Watering

  • Click Here for a Dust Bowl activity to engage students in learning about the Dust Bowl and practicing soil conservation in the garden.

 

Watering

Plants need water to survive and thrive. Initially, they need frequent shallow watering in order to germinate or when recently transplanted. Once the plants are established, when their roots have extended in search of water and nutrients, they need less frequent but deeper watering. Most plants need about 1” of water per week. If it is especially hot or windy they will need a bit more. Watering may seem simple enough, but it can be difficult to teach this concept to someone with little experience gardening.

 

 

 

Teaching Students How to Water

What does an inch of water look like? In order to teach this lesson it is necessary to dig in the dirt. Watering the soil surface for a few seconds will make the soil surface look saturated, but if you scratch the surface you will see that it did not penetrate very deeply. More clay based or compacted soils are harder for water to penetrate. The water may puddle up or run off.

An activity for teaching students how much water is sufficient is to water one spot of soil for 5 seconds, another spot for 10 seconds, another for 20 seconds, and so on. Go back and dig down at each spot to see how deeply the water penetrated. As previously stated, it is important that established plants be watered deeply, so that their root system will follow the water deep into the soil. Knowing which plants are deep rooted and which are shallow rooted helps determine how deeply to water each crops. For example, tomatoes send down a taproot several feet into the soil, while lettuces have a shallow network of roots that stay within several inches of the soil surface.

 

 

Irrigation Options

Hand watering is a good way to get youth engaged in watering. However, if the garden is much larger than 100 square feet it can be too time consuming to hand water. Setting up an irrigation system is a good idea if there is limited labor in the garden. An irrigation system could be as simple as connecting a sprinkler to a garden hose or as complex as a drip-tape system. Sprinklers are inexpensive and easy, but require moving around the garden to be sure they get every corner. If plant disease is an issue, as it usually is on tomatoes, overhead watering can perpetuate the spread of disease. Overhead watering also uses a lot of water and doesn’t just water the plants – it waters the paths and places where weed seeds are waiting to germinate. Soaker hoses are great for smaller gardens, but larger gardens either require many soaker hoses or moving the hoses multiple times. Drip-tape requires the greatest financial investment initially, but for larger gardens (2,000 square feet or bigger) it is well worth it. Drip-tape concentrates the water right in the plant’s root zone, conserves water, and takes very little time.

 

 

 

Scheduling Watering

If multiple people will be watering there must be clear communication so that everyone is aware of what portions of the garden have recently been watered and when the next need for watering will be. Ideally there would be a posted schedule with a place for waterers to communicate with each other, assuming that they will not always be present in the garden at the same time. Involving students is an option, but adult supervision may be necessary. If there is a need to find additional watering help, look to volunteers, teachers or parents for help. Watering can be a helpful and easy way to get others involved in the garden.

 

Access to Water

Having a water spigot accessible and relatively close to the garden is absolutely necessary to establishing a successful garden. The location of water should be a main consideration when choosing a garden site. It may not seem far, but imagine that the nearest water spigot is 100’ from the garden. This will require 100’ of hose just to reach the edge of the garden, and longer depending on the size and configuration of the garden. Imagine uncoiling, dragging, and recoiling several hundred feet of hose, every time you have to water. This can become a barrier to watering. Ideally the water spigot would be located in or directly adjacent to the garden.

 

 

 

Water Bill

Ideally the school district will absorb the expense of a slight increase in water usage. This should be made clear in the planning stages. Most schools find this a small price to pay for a beautiful garden on their grounds. Often the amount of water required for a school garden is  relatively small compared to overall school water usage. If the school district is unwilling to pay for water this will require some method of measuring amount of water that is used for garden purposes.

  

 

Rain Barrels

Rain barrels are a nice addition to any garden if the gutter system on the building will easily allow for this. Rain barrels are most helpful for smaller gardens and are a way to decrease the water bill. They also present an opportunity for teaching about water conservation. Rain barrel construction is fairly easy and can involve help from kids, including painting them. Rain barrels can be purchased at most hardware stores, or perhaps donated if the store receives visual recognition for their charitable contribution.

 

Additional Information on Watering the Garden can be downloaded below. These excerpts from the Kansas Gardening Guide are provided, with permission, from K-State Research & Extension.   Charles W. Marr, Ted Carey, Raymond Cloyd, and Megan Kennelly, Kansas Garden Guide, Kansas State University, March 2010.

 

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