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July 15th, 2011

Conserve Water in the Garden

dougWater is the lifeblood of gardens. When summer heats up and natural rainfall becomes scarce, gardens can falter—unless the gardener steps in with a watering can. Water is a precious—and in some communities, expensive—resource that is not to be squandered. Here are some ideas to keep your summer garden thriving without wasting water:

• Soil preparation. Soil that is rich in organic matter, porous, and fertile encourages healthy, deep root systems. And far-reaching root systems are better able to provide plants with the moisture they need in times of drought. Midsummer isn’t the best season for amending the soil; save this task for fall. In the meantime …

• Mulch. Mulched soil loses less moisture to evaporation. It also stays cooler, which keeps roots and beneficial soil microbes happier. Straw, leaf mold, or dried grass clippings are good mulches for vegetable beds. Shredded wood, pine straw, or bark are good under shrubs and in flowerbeds. Bonus: Mulch prevents many weeds from germinating.

• Drip irrigation. When you water, use a technique that applies the water exactly where it’s needed. Soaker hoses and drip tubing deliver the water directly to the soil (as opposed to a sprinkler that flings water into the air and allows much of it to evaporate). Hand watering, with a hose or watering can, also ensures that the water lands where it is of greatest benefit to your plants.  —Doug Hall

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May 24th, 2011

What's Good for the Garden

dougIt’s raining today, following rain yesterday and the day before. When will it end?

Here in Emmaus we’re having a rainier-than-usual spring. The mud is slowing down my gardening projects at home. At the Organic Gardening test garden, we’re still waiting to till some new beds for squash, cucumbers, and melons. Turning wet soil is never a good idea; it damages the structure and porosity of the soil. Clods result.

As eager as I am to get on with the task of soil preparation, I have to remind myself that all this rain does wonders for plants. I can’t remember a spring when the tulips lasted so long, or the grass grew so lushly. It would be petty of me to grumble at the rain while surrounded by the beauty generated by all that moisture.

Gray skies and high humidity also facilitate transplanting. Two weeks ago I moved a foxglove that had already sent its flowering stalks 18 inches out of the ground, and it didn’t even notice. I couldn’t have attempted such an untimely transplant if the weather had been hot or sunny. Weeding is easier, too, when the soil is wet. Even weeds with long taproots slip right out of the oozy soil.

So bring on the rain. The tilling can wait.  —Doug Hall

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