Wednesday, October 7, 2009

watering over summer


Watering is a difficult subject in Alice springs- although perhaps not as difficult as places with water restrictions interstate. However we have the distinction of having twice the water use of the average Australian household. The average Australian household lives on the coast and gets rain at most times of the year so its no wonder they are not pouring water on at the rate people do in Alice Springs. So I don’t think alice springs people have any special qualifications to make them the biggest water users in the country – they just need to add a lot more water to get the same results as someone living in a coastal city.
We know that most water goes onto gardens and in swimming pools, so savings in these areas are likely to make the biggest differences to our water use.

Watering in the vege garden
I am not so big on telling people the amount of water they should put on their garden because depending on what type of system you have – there are a lot of variables involved. How fast do you turn the tap on? Sprays? Drippers? dripper line? How clayey or sandy is your soil? What crop are you growing and what’s the weather like?

Generally it is best to observe what’s going on and there are a few things to look out for. Make sure your plants whole root system receives water and a little bit beyond so the roots can continue to grow outwards. Dig down in the soil to see how far the water is penetrating. Water use also changes as your plants grow. As they get bigger and grow more leaves they will need more water, so the 20 minutes you were watering in late spring will not be suitable come late summer. Plants also lose more water in windy and hot weather.
We had our pumpkin patch scorched on a windy 38 degree plus day so we made up a little rule that if it was going to be 38 or above we would manually give the garden another 30 minutes to make up for the extra water that would be lost.

Watch for wilting.
Wilting is a sign of water stress but the most important thing is wether the plant recovers from the wilting by the next day. You plants can experience some wilting in the hottest parts of the day and be no worse for wear. Of course plants which have been watered daily all their life will wilt disastrously in summer if that watering is interrupted, because they have not been encouraged to establish a large, deep root system.

So what do I do?
I generally water 2 times a week in winter and 3 times a week in summer. This covers all crops generally. Some crops are hardy enough to be watered only 2 times a week in summer and some like asparagus can go with one watering a week due to their deep expansive rot systems.
Some parts of your garden may need daily watering – when you have seedlings for example. One way around this is to grow your seedlings in a nursery situation in large pots and plants then when they have quite a large root system.
Some plants just have shallow roots like Chinese greens and lettuce so will need daily watering in the summer if not twice daily.

snake bean seedlings

Strategies to reduce water wastage in the summer
Grow summer hardy vegetables like snake beans, okra, amaranth, melons and tomatoes, eggplants, sweet potato – avoid things like lettuce and leafy greens or restrict them to small areas and only water these small areas frequently.
Amaranth can be used like spinach but it is summer hardy and drought tolerant – nearly un-killable.
Amaranth - pick the young growing leaves and shoots

Source your seed locally
Reason 1. Someone has tried them in your local area and has been successful
Reason 2. it is more likely that the local variety will perform well in your local conditions.
Example: This year I planted 2 cucmbers. An Armenian striped variety which I have grown before and has done very well – and A Lebanese cucumber from eden seeds. The difference in growth rate between them was remarkable – with the Armenian cucumber being about 3 times as large as the Lebanese cucumber.

Avoid trying to establish plants in Jan or Feb – it’s a very stressful period. If you do need to do so in a sheltered nursery situation.

Research and Stick to optimum planting times. If you plant a crop that gives you nothing at the end – you will have wasted a lot of water as a result.

Use windbreaks to slow down wind and evaporation.

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