What wondrous thing it is that so many folks are joining the food movement, making edible gardens rather than cultivating grass, looking along the lines of organic methodologies for their homegrown veggies and finding efficient ways to utilize our collective energy and resources. Creating a productive, beautiful garden is one of the most liberating, invigorating feelings out there for the DIY crowds. Just freaking do it.
And, with that garden in mind, the design pencil in hand, ideas swirling, it’s a great time to think a little bit about water. We need it, animals need it and plants need it. Unfortunately, fresh water is becoming scarcer as the years pass. Gardens and lawns are amongst the top typical household culprits for devouring water, some estimates going as high as fifty percent of total usage.
So, it behooves us to begin using what water we have in the most efficient ways possible, learning to how to capitalize on the weather, the renewable resources around us and even on the water we’ve already used. It’s possible to have a lush, green garden with little to no need for public water sources.
1. Mulch Everything
One of the most productive and protective things to do in the garden is provide all soil with a nice layer of mulch. This can be grass clippings, shredded (or whole) leaves, straw, bark, or basically any similar type of light organic matter. Not only will the mulch break down and feed the garden, but also it will prevent the soil beneath it from drying out, as well as absorb and store water. It’s amazing to see a dried, cracked piece of earth, beaten by the sun, and next to it, move aside three or four inches of mulch to reveal moist, cool soil. That’s precisely what can happen.
2. Swell Up with Swales
Imagine a drainage ditch that ends before it empties into anything and that is a swale. The ideal swale is built on the contour of the land, such that water is caught high on a slope before it drains away. Rather than sending water off of the land during rainstorms, a swale collects it, allows it to absorb into the earth, creating and renewing the water table beneath the surface, just where tree roots can take advantage. Typically, when creating a swale, the earth that is excavated will be used to create a row, or berm, on the low side of the swale. The berm will absorb the water as well and is a great place to grow vegetables and such.
3. Harvest the Water
It’s absolutely insane that there is a shortage of clean, fresh water when it periodically falls from the sky, and it is a great idea for us to use our roofs to catch it and store it, if for nothing else, than to hydrate our gardens in drier times. All it takes is some guttering and a few barrels or a tank. Rather than have roof drip lines be bane to our existence and gardens, they can help us collect massive amounts of water every time it rains. And, with the mulch and swales already in place, there will be less and less need to water anyway.
4. Go Gray: Use Chemical-Free Soaps and Cleaners
Using all-natural, chemical-free soaps and cleaners (Make them yourself!) is good for many, many reasons: overall personal health, environmental issues, and cleaner gray water. It could be as simple as catching the water from the kitchen sink while washing the dishes or saving the water from boiling pasta for dinner. Or, for the really keen, there is the possibility of using gray water from showers, washing machines, dishwashers, and the like. It’s not a bad idea to develop some sort of filter system if there is too much soap or such involved, but there are plenty of times, without filtering at all, to reuse water rather than sending it down the drain. The plants don’t mind if potatoes were boiled in it first.
5. Use Smarter Irrigation
Sprinklers are horrible, wasteful little devices, as are many of the more widely used watering trinkets. Much of the water never makes to its intended location, with lots evaporating or draining away before plants get any benefit. Bad irrigation uses far more water than necessary because so much is lost. Mulch and swales will definitely help with catching and preserving this water, but smarter irrigation systems like soaker hoses or drip lines will help to insure any water used gets exactly to the plants its intended for, especially with lines that are run under mulch such that the sun will not get a chance to soak it up.
Practice these methods in the garden and soon all the greenery around the house will be growing happily off the grid, hopefully providing the family with some appetizing treats. And, for sure, always check before watering to make sure that it’s necessary. Automatic timers may be convenient, but they can also be atrociously careless as that scheduled watering might be right in the middle of a natural deluge. If the soil is moist under the mulch, plants have gotten what they need, so experiment with just how often they actually need watering. Then, feel proud about doing something positive for the world and all of us living on it.