Mar 172015
 
Lettuce and drip irrigation

by Avis Licht

row cover and drip irrigation

In warm weather you can cover your beds with row covers, and irrigate with drip irrigation

California is in its fourth year of devastating drought. All of us need to pay attention to our water use. But this does not mean that we have to give up growing some of our own food. Quite to the contrary, we can grow fruit and vegetables with much less water at home than large scale agriculture.

I have just come back from a road trip that took me to the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains and then south to the Kern River and across the San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural center of California. It was an eye opener for many reasons.  Owens Lake held significant water until 1924, when much of the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, causing Owens Lake to dry up.[2] Today, some of the flow of the river has been restored, and the lake now contains a little bit of water. Nevertheless, as of 2013, it is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.[3] 

To learn more about this read Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. Each action we take to conserve water, DOES make a difference.

We saw large reservoirs that were at 5 percent of capacity. Nearly empty. We saw farmers using huge machinery to take out fully grown orange trees and throw them on the ground to die because they don’t have enough water for irrigation. It was unbelievably sad to see.

But there are ways for you to grow food, that are water conserving and healthy for the environment and for you.

Here are 5 easy ways to conserve water for your garden and grow delicious food. Good for you and good for the earth.

1.Prepare the ground by loosening the soil and adding humus, in the form of compost and/or manure. The quality and health of the soil is vitally import to the health of your plants. Compacted soil will not absorb or retain water very well. This is a very underrated activity for water conservation. Building raised beds with wood or stone and then filling with organic topsoil is one way to do this. Another way is to dig the soil and add humus.

Small vegetable garden

Raised beds make for a healthy soil

2. Create paths and walkways through your garden. DO NOT WALK ON YOUR BEDS! I mean it. The fastest way to ruin your soil is to walk on it and compress it. You remove the air pockets and prevent air and water percolation. Try it. Step on the ground and water it. It will puddle and then most of the water will evaporate. Trust me on this.

3. Mulch, mulch, mulch.  Oh, and did I say mulch? Yes, this makes a huge difference in the evaporation rate of water through the soil surface. There are many kinds of mulch. Read about them here.

4. Plant some of your smaller herbs and veggies in pots and containers. When a pot is close to the house, it is easy to remember to water and you can use the left over water from the sink, or the shower.  I have had great success with herbs, carrots, lettuce, and peppers in containers. You can use self watering containers that let you go away for weeks at a time without worrying about your plants drying out.

A good harvest in a small place, with very little water.

A good harvest in a small place, with very little water.

5. Drip irrigation is the easiest and uses the least water of any method of irrigation. Done well, it puts the right amount of water directly to the roots of the plants and has the least evaporation rates. Check out the book by Robert Kourik on Drip Irrigation. It’s great. Combine drip with a water controller and weather station and you will be golden for putting the right amount of water on at the right time. Many water districts give rebates on these controllers.

There are other ways to gather, store and conserve water in the garden. These are five easy ways to start. Don’t worry, I’ll talk about more ways to save water in future blogs. Right now, it’s important to get started from the ground up, so to speak.

the water at the top drips down to the plants at the bottom.  Great use of space and water.

The water at the top drips down to the plants at the bottom. Great use of space and water.

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Jan 292014
 
wpid-CAM02057.jpg

By Avis Licht

Mulch

Use mulch, plant drought resistant plants, and drip irrigation

On the west coast of the United States we’re experiencing the worst drought in over 150 years. With more people needing more water, food and goods it is important that all of us do our part to reduce our water use.

Gardeners love their plants and don’t want them to die. I’ll continue writing posts on best gardening practices to help you keep your garden healthy and happy using less water.

Most plants absorb almost all their water through their roots. A well-developed root structure will be your insurance for survival in drought conditions.

 

The best way to get excellent roots is to have loose, friable soil with plenty of humus and organic matter. By working the soil with a fork or rototiller and incorporating compost and/or manure you create the conditions for the soil to be like a sponge that holds and then releases water. Read more about compost here.

Big Mother earth worm

Worms are important for soil health.

A note on roots. When soil moisture varies widely from wet to dry it damages the delicate root hairs that are responsible for taking up moisture. Using mulch is very important to maintain the moisture in the soil by slowing evaporation.

mulched garden

Protect your roots by protecting the soil with mulch.

A note on leaves on the plants. Leaves don’t absorb much moisture but they do transpire moisture; The hotter and more windy the day, the more water the plants lose through their leaves . Row covers or shade cloth put over the plants in hot weather will reduce transpiration rates. You can find row covers and hoops to put them in your garden at this link: Row Covers for the Garden. You can buy shade fabric here: Shade Fabric.

Be sure to sign up on my subscription or feed burner to get notified when I put up more posts. You won’t want to miss any of this great information. I’ll keep writing about drought conditions and ways to keep your garden healthy and happy.

Jan 082013
 

by Avis Licht

Every little hair has frost on it.

Strawberries with frost

In the middle of a cold and wet winter day it’s hard to think about what needs doing in the garden. But there are a few items on the to do list that will give your garden a jump on  the spring rush.

Be sure to take a walk around the garden and check for erosion from rainy day run off. We’ve had some amazingly strong downpours this year that caused some unwanted waterfalls.  Read these posts to correct drainage problems. Sometimes there’s just too much water at once and you have to clean up after the fact. Take a look at my veggie garden: (click to enlarge)

Protect tender garden plants by covering them on frosty nights. You can use row covers, sheets, blankets or plastic.Succulents, citrus, bougainvillea and fuchsias are among the frost-sensitive plants. Use stakes to keep material from touching foliage and remove the coverings when temperatures rise the next day.

