Notes by Phil Dudman
Most edible plants need regular watering to supplement what they receive from natural rainfall. Vegetables want to grow quickly so they demand more moisture than most of the ornamental plants we grow. When vegies dry out too often, they don’t perform as well and rarely develop as good a flavour and texture. Similarly, many fruit trees need regular moisture, especially while fruit is forming, otherwise fruit may fall prematurely, fail to form properly or simply lack juice and flavour.
While growing your own is a great thing to be doing for the environment, edibles are thirsty plants so it’s important that we take measures to use our water resources wisely and secure the continuation of our food production when times get dry.
Install a water tank
Harvesting rainwater from your roof reduces your reliance on town water and helps to secure an adequate supply of water for gardening in times of restrictions. Most councils offer generous rebates for installing water tanks. Combine these with rebates offered by the state and federal governments and a tank becomes a very reasonable and worthwhile investment.
When and how to water
The best time to water your plants is early morning. This allows the moisture time to soak deep down into the soil before the heat of the day causes the moisture to evaporate from the soil surface. When you water, keep the moisture off the foliage of plants. Always direct the water to the root zone by holding the hose close to the ground, avoiding water loss to the atmosphere. Run the water with a gentle flow and give the soil a deep soaking. This encourages the roots to develop a deep root system, one that can access valuable moisture deep below the surface.
Maintaining a cover of mulch on your soil can reduce evaporation by up to 70%. That’s a really simple way to save water and keep your plants healthy. The best types of mulch for vegie gardens are ones that break down quickly and add more humus to the soil, mulches like straw and sugar cane mulch. Fruit trees will also benefit from these fast break down mulches, but woody mulches are also suitable and often more economical.
This is the most efficient way to water your edible plants. Drip systems provide a very gentle flow of water directly to the root zone of your plants via a series of drippers and pipes. They can be connected to your mains tap or water tank. You don’t need to be a professional to install a drip irrigation system, but you may need to seek the advice of a professional to be sure you have all the components you need. Take a simple diagram of your garden to your local irrigation specialist and let them design a system for you (don’t forget to include some dimensions). Many components click together or connect with a simple joiner and clamp. Think about including an automatic timer as well. This allows you to set it and walk away, giving you more time to do other jobs like planting seedlings and turning the compost!
Phil’s Top Tips
1. Install a water tank – this reduces your reliance on the town water supply and helps secure an adequate supply of water in times of restrictions
2. Water effectively – water early morning, water deeply and maintain a cover of mulch on the soil to reduce loss of moisture from evaporation
3. Install drip irrigation – it’s the most efficient way to water and when you combine the system with an automatic timer, it saves you time as well.