Del Norte Gardening: Don’t over-water your plants

By Paul Madeira and Julie Jo Ayer Williams July 07, 2011 08:04 pm

With the long wet spring, and now the Fourth of July behind us, it is without a doubt, summertime.

The river is warming up and the wind is not blowing so fiercely — some mornings have been clear and some have been foggy. One thing is for sure, sunny days with a light breeze are long overdue.

After two months of slow growth, our gardens are really responding to the turn in the weather.  Now is the time of the year when I break out the sprinklers and every single hose on the farm and get ready for the wild ride.

At Ocean Air Farms, we use a variety of watering methods. From the 2-inch aluminum “hand line” to smaller sets of two or three Rain Bird-type sprinklers, we “overhead” water some of our crops along with all irrigated pastures.

What is more common on our vegetable crops is drip irrigation.  We use the industry standard, called T-Tape, for watering our crops without the hassle of moving sprinklers, and more importantly, without distributing water over every square inch of the garden.

There are many types of drip irrigation on the market, with tons of different emitters and fittings to build your custom system. The point of all drip line systems is basically the same: put water exactly where you need it and nowhere else.

The most helpful part of the drip tape is preventing the explosion of weeds from constant moisture.  The second benefit to drip irrigating is keeping water off the plant itself.

Some vegetables will quickly suffer if frequently soaked.  Tomatoes, squash and pumpkins are very susceptible to blithe and mildew.  We never overhead water these crops, and find they last much longer in the field.

There are several other crops we use drip tape with, either to minimize the weeds, keep water off the plants, or both. These crops include, but are not limited to, green beans, peas, onions (weed control), basil, and all the broccoli family. We have found using sprinklers, or “overhead” irrigation, easier on other crops, including; beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach and strawberries (watering only right after a picking).

Another thing we wanted to touch upon was the amount of water used. Even, an experienced gardener can make mistakes and waste time when it comes to watering. Basically, some crops need more water than others, and the sun, wind and fog have a lot to do with how much water you’ll need.

In 10 years of gardening and farming, watering has been the cause of most of our crop failures.  We’re not too bent out of shape over it, because correcting the problem is easy, we just have to find time to check the crops throughout the season and act accordingly. Our big tip for the month is sharing the fact that we only water things about once a week, sometimes for six hours, often 12. It is easier to bunch the task of moving water with other farm chores, which happen morning and night.

The home gardener usually over-waters, the busy farmer usually struggles to keep up with watering. Bottom line, don’t water every day! The crops that we have found need the most water include lettuce and carrots (while seeds are germinating), and tomatoes (before fruiting).

Broccoli needs moderate water, while pumpkins don’t need as much. We never once water our potatoes, but that’s for another column. We make sure to feel the soil just under the surface to really know the moisture level, commonly, requiring one heavy watering a week.

Feel free to find us at the Farmer’s Markets if you’d like to share your stories.  Thanks for reading (and gardening)!

Del Norte Gardening runs every four weeks on Thursdays. Paul Madeira and Julie Jo Ayer Williams own Ocean Air Farms in Fort Dick.

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