The Edible Gardening Series: The Basics of Water-Wise Edible Gardening

October 1, 2018

It’s October! Let’s rejoice with a sigh of relief for the unofficial end of summer, shall we? All at once now: ahhhhhh. Doesn’t that feel good? With cooler temperatures on the horizon, many of us in Arizona will be trading in the flip-flops for the trowel and tending to our vegetable gardens. All October long, we’ll be posting some of our favorite tips for planting and maintaining a water-wise edible garden. Seasons change, but the importance of water conservation never does.

Here are four things to keep in mind when taking care of your edible garden:

– Healthy soil is happy soil
Soil by itself isn’t very exciting. It’s also not very water-efficient. But you can give your soil a little makeover by adding organic products like compost, mulch or leaves. All of the soil’s garden friends (beneficial soil microorganisms) will notice its newfound confidence, and you’ll notice that it retains water like a champ, meaning you don’t have to use as much H2O. In our desert soils, 3–4 inches of organic matter is a great way to start. You can also cover the soil with 3 or so inches of mulch to help water retention even more.

– Drink up!
“The Sprinkler” is a smart dance move to bust out at your next wedding reception. Actual sprinklers, though, are unwise choices to water your vegetable garden. Sprinkler coverage is 50/50 at best (lots of waste), whereas drip systems or soaker hoses deliver up to 90 percent of available water to your plants. Different plants also require different drip system depths – leafy veggies like moisture down to 6 inches, while tomatoes go for long, deep-rooted baths down to 10 inches. The frequency will depend on the weather. If you can harvest rainwater for use in irrigation, even better. Collect water from your downspouts with a rain barrel; even one inch of rain can give you hundreds of gallons of clean, fresh water.

– Pick a plant, but not just any plant
You wouldn’t go on a blind date without googling everything there is to know about the person, so don’t rush into growing your garden without doing a little research first. Planting is like produce shopping – locally-grown is better. Avoid that awkward, getting-to-know-a-new-climate stage of gardening by choosing transplants that have been grown at local nurseries (not shipped here from other states). You also want to select varieties that are known to perform well in our climate (short season varieties are best). And, be sure to consider varieties that will give you the biggest harvest for your water usage – avoid space hogs like broccoli that yields only one major head per plant vs. crops like lettuce, kale, and chard that you can continually harvest as they grow.

– Take care of your garden’s neighborhood
Healthy plants demand less water and less of your time. One great way to keep your edible garden healthy is by doing all the non-glamorous things like trimming, weeding and checking for pests. Getting down and dirty is the best way to curate a garden that looks great.

Don’t stop there. Check out the rest of the articles in our Edible Gardening Series:

Part 2: Putting the Desert in Dessert
Part 3: Save the Seeds!
Part 4: Did Thy Garden Runneth Over [With Rain]?

Want more tips? Check out these related articles: 

You may also consider gardening at a community garden like Mesa Urban Garden in downtown Mesa, AZ.
You may also consider gardening at a community garden like Mesa Urban Garden in downtown Mesa, AZ.