Water is becoming a precious resource for Floridians, even if this particular summer might make one think otherwise. As home gardeners, we should make it a point to use only as much water in the garden as we need, and never allow a wasteful surplus to run. If we waste water now, home gardeners may have to give up watering their gardens in the future, to conserve water for more basic needs of the population. Of course, we all hope that’ll never happen, but it is possible. As we begin thinking about the fall vegetable garden, we also need to think about ways to cut back on the amount of water we use in the garden, and find ways of growing vegetables with as little water as possible.
One way to save water is to plant fast growing, early-maturing vegetables. The sooner a plant matures the less water it will need. The longer the garden is occupied, the more water it will take.
Another tip is to plant the garden during periods of adequate rainfall. For Florida gardeners, this leaves a fairly wide choice of planting dates. This fall, for example, gardener should have no problem with adequate soil moisture.
Try to improve the water-holding capacity of the soil. Most Florida gardens contain coarse soil particles, such as sand. That doesn’t hold water very well. Applying generous amounts of organic materials such as compost, manures, and cover crops, will help the soil hold water better.
Another way to save water is to use a watering method that applies water just in the root zone, where it’s needed. Overhead sprinkling may be time saving for you, but it wastes a lot of water, by wetting areas between rows and by losing water to the wind. If you set your plants far enough apart, they can be individually watered by hand.
Try to use drip or trickle irrigation, if you can. Our IFAS Specialist tells us that drip irrigation produces vegetables just as well as overhead sprinkling does, but with eighty percent less water.
If you aren’t using the drip method, a general rule is to water the garden thoroughly twice weekly. This will encourage deep rooting of the plants.
Another tip is to avoid simply over watering your garden. Young plants don’t need as much water as older plants do. There’s a limit to how much water plants can use. Any more than that run off, is wasted, or stays around to cause root rot problems.
Another way to save water is to keep weeds out of the garden. Weeds use water for their own growth and transpire large amounts of water to the air. You’ll be surprised how much less water the garden will need, if weeds aren’t allowed to grow.
Mulch can be a big help in conserving soil moisture. Use hay, straw, leaves, or plastic. Finally always use good judgment when running water, and remember that the water you waste today may become the water you wish you had tomorrow.
For more information on conserving water in the vegetable garden contact the Gulf County Extension Service at 639-3200 or visit our website: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu or www.http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu and see Publication SP 103, SL339; or Master Gardener Handbook: North and Central Florida. Volume 1, 2 and 3; Drip Irrigation Systems for Small Conventional Vegetable Farm.