is the best!
Planting techniques
  • Tomatoes are one of the few plants that can be buried deeply below the crown, a.k.a the point where the stem meets the soil.
  • Pre-water your planting holes and add nutrient rich amendments before planting. A thick mulch cover provides shade and moisture retention.  Tomatoes love to be deep watered and then left for 4-5 days depending on your conditions. This brings out the the best flavour.
  • Create saucers of various sizes to hold in the moisture at the root zone. Visualize a moon crater as your model. This is ideal for melons,  cucumbers and squash. Mark the center of the saucer with a stake, plant your seeds or starts around the inside edges of your saucer. As the plants grow they provide their own shade. Plus add mulch at planting time and deep water each saucer. Once established you only need to deep water the planting saucer which you marked with a stake. You also avoid getting too much water on the foliage avoiding a number of fungal issues. The bees will appreciate not being watered!
  • Row crops can be placed closer together. Lettuce , greens, root crops and beans all do fine if you pay good attention to enriching your soil first. As they mature they provide their own shade to keep the root zone cooler. Provide mulch at planting time.
  • Start many of your summer vegetables in pots. You can control the water and use much less then direct sowing. Plus it improves germination rates. 
Right Plant in the Right Place
  • Select crops and varieties that can handle the heat of summer. Mix this with better water retention techniques and choose to plant less.
  • The big water users are corn, squash, cucumbers, melons and onions. On the up side, they can also handle the heat extremes. Plant herbs around the edges of your garden, they use much less water, and their roots hold back run off.
  • Plan for cool season crops that grow quickly in early spring and late summer. Give them an even earlier start indoors. If you wait too long, the heat will curtail your efforts.
  • Use your shady spots! Lettuce, peas, beets, radishes, chard and mustard benefit from the shade you can provide by planting a trellis of beans. Create a shade cloth wall at a slight angle running north/south and planting under it. Do not drape directly on your plants in the heat.
  • If you have a hedge of berries, they can also provide some shade. Plant under your fruit trees. 
Collecting rain water is one of the best things you can do to keep a water reserve on hand. It does not have to be an expensive system. We place garbage cans on the drip lines of many of our outbuildings that fill up over the winter. In colder climates, start collecting in early spring. You can set up collection containers at the downspout of your eaves.
We have a local expression: we do not have a lack of water, we have a lack of water collection and storage. Life on an island has taught us some very valuable lessons. I hope some of these suggestions can help everyone be more water wise.

Written by Marsha Goldberg

Photo by Talia Peckel

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