I know it happens to the best gardeners – but it is still frustrating – you have the best intentions to keep the garden watered, but you get busy with work and kids’ activities or an unexpected emergency. Combine that with a heat wave and before you know it everything is dead. My kitchen garden is a loss this season, but I want to share some ideas and what I plan to try next season.
Plant in the Ground
The ground beat containers if possible – It takes time to build good soil, but the rewards are worth it. Spread your irrigation wide and encourage the roots to expand. It is a little more forgiving if you don’t have a chance to water for a few days. And don’t forget to use mulch – lots of mulch – to retain moisture. I’ve tried drip irrigation systems, but personally I would go back to an efficient sprinkler head link X connected to a smart irrigation timer. Drip irrigation always seems more prone to failure. In Carol Depp’s, The Resilient Gardener, she also goes back to sprinklers to keep her garden green. I’m using Robert Kourik, the author of Lazy Ass Gardening advice on my fruit trees with a timer and an expanding soaker hose. More on that later.
If you’re feeling more ambitious – build Hugelkultur mounds – Hugelkultur is the idea of using woody mass – logs, branches, etc – to act as giant sponges soaking in extra water and releasing it as needed. In the process, they slowly decompose turning into beautiful compost. According to Paul Wheaton from Permies.com, he could grow tomatoes without watering all summer. Paul and his mentor – Sepp Holzer – recommend large logs to breakdown more slowly and steal less nitrogen from your plants in the process. Paul has a full description here, which talks about some techniques to make this more successful like pre-soaking your logs. But, Robert Kourik, the author of Lazy Ass Gardening told me he has had success with throwing dirt over plain old wood chips and it did the exact same thing. So, don’t stress too much about your material – just mix what you have or better yet make one mound with logs and another with wood chips and see which one works best for you (and let us know!)
Raised Bed Hugelkultur
If you prefer raised beds, all is not lost. Make them 2 feet tall – this will allow you to put a foot of woody material on the bottom (a mini hugelkultur) – and your back will thank you. I have seen several people doing this on the web including this YouTube video from Gardner Scott – some of them not even realizing they were making a hugelkultur. Sticks and branches are cheap fill – big box soil bags to fill your raised beds can get expensive. Plus with the extra water retention benefits, they make for cheap insurance in case you need to go out of town for a week or so – it probably wouldn’t last all summer. But for some people (like my wife 😊) who want a more organized backyard garden this is a great compromise. We will be trying this next year.
Self Irrigated PlantersIf your backyard, patio, or balcony restricts you to small containers use wicking beds or Self Irrigated Planters (SIPs) that allow plants to ‘wick’ up exactly what they need – you don’t have to worry about irrigation timers being mis-set or lines breaking. For the super lazy gardener (like me), SIPs can be connected to an irrigation timer to keep them full. I played with these last year with some success, and I will be trying them again. There is a lot on YouTube on this subject, but I think Albo Pepper has some really great info.
Drip IrrigationAs a last resort, use a drip irrigation system with a timer on your containers. Irrigation timers are great to keep your garden alive when you get busy, but remember, they are mechanical instruments prone to failure. There are water sensors out there, but they seem to be poorly reviewed. So, it is important to keep an eye on your plants.
Next year I will do one or several of the methods above and update you on my progress.