Watering vegetables Q and A

What equipment do I need for watering my vegetables?

If you have a small plot all you need is a watering can, with one ordinary rose and a finer rose for watering small plants. For larger areas, the choice is wide. Hoses are useful, preferably with nozzles which can be adjusted to alter the force of the spray. Automatic sprinklers, joined to an indoor or garden tap by a hose, water quite large areas of ground but have to be moved fairly frequently; a drawback is that the spray is apt to drift in strong winds. A useful system is ‘layflat tubing’, consisting of plastic hose perforated with tiny holes. This is laid on the ground between plants and connected to a tap; water seeps through the holes.

Can you give me any tips on watering vegetables?

The key words here are gently and thoroughly. Water gently because coarse, heavy droplets can damage seedlings and leaves. Water thoroughly because it is the roots which need the water, and not until the surface layer of soil is saturated will moisture seep through to the layers below. It takes a lot of water to wet the soil thoroughly. Poke your finger into the soil after a shower: you will be surprised how dry it is immediately beneath the surface! Occasional, really heavy waterings are far more beneficial to vegetables than frequent light ones. Peas, beans, cabbages, and other brassicas, for example, can safely be given as much as 22 l/m2 (4 gal/sq yd) per week in a dry period.

I’m told that peas need to be watered heavily when they start to flower and the pods are forming. Is this true?

Yes, this is their ‘critical period’, when water is most needed. Unless there has been heavy rain, watering then will increase the crop dramatically. The same holds true of other ‘fruiting’ vegetables such as beans, tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers, and marrows. Leafy vegetables, such as cabbages, summer cauliflower, lettuce, and spinach need several heavy waterings while growing, but their ‘critical point’ is about two weeks before maturing. Even if watering was impossible earlier, water them heavily at this stage, at the rate of about 22 l/m2 (4 gal/sq yd).

Are there any methods by which I can reduce the need for watering?

Several courses of action may help, as follows: 1. Work plenty of organic matter into the soil to help it retain moisture. 2. Dig deeply from time to time, so that the roots can penetrate deeper and extract moisture from lower reserves. 3. Keep the soil surface mulched (far more moisture is lost through evaporation than through drainage) and, when you plant, water and mulch the soil immediately. 4. Erect artificial windbreaks around the vegetable garden or between rows, as strong winds increase evaporation. 5. Remove weeds, which compete for moisture; but hoe only shallowly, as deep hoeing brings moisture to the surface which then evaporates. 6. Plant your seedlings farther apart than usual, so that each plant has a larger area from which to draw moisture.

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