Gardening in Almonte: On water …

David

Two events on the weekend spoke profoundly to me of the importance of water and how we view it.

The first event was a blessing, by an Algonquin elder, of the seeds and planting of corn in a reconciliation garden. The elder was momentarily speechless as we watered the just-planted seed and the deep connection among soil, seed and water was manifested. The importance of connecting with and sustaining the soil and the water upon which all life depends is fundamental to the connection of our indigenous friends with our planet. Water features large in many creation stories and is essential to life.

(Photo credit: Sue Evans)

The second event was an infant baptism at a local church on Sunday. Water played a key role in the ceremony – in this case, the young girl quite enjoyed the sprinkling of water. Water is used in many ways metaphorically in scriptures which connect with its life-giving nature and with its cleansing nature.

It is well-nigh impossible to overstate the importance of access to water for growing vegetables. Sufficient water is the single most important ingredient for growing a successful vegetable garden.  A minimum of at least an inch of water is required every week for most vegetables whereas average rainfall in the Ottawa Valley is about 3 inches a month in the summer. There can be lengthy periods in mid-summer without rain. In 2012 this stretched to nearly 12 weeks with virtually no rain and in 2016 we also had an extended period in the summer without rain (over four weeks). Be prepared to water if you want to grow vegetables successfully.

Currently gardens and fields are drying out very nicely – I have even seen some farmers planting corn already. Farmers do not need to go to Las Vegas to gamble – there is no way of knowing if it will be a wet year like last season or a dry one like the previous year. Some rain is forecast for this weekend. We will have to wait to see what Mother Nature has in mind for us this year!

Water can often be the Achilles’ heel of community gardens and even for many home gardens. Many community gardens are dependent on water barrels that provide limited water. They can be time-consuming to fill and reliable supply is not always available. Connecting them with eavestrough from the roof of a small garden shed may not provide a whole lot of water. Home gardeners that depend on wells can find themselves facing constraints on water supply in an extended drought. So if you are planning to create a vegetable garden put this at the top of your priority list.

I find that many of us (me included) can be very cavalier in our treatment of water. We are particularly blessed in Canada with fresh-water resources that can seem infinite but it is very easy to waste and pollute our water.

I find that many people have no idea how much rain has fallen. People complain after 3 or 4 days of overcast weather with a bit of drizzle that we have had too much rain already. (I would certainly agree that we have not had nearly enough sunshine.) The reality may be that the total amount of rainfall has only been a fraction of an inch. I like to make sure that I have an empty bucket sitting on the patio if I know that rain is forecast so that I can tell at a glance how much water has actually fallen.

Mulching also helps to conserve moisture. Proper soil preparation with lots of organic matter (compost) added improves the structure of soil allowing it to hold much more water. Surface soil that is loose or friable will prevent run-off in a heavy rain and absorb more water. A light sprinkling every day is counter-productive as it encourages plants to develop shallow roots that will not have the capacity to withstand dry weather and that do not access minerals in deeper soil. Soak the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches and do it only once or twice a week. Do not water at mid-day or in the hot sun if you have alternatives.

Try drip irrigation or using a watering wand.

If you have a sprinkler that puts the water way up in the air you are going to lose much more to evaporation. Try planting more intensively – shaded soil loses water more slowly. Plants require more water when blooming and in very hot or windy conditions.