Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Great Water Debate

One of the biggest gardening mysteries that I have yet to solve is the elusive "gardening watering schedule." Oh it confuses me to no end. If you recall last year one of our biggest issues was water. I'd turn on the sprinkler at dinnertime with intentions of watering the garden for about an hour, then wake up the next morning and see the sprinkler still going and run out there in my PJs and slippers splodging out to the garden to turn it off. Then we had the flooding from Tropical Storm Faye that did not help our watering dilemma.

This time around I'm having better luck, but I'm still unsure of how to water the garden. Should it be daily? Weekly? For 15 minutes? For one hour? If you do it wrong, your plants will punish you severely. I know this because I got cracked tomatoes and blossom end rot last year. I also caught my carrots and radishes making an ark late one night, which was not a good sign.

So this time I decided to call our local extension office and ask them how to water a vegetable garden. I'm a doubter by nature so I decided to call the extension offices for both local counties and pretend on the phone I lived in whatever county I was calling and compare the advice of both extension offices. I live right on the border of two counties, so that is how I justified this web of lies.

When I called the first extension office and told them of my watering dilemma they told me that the master gardener was out, but that Abe could answer my questions. I wondered who Abe was - a gardener?... or the janitor?...but happily spoke to him because just by hanging out in the extension office he has to know more than I do about gardening. Abe told me to water my garden every other day for about 30 minutes. He said to water early in the morning and not late in the afternoon. He said that our sandy Florida soil does not hold in much water so you cannot go long between waterings like you can if you have real soil. Every other day for 30 minutes definitely surprised me.

I then called the next extension office in the neighboring county and spoke to Sophie. She answered the phone by saying "Master Gardener Extension Office," so I felt confident. Sophie said she wanted to confer with two master gardeners and call me back with the answer. I was even happier with that. I knew when she called back she'd have conflicting information from Abe and I'd be able to out him as the janitor giving illegal advice over the phone, causing scandal in the gardening world. When she called back she said that I should water three times a week for about 30 minutes a pop. She mentioned that Florida's sandy soil doesn't hold water well so that watering often is better than watering less. She also said I should test the soil by digging down a few inches and seeing if it's moist. If it's not, I need to water longer. Very similar to ole' Abe's advice, wouldn't you say?

I even found an online site that mentions watering twice a day in the summer when it doesn't rain. How crazy is that? So I think I can cross over-watering off my list of possible causes of garden failure. Since I've been watering the garden every other day for 15 minutes, I'm clearly watering less than what's suggested locally. I've had quite a few garden-blogging friends wonder if I was overwatering too, so realizing I'm not watering enough is quite a revelation for me!


Daphne said...

During the summer if I don't get rain I water the garden every 4-5 days and make sure it is at least 3/4" (by putting a container on the ground). But then again I have clay soil, it is usually very humid and we don't get as hot as you do in the summer. Sometimes if it is hot the lettuce gets handwatered more. My mom who lives in the Colorado mountains often waters every day. It gets really hot, her soil doesn't hold water well and the air is so dry there that it just suck water from the plants.

Sande said...

The local county extension groups are great resources for gardeners. We have one right down the street and I've called them a few times this spring and had them look at a soil sample full of white stuff (mushroom growth) once. Good luck with your watering - it's so nice that the two places agreed!

Erin said...

I must admit that I have not jumped on the bandwagon of soaker/irrigation hoses & timers either...too expensive for me! We also have very sandy soil here in coastal VA and high heat & humidity. What I have done the past few years has given me good yields so far: go outside in my PJ's every morning before my kids wake up and hold a cup of joe in one hand and the garden hose in the other and spray - takes about 15 minutes for the whole garden and this doubles as my only alone time for the day, lol! (Although there are a few days I hit it again at dinnertime if the plants look exceptionally sun-battered)

Worknprogress said...

Could i make a suggestion for your watering? For years i used a sprinkler like yours and got mediocre result with it. Of course, all the tomato plants would get that disease that curls their leaves and powdery mildew would be ever present on my peas, pumpkins and zucchinis.

Then my hubbie tried a soaker hose (of which you could make yourself, if you have an old hose laying around, by just popping holes in it on both sides of the hose, every 1/2 - 1 inch.) It's a hose full of holes that you can place on the soil and weave it in and out of your plants.

Boy, did that soaker hose really make a difference in the health and size of my plants! Because the water is now directly applied to the soil around the roots, the water penetrates the soil better, giving you a deeper watering with way less water lost to evaporation. And your aren't drenching you plants that way.

Someone explained it to me once: to satisfy your thirst, do you hop in the tub or showers (overhead sprinkler) or do you pour a drink and apply water directly to the source? Kinda makes sense, eh?

Engineeredgarden said...

Kate - once July hits, my watering frequency is every other day, too. Drip irrigation, as the other person mentioned - is probably the best way to water, if you can setup a system that is pretty economical.

Kate and Crew said...

Thanks for the advice. I am definitely going to look into the drip irrigation system - I'll price it out and see if we can swing it.

It was close to 90 degrees today with some kicking humidity and the plants looked parched!

Melissa said...

I was using the cup and bucket method of watering recommended in the Square Foot Gardening book - great for just watering only where your plants are and conserving water. It was killing my back though. I bought a thing that looks like a shower head on a pole (in the garden center of Walmart) that attaches to my hose. I can still water only my plants without too much bending over. So far, everything looks great - flowering and bearing vegetables. I'm in central FL too - and am watering every other day. I'm going to experiment with growing under shade cloth for our hot, hot summer.

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