Last night as the storm clouds rolled across the north of Madison, I attended the Water Conservation and Inter-Personal Conflict Resolution Workshop at Brittingham Community Garden in Madison, WI. This workshop was a part of the workshop series being put on by the Dane County Community Garden Network, Coalition, & Dane County Extension. We luckily only got a few sprinkles on us during the workshop and gained a lot of fabulous ideas on how to conserve water at a community garden.
There was a lot of talk in the workshop about watering your garden plants the right way and at the right time. Morning is the best time to water plants, followed by evening. This allows the soil to retain moisture longer and gives your plants more time to use the water before it evaporates. Watering at the base of the plants is also very important. This can help prevent disease and puts the water where plants need it, the roots, right away! Plants need about 1-2 inches of water per week. You can check this by using a tool called a Soil Moisture Meter or you can stick a trowel in the soil and dig straight down to see where the water has penetrated to. Another technique is to water as long as it would take to fill a normal soup tin with water.
Improving the soil is also critical to conserving water. The more like rich loam your soil is, the more efficiently you’ll be able to use water. You can achieve this by adding compost and organic matter. You can even, occasionally, “water” with compost tea, liquid kelp or fish emulsion to improve the soil at the same time. Mulch can also work wonders at covering the soil so there are fewer weeds (stealing water!), keeping the soil temperature down, and retain water in the soil longer.
Amy Robb from the Madison Water Utility was also at the workshop to talk about how Community Gardens can take advantage of the online tools and Water Utility resources to manage water usage better. Most gardens in Madison should be working to install their own meter and access point for water. While this is an expensive project, it allows the garden to be better stewards of their water and is a much better long term solution to water access than some current practices like using a fire hydrant.
A typical community garden in Dane County can pay anywhere from $20 – $100 for half of the year. To reduce this cost, gardens should make sure their tools and water access points aren’t leaking. O-rings are cheap but amazing investments to ensure that hoses and spigots aren’t leaking. Of course, also remember that hand watering (like with a watering can) will waste the least amount of water!
Community Gardens can also go online to use some of the Madison Water Utility resources to see when and how much water is being used. The meter collects data all the time giving gardens a great sense of whether they are watering at the correct time or maybe have leaks or other problems on site. This data can then be presented to gardeners when discussions about garden plot fees or new rules come up.
Of course, at Crowley Station Community Garden we also use a rain barrel and water saucer. This tool allows us to collect and use water for free! We are so in love with our rain barrel and saucer. If you are interested in getting one of your own, check out the Rainbarrel Man. He was great to work with. Our Rain Barrel sits on a wood stand that our Maintenance Director, Grayson Smith, built this year. It has two spigots that allow us to put the watering cans underneath to fill or attach a hose. This is the second year we’ve had it and it has held up well.
Hope this inspires you to work a bit more on ways you can conserve water. See you around the garden!