Gardens Across America - Watering Edition

Checking in with the Gardeners Across America this time returns to a whole new scene. I am amazed at how quickly plants grow. Even the unattended weeds in my backyard (that I have no access to!) have completely taken over. Those weeds have grown without any water but rain. But how do people – in various parts of the country — water their garden these days with water conservation on their minds?

So – again, here are our gardeners – read on to find out how their gardens grow (and where the water comes from)!

Mike Lieberman  – California – Balcony gardening
Mike prides himself in learning gardening the old fashion way, trial and error. He says, “I might have a vegetable garden, but I grow food.” Follow what Mike is growing on his blog, Urban Organic Gardener.

Simran Sethi  – Kansas – Yardshare
The award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas has decided to share her big backyard in Lawrence. Read “Sharing the Yard” on Oprah.com about the beginnings of her yard-share last year. Find out more of out what Simran is up to.

Tess and Jack Kenney  – Wisconsin – Mushroom farmers and more
Tess, an active member of Victory Garden Initiative and the Kilbourn Gardens in Milwaukee, and her husband Jack are growing mushrooms, onions, asparagus, blueberries and more and are also composting in a newly built bin. Read Tess' organic food posts on examiner.com.

Wendimere Reilley  – Florida – Backyard aquaponics and more
The Health Chic, herbalist, author & TV host, growing lettuce and more in her backyard aquaponics systems. Check out what the Health Chic is creating.

Anne Dailey  – Maine – Big garden (really big – though read Anne’s newest answer… not so big in Maine – just from my NYC perspective!)
Writer, activist and aspiring agrarian, gardening on a 30 x 40 plot with two fruit trees and some berries too! Keep up with Anne on her website.

Mike in California

How are you watering your plants? I know you have a balcony and self-watering containers… is the water coming from rain? The kitchen sink? Tell us how it’s working!

I change out the water in my containers about once a week or so. For the containers that I am starting seeds in, I water from the top on a daily basis. I also do my best to not waste water and reuse as much as I can. Since I make my own nut and seed milks, I'll use the soak water in my garden to water it. When I was living in NYC, I used to shower with a 5-gallon container and use the shower to water my plants. Now that I'm in LA, I have carpeting and am a bit more hesitant to drag the water across the carpet.

Simran in Kansas

Your garden looks beautiful! How do you gauge how much water it will need… and where does the water come from? Is there a balance between rain water and supplemental watering?

Water is such a crucial issue and question. (There are some great resources on how and where we use water here: http://www.oprah.com/home/Stop-Wasting-Water-Simran-Sethi.) Most of the water that’s used in my garden comes from the sky. In the future, all of it will. I am committed to growing drought-resistant crops whenever possible and I desperately need to build some rain barrels to capitalize on what nature gives us. And, I am ever-hopeful I can divert water from my home into my yard. (I took my class to Oakland to learn about greywater capture and am now determined to try it here in Kansas) Sally just planted melons! I can’t wait for the harvest.

Tess and Jack in Wisconsin

How are you watering your plants? I know you have a pretty big garden – are you collecting rain water? Watering from the hose?

As for watering, we use both rain barrels and the city water from the tap.  We have been really lucky as this spring and early summer months in Wisconsin have not been dry.  The weather was very cold here and so it seemed we really didn’t have much of a spring.  Some of my friends are experimenting with Ollas. (see : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olla)  We can get you a picture of the Ollas in a garden setting for the next entry. We did not put Ollas in our garden this year but look forward to trying them out next year. Our strawberries are off the chart this year, sweet and plentiful.  Earlier we sent pictures of our newly planted apple trees and we did see some blossoms, which resulted in our first apple. So we are pretty excited to be harvesting our first apple.  In addition our blackberries and raspberries are ready to burst into full color.  To celebrate we bought an old fashion ice cream maker and we can’t wait to try it out with all these wonderful berries.

Wendimere in Florida

I asked the other gardeners about their watering processes… how does watering work with aquaponics? Do you need to add water on a regular basis? I know you also collect rainwater, do you use this for the aquaponics and for your other watering needs?

At The Health Chic House 95% of our outside water usage comes from our rain barrel systems.  All edibles, including the aquaponic system are watered 100% through our various rainwater catchment systems.  We did plant some new bamboo this year as a natural fencing alternative and this required the use of some city water during a few of our dry spells.  Plants grown with rainwater seem to be hardier and more resilient to disease, especially in combination with the use of worm compost.  Plus, I prefer my edibles to not be nourished with chlorinated city water as I do feel that this affects the quality.  Rain Barrel systems are inexpensive and easy to start and can be installed even without gutters as shown in the photo of the 3 barrel interconnected system.  By the way, this system is very unique as it uses a pumping system that is connected to a time controlled micro-irrigation system.  Absolutely brilliant for any lazy gardener, like myself.

Anne in Maine

How are you watering your garden? I know it’s pretty big – are you collecting rainwater? Watering from the hose? Tell us how it is going!

Well the garden is in; and it’s looking good!  There are far too many tomatoes, but they have such lovely names (Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Azoychka, Hillbilly, Amish Paste, etc.) and I couldn’t keep myself from over-seeding back in May.  The dry and sweet corn, beans, and salad greens are up; the potatoes are going strong; the peas are trellised and flowering; and the garlic sending up those delicious scapes.  So far I think I'm on track, with the exception of that darn fence installation. The cedar poles are here, but we've got to rent a post-hole digger this weekend to save my back for the real farm work.

So. The question:  How do I tackle watering?

The short answer is that I cross my fingers for rain.  The long answer is, well, long.  After we purchased this house a year ago, we discovered that our only water source was a 12 foot dug well lined with stone.  During the summer months we keep a constant watch on it, but even with our conservative use, it sometimes runs dry, and we have to turn off the water for a day until it recharges.  This means, of course, that watering the garden is not an option.  A drilled well is a couple of years and a few thousand dollars away, and so I cross my fingers for rain.

For the most part, we were lucky last year – it rained about once a week, at most every two weeks, enough to keep the plants happy, healthy and growing.  I've also learned that what looks dry isn’t always dry – healthy soil retains more moisture than you would think.  So as long as you can dig down a few inches, squeeze a fistful of soil and have it somewhat hold together, you're probably fine.  Still, sometimes you need more water than the sky provides.

Ironically, given our well problems, we have two streams that run year-round on the property.  Neither is in a location that can be accessed with any type of irrigation pipe, but they're there, and they're flowing. When the situation gets desperate, I pick up the watering cans, put on my imaginary bonnet, and start hauling water Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-style.  It doesn’t take all that long, and crouching by a gently-flowing stream in the woods while collecting water has its charms. With a little effort, I'm able to use an abundant natural resource to keep my garden growing.  At some point we'll have a drilled well, and it will all be a non-issue, but I imagine I'll look back on these days with a mix of fondness and amusement.

As a side note, I feel compelled to mention that while I take pride in the “Big Garden (really big)” label, my garden is small to moderate in size by Maine standards. I recently had an impromptu chat in Goodwill with a woman in her sixties who maintains a 60'x80' garden and cans hundreds of jars of vegetables every year!  In order to keep up appearances, I'm expanding my garden by one bed. It will soon be filled with rare dry bean varieties, bringing the main garden space to 35'x40' + two 3×3 herb beds.

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