In these times where water is the new gold and having our own food security is essential, we find ourselves wondering how to keep food growing in our backyard throughout summer with water restrictions in place and sky water at a minimum.
Awareness and mindset are important. It starts in the soil – the more alive your soil is, the more water-holding capacity it has. Thick mulching and knowing how and when to water your plants for maximum absorption is a great place to start.
Watering plants at the root source enables the soil to absorb all you give it, rather than overhead watering where there’s a high rate of evaporation, leaf burn and plant stress. This in turn creates an open invite to pest and disease, and is a waste of water.
A good mulch keeps the moisture in the ground and encourages roots to go deeper into the soil layers where the water is held. It also stops the topsoil from drying out and going hard and crusty where water will then run off rather than be absorbed. When mulching, be sure to leave space between the plant’s stem and the edge of the mulch – this is the space to apply water.
Remember to water your plants in the cool of the morning, before the sun gets too hot. Watering in the morning also provides moisture to plants all day long rather than at night when your plants are sleeping. When the sun is shining photosynthesis is happening -a process where plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into energy stored as chains of sugar (also known as plant starch). At night, plants burn up this sugar while they sleep which gives them fuel for continuing their growth the following morning.
Top tips for saving water
There are many ways to save water from the home to water your plants each day. Adjust your mindset to consider that every drop you save helps towards the survival of your plants. You’ll be surprised how much water you will save by following these tips:
- Arm yourself with a few 10-litre buckets and vessels to place in sinks and anywhere there is a tap. Place a bucket in your shower and catch the water while waiting for it to reach your desired temperature. In some homes, you can save as much as 8 litres per shower!
- Put bowls in sinks to catch every drop that would otherwise go down the drain. When you turn the tap on to clean your teeth, wash your vegetables, rinse your hands or rinse your dishes, be sure to catch every drop. When the bowl is full, tip the water into your bucket – and be amazed how much you water you can collect.
- If you use environmentally-friendly products, you can use this water for fruit trees, however, vegetable plants prefer water without these products.
- Tip the collected water into a watering can and give each plant about a cup of water each day, or three cups every three days at the stem only. Little and often is much more productive for your plants’ growth, rather than a big drink once a week.
This article was published in the New Zealand Herald’s food and wellbeing magazine, Be Well. Look out for my monthly column in the New Zealand Herald’s Monday food and wellbeing magazine BeWell and on EatWell.co.nz.