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Watering the Kitchen Garden

Water is an essential element of gardening. Without the proper amounts plants get stressed, weakening their defenses to pests and diseases causing them to produce below their potential and sometimes wither and die. Such problems can be downright discouraging to a gardener.

With a little planning and some water knowledge, keeping the garden healthy and productive with just the right amount of moisture shouldn’t be a worrisome task.

Mother Nature can usually be counted on for help in the rain department. What she doesn’t supply, the gardener can come alongside and supplement with additional means of water and conserve moisture by mulching.

Irrigation is not as technical as it sounds. Holding a hose with a watering wand at the base of your tomatoes is considered irrigation and no big deal if all you have is a couple of tomato plants. However if you have more in your garden or don’t have a lot of time to stand around hand watering you may want to consider some more creative ways of watering.

  • Soaker hoses are inexpensive and easy to use in the kitchen garden. A 50 foot soaker hose can be used for one 4 x 8 foot raised bed. Because it is for vegetables, simply loop the soaker hose from end to end equally spaced on top of the soil. At each end of the wood framed raised bed, keep the loops of the soaker hose in place with large 2 ½ “ galvanized fence U staples spaced evenly. Add a quick connect to the soaker hose to the end of the bed, closest to the water bib, for easy hook-up access.

    A soaker hose can be buried 4 to 6 inches deep but I prefer to leave them on the top in the kitchen garden. Vegetable gardening requires replanting beds each season and the soaker hose configuration may need to change.

    After the transplants are planted or seeds are up and growing well, mulch around the plants and over the soaker hose. This accomplishes two things; keeps the water dripping down towards the roots and helps to hold the moisture in so you don’t have to water as often. Plus mulch keeps produce clean and soil borne diseases at bay.

    This method of irrigation works well for traditional row gardens as well, simply lay the hose along the length of the row, plant and cover with mulch.

  • Sprinklers are another good option for irrigating the kitchen garden. They come in an array of styles and most can be adjusted to a pattern that will give good coverage to the garden.

    When using any type of overhead sprinkler be sure to water early in the day. This will give the leaves plenty of time to dry so fungus doesn’t become a problem. Also, water evaporates in the hot afternoon sun which is a waste of water and money.

  • Rain barrels are a clever way to recycle water off the roof that would otherwise just run off. Just like our grandparents before us, this method is becoming popular again. Rain barrels are especially useful for drought periods or when water restrictions are in place.

    A ½” rain on a 1,000-square foot roof will provide approximately 300 gallons of naturally soft and chemically free rain water that your plants will love! For more water storage connect two or more rain barrels.

    Elevate the rain barrel so that you can get some help from gravity to distribute the water via a hose to the garden or use a short piece of hose with an on/off valve (unless your rain barrel comes with a on/off spigot) to fill watering can for container plants.

Although Grandma advocated using rain water to wash your hair, it shouldn’t be used for drinking water. Contamination from bird droppings is possible but reportedly low. Just to be safe, use the water at the base of your vegetable plants and always wash your vegetables before serving them up at the dinner table.

A fine mesh screen should also be effective to keep mosquitoes out but if they become a problem try adding a little vegetable oil to the water (1 teaspoon to a tablespoon are the recommendations) for a natural solution; it seems that mosquitoes can’t hatch in a oil slick and the oil won’t hurt your plants. Or you can add mosquito dunks every 30 days to keep them from taking up residence in your rain barrel.

There is something to be said for do-it-yourself water harvesting. Do your part to keep run-off water from polluting streams and filling up storm sewers, and save money in the process.

How Much Water Does the Kitchen Garden Need?

The typical kitchen garden needs approximately an inch of water per week during the growing season. How do you know how much an inch of water is? A rain gauge is a valuable tool for a gardener as it is marked in inches. Be sure to take note and empty before the next rain so you can get an accurate read each time. This way you will know that if you received less than the optimal amount you can supplement your garden.

During times of little or no rain when you have to count on some form of irrigation, recycle small tin cans from tuna fish or cat food. With soaker hoses, bury the tin can almost up to the rim under a portion of the hose. When it is full you know you have the right amount of water. Note how long it takes to fill if you want to use a timer on your soaker hoses.

When using an overhead sprinkler, place some tin cans here and there around the garden. When they are full you can rest assured you have watered enough.

When to Water the Kitchen Garden

Plants like people enjoy something to drink in the morning when they wake up so plan to water in the early morning. It is better to water the kitchen garden deeply once or twice a week. This will encourage longer root growth building stronger plants that can take watering less often. If you are gardening in pots you will need to water once and sometimes twice a day through hot dry spell.

To help retain moisture in the garden, mulch around plants with newspapers, straw, hay, chopped leaves, soil conditioner or even seedless grass clippings.

TSC Kitchen Garden Watering Supplies:

  • Soaker hoses
  • Overhead sprinklers
  • Galvanized U Staples
  • Rain barrels
  • On/off valve
  • Mosquito Dunks
  • Quick Release attachment
  • Garden hoses
  • Watering Wands and other hose attachments
  • Timer
  • Mulch
  • Straw