The Gordon Gnohm

Play along at home, read Future Farmer in The Braidwood Bugle every Wednesday. 

Is Hand Watering ruining your garden?

When I first moved to the region, I used to mow lawns in Canberra. Every now and then I would encounter a tree root growing above the ground with the top sliced off. It looked like the lawn had receded while the tree root was sometimes 50mm above the earth. It was not something I had seen at the coast, where I had mown many lawns. 

After a few years, I noticed a common theme on summer afternoons. Men would come home after work to hand water their precious lawns. A therapy session after a tough day at the office. They were not proper watering, just zoning out after work with a hose in their hand. The grass was being teased, by depositing water on the foliage and little into the soil. 

Correct Technique

When I was a young lad, fresh into horticulture studies, my teacher drummed into us the correct method for hand watering. To effectively hydrate the soil, penetration was the key, storing water deep in the soil where the plants could access the water they required all day, every day. 

“If you’re holding a hose in the garden, you need to water 20mins past when you get bored“, she would say. Twenty minutes is a long time holding a hose, but her point was clear. Water enough to get soakage down into the earth not just the surface. Surface watering has no penetration and creates upward growing tree roots.

Hand watering as mentioned last week is an art not a science, so check your work. Back then no one was mulching gardens. A time long past, when we were digging in and over before each crop. Hand watering bare earth causes pooling and runs very quickly, especially on sunbaked dirt, so a lot of attention is required to get the water into the ground. We were all losing a lot to evaporation back then, and it cost more water for the same results.

Each growing system has different watering requirements. Knowing these can reduce your watering needs and provide habitat for you and your food.

Trees

Trees need deep watering for the first 2-3 years. My teachers technique has had great results, deep watering in plantings of new trees, 1-2 times a week. The amount of water and penetration required will increase as the tree grows. 

After this time the tree should have enough access to the water table to continue growing to apex. A mature tree will require little assistance except in extreme times, when the risk of losing the tree is high. 1-2 good deep waterings under the drip line, then covered with thick woody mulch will get most trees through a dry summer. 

Deep water penetration encourages roots to grow down into the water table, not up into the lawn chasing water. Deep roots secure the trees during high wind events and stabilise landscapes during torrential flooding events. Shallow watering makes for delicate trees and landscapes. Create landscapes more like Monga NP.

Gardens

House gardens are like trees when getting established. They require deep watering 1-2 times a week for the first 2-3 growing seasons. Shrubbery and groundcovers reduce water loss as they start to provide living mulch. Once the garden is established watering only in the driest of seasons will be needed. Appropriate planting for your microclimate, soil type and water availability will reduce watering needs as the garden grows in. The liveability of your space will improve with the changing environment around your home.

Grass/Lawn

Grass requires a considerable amount of water, especially establishing new lawn. Again, root penetration is the key, the deeper the better for the long term health of your grass. Daily watering is required to keep the grass seed, or turf, alive while it germinates and sets roots. 

Daily saturation of the surface is recommended for the first 2 weeks, to ensure there is no die off. This saturation falls deep into the soil underneath and the roots follow it down. Watering with a hose for a short period of time will encourage shallow roots and encourage other more dominant fixtures to grow roots up to meet the available water.

Pasture

Pasture is like grass/lawn, in that it takes a lot of water to grow. Especially when first seeded. If the seeds strike and then receive no water over the next 2 days, the seeds will wither and die. Choice of seed is critical, especially in freshly ploughed dirt, as little water will be held in the baking earth. Seeding into existing paddocks with No Till techniques maintains ground cover while new seed germinates, reducing water inputs and increasing strike rates. 

Vegetables/Fruit/Berries

Food plants require the most water of all. That water is converted into edible tucker so how much you put on matters, and how and when you put it on matters too. 

Best practice is to water in the morning before 9am in summer, not on the leaves. 

Water under the mulch is key, and I mentioned last week that I am hand watering the garden with a wand. Direct injection next to seedlings, to get through the mulch. A thick mulch layer prevents too much disturbance as the water trickles down through the mulch and into the soil. 

Morning watering gives plants the best chance during the heat of the day. Watering at the end of the day has some merit in summer but makes a highway for slugs and snails to munch your crops at night. Hand watering the garden takes time and attention. Wilting plants are a sure sign that there is a dry patch, but ideally it shouldn’t get to that.

Veggies require water every 1-3 days in the growing season. A good hydration of the entire bed is best to keep the microbes thriving and your tucker booming.

This week

There are so many cabbage moths about, which is why I don’t plant brassicas in summer.  Lady beetles are procreating to consume all the cabbage aphids from the heat/water stressed brassicas. Predators arrive when there is a boom of critters to feast on, but only in a chemical free, ecosystem garden. Chickens enjoy the added protein on festy plants and make better eggs.

Im eating zucchinis, peas, summer lettuce, beets and carrots. Pumpkins are swelling, watermelons are flowering and there is a cucumber forming on the vine. Summer is an exciting time and Im glad my ‘risky’ spring plantings paid off again. Tomatoes are big enough they need a frame to grow up. Im not big on staking, tying or pruning. Its too windy here for a single stake and dog mesh isn’t as solid as it used to be, so a frame is best. 

Im planting more parsnips, carrots, beetroot and leeks in spent beds that are at the end of their cycle. I plant these roots all year round and sometimes they go into 1 year old beds if I don’t have the space. 

Remember, everyday is a school day,

Stay awesome,

The Gordon Gnohm

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