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Sun, March 24

Don't waste what little water we have

We are living on a desert, a place with majestic clouds, vast vistas and very little rain. You have heard many, many times to conserve water. Read on and you will find it is easy!

Ninety-seven percent of the water available on Earth is salt water. Only 3 percent is fresh water. That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But let's investigate more. Almost 80 percent of the Earth's fresh water is frozen in the polar ice caps. We cannot use this. Where is the rest of the water found? Water is in lakes, streams, the atmosphere and underground.

What percentage we can actually use is less than 1 percent of the total amount of water on Earth. We can't use water in the atmosphere or water that is too deep underground or water that is polluted.

Now you know how little water we have and how vital it is to use it wisely. As gardeners, we know that our gardens depend on water. We have the sun, we can amend the soil, and adding water completes the circle of growth that we desire.

We also know that in vegetable production, an adequate supply of water during the growing season is directly related to quality and yields. Many vegetables suffering from water stress become strong flavored. Vegetables can't go dormant when the water supply is inadequate. How do we grow luscious vegetables and still be prudent with water usage?

The following practices will allow you to have a productive garden and still reduce water consumption.

In the vegetable garden, the routine addition of organic soil amendments such as compost will optimize potential yields and produce quality. The goal in soil management is to increase organic content to 4-5 percent over a period of years.

On sandy soils, organic matter holds over 10 times more water and nutrients than sand. On clay soil, organic matter glues the tiny soil particles together into larger groups, increasing pore space. This process takes place over time. Increase in soil oxygen levels and improved soil drainage promotes root growth, allowing the roots to reach a larger supply of water and nutrients.

Manure and compost made from manure may be high in salts that will interfere with crop growth. Do not add more than 1 inch per season without conducting a soil test to evaluate potential salt build-up. Add organic mulches into the vegetable garden soil the fall after frost ends the growing season but before the soil freezes for winter.

Be sure that the organic matter is thoroughly mixed into the soil.

Due to a health issue (E coli contamination), fresh manure additions should be made at least four months before the harvest of any edible crops. Apply fresh manure only in the fall after crops have been harvested.

Use of a drip system on a mulched garden reduces water need about 50 percent. Basically, water is most important during seed germination, the first few weeks of development, immediately after transplanting, and during flowering and fruit production. Critical watering periods for certain vegetables follow:

Asparagus needs water most during spear production and fern (foliage) development. Less water is needed after ferns reach full size.

Cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts, kale and kohlrabi) need consistent moisture during their whole life span. The quality of cole crops is significantly reduced if the plants get dry anytime during the growing season. Water use is highest and most needed during head development.

Beans have the highest water use of any common garden vegetables. Blossoms drop with inadequate moisture levels and pods fail to fill. When moisture levels are adequate, the bean plant is a bright, dark, grass-green. As plants experience water stress, leaf color takes on a grayish cast. Water is needed at this point to prevent blossom drop.

Carrots and other root crops require constant moisture. Cracking, knobby and strong flavored root crops are symtoms of water stress.

Corn demands peak during tassling, silking, and ear development. Yield is directly related to quantities of water, nitrogen, and spacing.

Lettuce and other leaf vegetables need water most during head (leaf) development. These crops require a constant supply of moisture.

Onion family crops must have consistent moisture and frequent irrigation due to their small root systems.

Peas need water most during pod filling.

Potato tubers will be knobby if they become overly dry during tuber development.

Tomato family (tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) need water during flowering and fruiting. Blossom end rot (a black sunken area on the bottom of the fruit) is often a symptom of too much or too little water. The tomato family has a lower water requirement than many vegetables. Plants are often over-watered in the home garden.

Vine crops (cucumbers, summer and winter squash, and assorted melons) also need water during flowering and fruiting. Vine crops use less water than many vegetables.

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