Thursday, February 16, 2012


An essential element for plants is getting the right amount of water.  Watering inconsistencies can stress the plants and cause undesired results like bolting, bitter fruit, and mold problems.

Our first year we watered from a garden house by hand, and used some drip hoses as well.  This was city water which contains chlorine to kill bacteria.  We have been filtering our water for many years to drink because we know it is better for us, so what about the plants we are watering then eventually eating?  I imagine there are some scientific studies done on this, but several years ago we did our own testing when we were deciding if we should get rid of our microwave or not.  We learned that the microwave affects the food it cooks. For the test we simply took 4 baggies with a few cotton balls in them, then took 4 types of water.  Filtered tap water, microwaved tap water, boiled tap water and plain tap water.  We soaked each bag's cotton balls with the different water and placed seeds on them.  The results were interesting.  The filtered water sprouted almost immediately, followed by the boiled several days later, then tap.  The microwaved seedling bag didn't really sprout at all for a very long time, and then while the other cotton balls else grew moldy it did not.  The sterilized tap water had no life.  The point relevant for this discussion is that the filtered water showed the best looking results for the sprouts. Filtering all our water before putting it on our garden is not practical with our little Berky water filter, but a couple of options for getting better water for our plants came to mind.  One option was to fill buckets and let the water set so the chlorine could off gas before putting the water on the garden.  If we did this we would need to be sure to not let the water set too long or cover the tops with a screen to deter mosquitoes.  Another possibility was to put in our own well since the water table was about 18 feet down, according to our neighbor behind us.  This seemed doable for us do-it-yourselfers.

Last year we put in our own well.  Turned out the water line was only about 10 feet down.  We live close to a lake and you can barley make it out through the trees in the winter when there are no leaves.  The well was actually quite simple and easy to install, just a couple of 10 foot pipes, a drive point, and a drive cap and in it went with a post driver, quite easy through the sand, the last little bit was harder but I was able to get to a good height for the hand pump and that was it.  Then came the pumping, and pumping, and pumping...  It takes a long time to water our 7 beds, even when we worked on it together.  Typically Timothy pumped and Shannon ran water back and forth in watering cans.  We have three 2 gallon watering cans to keep things moving.

Shannon Priming the Pump
We also added lots of mulch last year as we learned from "The Ruth Stout No Work Garden" book.  We used mainly hay from my father's barn.  This worked great to nearly eliminate the weeding and it was also to minimize the amount of watering needed because the mulch was to help keep the beds from drying out.  We probably didn't have the mulch thick enough because it still seemed like we needed to water a lot.  That might also be do to our sandy soil.  Last summer was cooler than usual and one issue with the mulch seemed to be that crops that like it hot didn't do very well.  Especially our eggplant which we tried for the first time last year and never got any edible food from it.  The mulch kept the soil cool and it never had a chance to warm up.  So this year we will look into keeping the mulch on thick for cooler crops and very light if at all on warmer crops after the soil has warmed.

Another thing I was pondering as I was pumping the water by hand was the thought that this cold water would be somewhat of a shock and potentially stunting to them.  Again for cooler loving crops like broccoli, lettuce and spinach this might be ideal because it will help cool them down in the hotter months and retard their bolting.  However the peppers and tomatoes were not happy.  So again I was faced with the possibility of an intermediate step of staging the water in buckets or a larger rain barrel of sorts.  This would then allow the water to be warm and to maximize the potential benefit to the plants.  We looked around for some rain barrels as this would hold much more water than a 5 gallon bucket and not be so messy looking with buckets all over.  We found the typical price in the store of around $100 or more to be ridiculous for a 50 gallon plastic rain barrel.  If you are interested in a barrel for yourself and don't mind looking around and doing a little work to put in a spigot, you can find a much better deal.  I was able to get a used barrel through a farmer and put in my own spigot for under $10.  We also put up rain gutters last year so now the potential for collecting the rain water is there as well.  My plan this year is to hook up one or possibly 2 barrels by the rain gutter and use this as another water source.

"Rain" Barrels
Why do hand watering instead of automatic?  Well there could be benefits to either depending on your situation.  As the plan for our official vegetable garden this year will be ten 4x8 raised beds, it is still a reasonably small enough amount of space.  If we had much more garden space, another method would be preferred.  But who knows, I might change my mind this year as I am pumping, and pumping and pumping... One major benefit of watering by hand is that you will be spending more time in your garden than if you simply turned on the sprinkler.  This allows one to notice the needs of the plants sooner to allow for more timely intervention.  You notice the pests, crowding issues, and you can test those sweet peas to see if they are ready yet.  Another benefit, is if there isn't electricity for what ever reason, you can still water without any holdups.  Although I am sure there will be other major issues we will need to deal with if that happens, but watering won't be one of them. :)

Another purchase, which was just delivered today, that I am excited to try out this year, is a new hand water pump.  The new pump I got is supposed to be durable and long lasting, no leather to replace.  The specs say up to 10 gallons a minute, but I am mounting the 2" intake on my 1-1/4" pipe so I am not expecting that much but am hoping for better output.  Another benefit is that it is supposed to be able to work in a pressurized system.  My thought is to hook up a garden hose to the output, as it accepts a PVC connection which I could not do on my old picture pump, then filling the rain barrels when it's the dry season, this will require pumping up hill.  Then when it comes time to water the garden, just hook a garden hose to the rain barrel and we should be good to go.  Well that's the plan at this point.  We'll let you know how it goes.

Our New Hand Pump - From

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