And so we became more efficient, and over the years have tried various methods, such as soaker hoses, different types of sprinklers, drip-systems, irrigation tape, and timers to turn the water on and off automatically, to liberate us from routine hand watering.
Today we’re back to hand watering our garden, all 16 beds, while occasionally using a sprinkler or soaker hose for times when we’re away. And rather than a routine chore, hand watering the garden has become a favorite part of our day. Here’s why:
1. No over-watering or under-watering.
With hand watering, water needs are tailored for each crop. Every plant receives the specific amount of water it needs which results in better growing conditions and more productive harvests. Freshly seeded beds are watered lightly and more often, established beds are watered more deeply. Some crops are watered daily, others every second or third day, or as the weather dictates.
Besides wasting water, over-watering also washes your valuable soil amendments such as fertilizer and compost deeper into the soil where it not as readily available to plant roots which proliferate in the top 6” of soil.
2. No water is wasted.
With an overhead sprinkler, the area covered is evenly soaked. On a farm or large garden this makes good sense, but in a backyard vegetable garden with mixed crops in a small area, watering needs can be more specific – one size may not fit all. Sprinklers water the garden pathways just the same as the beds. With hand watering, the pathways remain dry. This suppresses pathway weeds – they will be less vigorous and provide less cover for slugs and insect pests.
Although hand watering helps conserve water, it is not the most efficient method. Drip-irrigation systems are more efficient because the water is delivered drop by drop over a long period of time, and this provides plant roots time to absorb waterborne nutrients gradually and continuously. And soaker hoses have similar benefits to drip systems, but can be moved to different beds as needed, and deliver water directly to the soil with no spraying.
3. Keeps foliage dry. Helps reduce fungal diseases.
Crops which do best when their foliage remains dry can be watered from beneath. Squash plants, for example, have large leaves that fall flat as they get wet, so we water them from beneath the leaf canopy, so the delicate stem structure which supports the canopy remains intact.
Delicate crops like lettuce and spinach are given to moisture-related problems such as damping off, bottom rot and mildew. In some instances, fungi is present in the soil and becomes active in cool, moist conditions. Hand watering lets you adjust the amount of water as conditions dictate. Soil-borne fungal diseases can also be a problem when growing tomatoes. Fungi thrive in moist, humid conditions, primarily on leaves that remain wet for long periods of time. We grow tomatoes under cover so the rain doesn’t soak the leaves. Watering is done by hand so we can direct the water low to the ground, keeping the foliage dry, and the water is applied lightly so it doesn’t bounce up and wet the lower foliage. We also have best results with peppers and beans when the foliage remains dry while the plant is watered.
4. Enables you to spot plant-specific issues in a timely way.
Sow bugs in the romaine patch? Aphids on the tomato starters? Early blossoms on the tomatoes? Something nibbling on the squash starters? Does that broccoli plant need a stake? These are things I noticed just this morning when hand watering the garden, and they would have been missed if using a sprinkler. Hand watering gives you lots of time to inspect each crop on a daily basis. By catching these things early, the gardener has time to remedy the situation before it gets too established to control.
How may times have we set the sprinkler to find out, when going to move it to a different spot, that it had stopped its wand movement and remained stuck in one position, flooding one small part of the garden while the rest dries out? When set on sloping ground, an oscillating sprinkler can be unreliable since the water pressure needs differ when the spray is directed uphill versus downhill. So we constantly play with the setting to get it just right, while it may have been easier to just hand water.
We’ve had better luck with rotating sprinklers which can be adjusted for diameter by varying the water pressure. These seem to be pretty reliable, but still apply the water evenly to all areas within its scope – the pathways and all crops. These sprinklers are convenient and easy to set, but do not provide the advantages of hand watering.
6. Fewer gizmos to break.
In a cobwebbed corner of our garden shed sits a small pile of broken sprinkler parts, a torn length of drip tape, two broken automatic hose timers, bits and pieces of a drip-irrigation system, some bailing wire for unclogging sprinkler holes, and several sprinklers waiting for the day, which will never come, that I’ll find a way to repair them. Having to replace these items was frustrating – more waste, more expense, with the likelihood of repeating the process before long.
Contrast that scenario with the simplicity of an adjustable hand-held sprayer, which costs less than $10. I like these sprayers because the different spray settings are useful for different crop watering needs. For example, the “center” setting is perfect for watering established plants, while the “mist” setting doesn’t overwhelm delicate new greens like lettuce starters. And the “jet” setting is great for nailing in-flight cabbage moths, or teasing your wife with a quick spray while she’s busy on the other side of the garden.
If you prefer a more measured approach to hand watering, a Save- a- Drop green nozzle has a small screen with a read-out of your water usage. Another option, my favorite, is a handheld “rain wand”, which lets you turn the water on and off from the wand, and most importantly, lets you water close to the ground without having to bend over.
7. Provides an opportunity to spend time with your plants
A garden provides food for the table of course, but also offers another form of nourishment – a garden feeds the soul. As I get older, the joy of gardening provides intangible yet profound rewards. Walking through the gate each morning, everyday thoughts and concerns seem less important, the simple cause/effect of gardening is a balm to the complex everyday realities we seem drawn to construct. The important and basic lessons of life play out before the observant gardener’s eye, available to help guide our lives outside the garden.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
From “Comes the Dawn”, by Veronica Shoffstall