Gardens and Drought - 4 Steps to Reducing Water Use

With our governor’s announcement that water rationing is now an official reality and soon-to-be mandatory, I thought I’d review some of the things we can all do in our gardens to conserve water and still grow lots of great food. I 've written about this before, but given our dire water supply and the fact that it's planting season, I thought it would be a good refresher for me, and hopefully for you too!
  1. Amend your soil.  Work lots of compost as deeply as you can into your beds—up to 24” deep.   Loose soil with organic matter encourages bigger, deeper root systems that can find moisture and nutrients.  Your plants will be healthier and tastier too!
  2. Plant intensively and with diversity.  Leaving lots of space between plants makes for lots of exposed areas that dry out and compact quickly.  While you don’t want to crowd your plants to the point where you lose production, you can tuck different plants into bare spaces.  For instance, if you plant your tomatoes 24” apart, you can tuck some herbs, peppers, and beneficial flowers in between.  It’s pretty and all the plants tend to do better.  The soil stays covered (which slows evaporation) and the plants tend to take care of each other.
  3. Mulch!  This will drastically reduce the amount of water your beds need. Once planted, mulch your garden beds with several inches of organic matter.  You can use compost, straw, fir bark, dead leaves or wood chips to layer over your beds.  You will be amazed how moist the soil below will stay.  It’s like an insulation layer.  It also tempers heat and cold. 
  4. Water judiciously.  The fact is, overwatering is a very common error gardeners make.  We want so badly to take good care of our plants, and watering seems like such a kind and nurturing thing to do!  We tend to water when we feel it’s hot, and when the ground looks dry.  Just because it looks dry on the surface though, doesn’t mean it’s dry 6” down. Get in the habit of poking down into the soil periodically and feeling with your fingers or hand.  If it’s moist, you shouldn't need to water.
A note about tomato plants—they will sometimes wilt some during the day when the sun is intense or it’s particularly hot.  Don’t grab the hose yet though! Our first reaction is to water them, but that’s probably not what they need.  If the plant perks up again as the sun recedes and temperatures drop in the evening, then it’s not a watering issue.  They just responded to the light and heat by drooping some.  They will be fine.  Planting intensively will help, as plants help shade and protect other plants.

Now, I gotta go plant!