Many deciduous trees, shrubs and vines can be pruned now. Do not prune spring-blooming plants until after they bloom. Consult a pruning guide that lists optimum pruning times for different species.


 

 

 

Order seeds for your spring and summer garden. Read these posts I wrote on catalog offerings and seeds choices. Be sure to order my e book : The Spring Garden Made Easy. It will help you get your garden going in Spring.  It’s only $4.99 and you can download it right now!

It’s perfect timing to plant those hardy perennials during this season of rain and plant dormancy. It’s important to get down to your local nurseries to check out their stock of bare root fruit trees, soft fruit, and more. Think asparagus, artichoke, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries, pomegranate and all those great fruit trees. Just don’t work the soil when it is too wet.

It won't be long before the spring garden starts to grow.

It won’t be long before the spring garden starts to grow.

 

 

Oct 192012
 
lettuce

by Avis Licht

In Northern California where I live, we can grow many crops over the winter. I’m getting my seedlings in for the Fall and Winter garden.  In this slide show I’m planting lettuce seedlings.  I’ll show you how to gently pry to roots apart and plant them to reduce shock.

Getting the soil ready is an important part of growing healthy plants. In my book The Spring Garden Made Easy, I set forth a simple, straightforward guide to planting that you can use in any season. Check it out!

Water in gently to settle the roots and get the plants going.

Water in gently to settle the roots and get the plants going.

Using a group of seedlings

Using a group of seedlings

Gently break apart in half

Gently break apart in half

Firm in gently around the leaves

Firm in gently around the leaves

Open hole and let roots dangle straight down into opening

Open hole and let roots dangle straight down into opening

IMGP5732

IMGP5732

Water in gently to settle the roots and get the plants going.Using a group of seedlingsGently break apart in halfFirm in gently around the leavesOpen hole and let roots dangle straight down into openingIMGP5732
Using a group of seedlings

Take a clump of seedlings

Gently break apart in half

Gently break apart in half

Open hole and let roots dangle straight down into opening

Open hole and let roots dangle straight down into opening

Firm in gently around the leaves

Firm in gently around the leaves

Water in gently to settle the roots and get the plants going.

Water in gently to settle the roots and get the plants going.

After they are planted you need to make sure they don’t dry out. Check the soil for moisture if it doesn’t rain. Just looking at the surface of the soil doesn’t tell you if it’s moist underneath.  Check with a trowel down a few inches.  If it’s dry at 2 inches or if the plants are wilting, be sure to water them.

You can find out more about extending your season in this article on row covers.

Dec 162011
 
Frost on strawberries

by Avis Licht

Frost on strawberries

Frost comes in different forms, not all are bad for the garden

 

Some plants actually like a bit of frost. Knowing what to plant for the winter garden will help you be successful. And all frost is not created equal.  A little frost on the plants, like the strawberries in the picture above, doesn’t hurt many plants. Prolonged cold below freezing can cause problems. Be sure to observe your garden for frost pockets as cold settles into lower areas and valleys.

Here’s what you can do if you live in a frosty neighborhood:

1. Choose cold hardy plants for your vegetable garden.  These include: chard, kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, carrots, beets, kholrabi, peas and turnips and some varieties of lettuce. These plants work if there is thaw during the day.  If they stay continually frozen, you need to put them in an unheated greenhouse  or under hoops that are covered.

Frost on chard is okay

Frost doesn't harm chard if it doesn't go below 20 deg F.

2. Make sure the soil is moist before a big frost.  Moist soil holds 4 times more heat than dry soil.

3. Cover  tender plants with a woven material, blanket or sheet. Preferably not plastic, as this does not protect very well. You can lay the material over the plant, or put up stakes and keep it slightly away from the leaves.  Bring the material down to soil level, as the heat rises up into the covered area.

4. Place tender plants in pots and put in protected areas in south facing walls and under eaves, to get reflected heat from buildings. These would include lemon, lime, lettuce and herbs.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do during frosty days:

1. Don’t prune during frosty days.

2. Don’t prune frost damaged plants like trees and shrubs. Leave the damaged tips and buds on the trees and wait until Spring and let the plants start to grow. Otherwise you stand the chance of having the frost do deeper damage.

3. Don’t use chemical sprays that say they will protect your plants from frost.  There is no evidence to support these claims.

4. Don’t leave your gloves out to get frosted.  They will make your hands cold.  I know, I did this.

Bring your gloves inside, or they'll get frosted too

What good will frosty gloves do you in the garden?

To find out more about growing in winter you should read these books by Eliot Coleman from Four Seasons Farm in Maine.  Winter Harvest Handbook will give you many ideas. Your edible landscape can still produce wonderful food in winter. It may take a little more attention, but can be very rewarding.

Oct 112011
 
Lay the material over the wire hoop to protect you plants

Lettuce under wire can be easily protected from cold weather

Now that Fall is here and we’re thinking about planting for the winter season, you should know about how to extend your growing season.

One really simple and effective product is  light weight material called a row cover.  You simply lay the material over your plants or vegetable beds.

Floating Row Covers protect plants from frost, while letting in sunlight, water and air.

  • Extend early and late growing seasons by providing frost protection down to about 28ºF
  • Aid germination by keeping soil moist
  • Prevent crusting of soil due to hard rains
  • Shield plants from insect pests, including virus-carrying aphids.

You can buy these online at Gardens Alive! an online store that specializes in organic and environmentally responsible products.

These covers can mitigate the effects of cold, but you still need to put in plants that can stand the cold.  It’s not like you can expect your warm weather crops to  thrive. Remember, we’re assisting these plants not changing they’re whole nature.


Click Here For More Good Row Covers


Autumn leaf color in the Sierra Nevada mountains

Beautiful Fall colors

 

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