Drought is Back. Here's How the Town Green Community Garden is Saving Water in 2021
by Cindy Fenton
As we grow our food this summer it is important we conserve as much water as possible. The Town of Windsor is asking residents to cut water use by 20 percent, and the Community Garden hopes to meet that goal. We also want to clear up any confusion concerning recent unusual dryness in your bed. Communication makes a community garden work for everyone so we look forward to receiving your suggestions and responding to any questions you may have.
How our drip system works. This garden was designed in cooperation with the Water Conservation Department of the Town of Windsor because drip irrigation is the most water efficient way to water gardens. The water drips slowly and virtually unseen into the soil and ideally spreads through the root zone in an onion shape. The composition of the soil determines the spread. The system is run by a solar panel on the shed and is equipped with a rain sensor. We adjust the schedule through the year depending on the weather.
Leave all valves open in all beds please. We have been finding irrigation valves turned off in many of the beds. While this may be well intentioned it does not save water in the long run. For the system to work, and the soil microbiome to stay alive, the valves need to stay open to receive the scheduled amount of water at the scheduled time in all planted and unplanted beds. Turning off the valves does not save water, since a bone-dry bed is a dead bed and requires a lot of water to rehydrate. The start time for the four raised-bed stations are 6AM and 2:30 PM. Irrigation runs for nine minutes sequentially around the garden. This setting will keep the average tomato plant healthy. Leafy greens and root vegetables prefer a moister situation. Give leafy greens and root plants additional hand water for best results. Using mulch and providing light shade lessens the need to hand water those plants.
Report irrigation leaks . The only time you should work in another gardener's bed is to turn off the valve when you see a spraying irrigation leak. Email Cindy at email@example.com to report the bed number and it will be repaired. Do not modify the irrigation line in your bed. In the past gardeners have punched extra holes in the line or added spaghetti line. The techline has inline emitters and the pressure down the line is altered if the line is altered.
Mulch,mulch, mulch with at least 2 inches of straw or cocoa hulls because it saves tons of water. Mulch is mandatory because it can reduce water use by 40% and results in healthier soil. When mulching, leave a ring of bare soil about an inch from the plant stems to prevent rot. Scatter straw lightly after sowing seed directly. The seeds will find their way up through the straw. You will find straw under the striped awning. Cocoa Mulch is currently out of stock at Prickett's. Landscape wood chips or gorilla hair can not be used in the beds as they rob the plants of nitrogen and take too long to break down.
Mulch and Voles.The only downside to mulch is that it provides cover for voles. If you have a plant that looks water stressed don't assume it needs more water. Pull back the mulch and check for neat quarter sized holes with no earth around them. That is a vole entrance. Another way to detect vole activity is to press into the soil around the base of the stressed plant to see if you can collapse tunnels. If you detect vole activity email firstname.lastname@example.org for diagnosis, vole traps and a tutorial. As an organic garden we do not allow poisons and require OMRI approved pest and disease control methods.
50% shade cloth is another tool that saves you time and reduces water use. It is great when planting starts during a hot spell or growing summer lettuce. It can be bought by the foot at Harmony Farm Supply in Graton. Drip for new plants and seedlings? New plantings will not be able to survive on the drip system alone and will require hand watering 1-2 times daily for the first 2 weeks until they grow and can stand on their own roots. Mulch and shade cloth reduce watering frequency.
Use the rainwater in our Blue Barrels for hand watering. We have about 500 gallons on site right now that we harvested off our shed roof. The faucet is on the west side of the sheds on the left side of the trellis. It has a black nursery pot over it to deter any curious children from opening it. Fill the watering can marked Rain Barrels and make sure to turn off the tap and return the can. Saving Water at the sink. Please use a low-pressure setting on the faucet and catch the wash water in the buckets. When you are finished pour the water out under the apple trees or into your own bed.
Develop a feel for your garden. Stick your finger about 2 inches deep next to your plant before you even get the watering can or hose. Leafy greens prefer more constant moisture but fruit bearing plants like tomatoes, corn, eggplant, peppers etc. need to dry out between waterings to prevent fungal problems.
If the soil around your tomato is moist, do not water. If it is dry, water the soil around the plant (not the leaves) for one singing of the "Happy Birthday Dear Tomato!" song. More is not better. Warm, wet soil is a major cause of tomato fungal disease. If water is running out the sides and bottom of your bed while you water you are watering too much. Irrigation Interruption during the bed build. I am sorry to say we had interrupted irrigation service to the whole garden from April 10th to the 26th during a hot spell due to forgetfulness when the system was not set back to run after repairing a pipe during the rebuild. I apologize for this as I was the forgetter. Once beds become bone dry the soil becomes resistant to wetting and water often lays on top of the bed and runs down the side of the bed. Check after hand watering your bed to see if the water is wetting below the soil's surface. The fix for this is best done as a two-person job. One person sprinkles the soil while another person mixes with a garden fork to revive the bed. This is also the best practice when refilling beds. If your bed went dry, please take more compost to top dress it once you have it moistened. The science is not completely in on aereated compost tea but I will be bringing some to the garden for those wishing to dilute a gallon of it into a 5 gallon bucket to innoculate their bed with beneficial microbes.
Save our faucets and hoses too, please. We are lucky to have help with our plumbing from Brent Guyer when we need it. He recently replaced two faucets. He has asked that we turn the faucets closed just until they are snug and do not crank them tight. This wears the stem out quicker. Roll up hoses to make them last longer and prevent trip hazards. We rely on your feedback! Gardener feedback is important and has detected problems with the anti-siphon valve wiring in the past. If your bed is mulched, has no signs of rodent problems, and the soil seems very dry please let us know. It is current feedback about dry beds that prompted this email so we can all be on the same page and save water together this summer and every summer.
Thanks for your help and happy gardening!