Posts Tagged ‘water’

Watering Tips

Here are ten tips from my favorite British garden expert on how to use water most effectively in the garden.

  1. Water selectively adding water when plants need it. Check soil moisture levels by digging down a bit. Hand watering can be the most effective way to get water just where it needs to be though drip systems can be effective too.
  2. Watering early in the morning gives plants a chance to absorb moisture before the heat of the day evaporates it. Morning watering also leads to less plant disease than evening watering.
  3. If watering by hand aim flow of water to the base of the plant.
  4. A good soaking less often is better than a light watering often. Deep watering encourages a good root system to develop.
  5. You can also sink a plastic pot (with drain holes) in the ground near the plants. Fill them with water which will then slowly drain into the soil.
  6. Use drip systems or leaking hose if you want to automate the watering. This I especially good if you cannot be present for a day or two.
  7. Clay pots are very porous which means they suck moisture out of the soil. In dry water this can be a problem. Plant in glazed pots or plastic pots to avoid this. You can place a plastic pot in a larger clay pot for a better appearance. Metal containers will heat up very quickly accelerating moisture loss. You can group pots together to provide shade and greater water conservation.
  8. Whether in pots or in the open soil use mulch to conserve water. The best mulch is a couple inches of well-rotted compost. You can use grass clippings, straw, black plastic and other materials.
  9. Collecting rain water conserves water, provides a free source of water to put on plants and it is better for plants then municipal water which has chemicals in it.
  10. Remove weeds as soon as they appear as they will compete with your plants for water.

The very hot weather we have been having in August and now in September with temperatures in the high 90s F. has made keeping the vegetables adequately watered a challenge. There have been days when the soil is sucked dry before I can get to it again. I try to water in the early morning as is recommended but often must water again in the late afternoon or evening.

I failed to mulch adequately this year. I was intending to get a bail of straw to mulch the veggies well but never got to it. I may yet do that for the remainder of the season as it looks like we will continue to hot weather for some time. I do however add compost.

Finally, I will mention that this is the 201st post on this blog. I forgot to mention last time that I’d reached #200.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy


The Garden in June

The weather has turned hot very quickly since summer has officially begun. We are seeing highs in the 90sF.

The past week has been a busy time for planting in the garden. I’ve added herbs to the herb garden area and to some containers. The green house is now empty for the first time since early spring. It is too hot in there now for things to do well.

The large garden box (D) is empty except for some marigolds planted around the edge. That box will remain fallow this year. It has never been fallow so needs a season of rest.

The law looks better than it ever has. I have learned that despite advice from the water conservation interests in this heat one must water the lawn at least every other day to keep it green and lush. It is a small lawn so I do not feel so badly about the water usage.

I hand water the vegetables, containers and herbs. I usually water containers daily in this heat and vegetables can usually do fine with water every other day or every third day.

Everything is doing well. The latest basil plants from the green house are a bit pale but are already deepening in color with more direct sun in the box.

We have been eating the Boston lettuce, it is still tender and very flavorful. You just cannot get that flavor from store bought produce.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Succession Planting

This year I have been more serious about succession planting than in past years. The goal is to get more production out of the garden space during the season.

Date of Planting/Expected Picking Date—


These are rough estimates. While the seed packages show date to pick at 60 days more or less a number of factors change that including sun exposure, watering, etc.



In addition, I anticipate planting some fall vegetables that will be available in late fall and winter. A few may even over-winter for next spring. These will be root crops and broccoli/cauliflower.

It will be interesting to see how they actually work out. I will post actual picking dates later on this year.

Progress Report

Currently the garden is happy. I have no major pest problems and few weeds. Since much of the garden is still in small seedlings they require very frequent watering. We have not had any sustained heat as yet so the tomatoes and peppers are growing very slow.

I was able to pick some young and extremely tender butter lettuce this last week and will need to thin them further today or tomorrow. Made an excellent salad.

I failed to cover the blueberries quickly enough with netting and the scrub jays relieved us of the early bearing berries. I only got a couple handfuls. I’ve covered them now and hope to get most of the late bearing crop for us.

Happy Gardening,
Dan Murphy

Harvest Review 2015

Now to take stock of this year’s harvest.

Cucumber: Sweet Slice – Modest growth; vine never exceeded 30 inches in length; produced two fruit neither of which were impressive.

Cucumber: Orient Express – Very little vine growth and no useable fruit.

Cucumber: Orient Express – Modest growth indeed; did less well than Sweet Slice; vine less than 30 inches and never produced any useable fruit.

Tomato: Better Boy – Moderate to small vine growth; produced about a dozen or so fruit which were sweet and good tasting though lost a few to splitting.

Tomato: Ultra Sweet – Moderate vine growth; low yield though fruit was tasty.

Tomato: Brandywine – Lush vine growth; good fruit yield; tasty small tomatoes; very delicious. Best tasting of the year.

Tomato: Zarapanka – Very modest vine growth; fruit yield was modest though tasty.

None of the tomatoes got very big; fruit varied in size from 2 inches to 3 inches with a few less than 2 inches in diameter. Taste was uniformly good however.

Pepper: Sweet Bell – plant stayed small but healthy; all of the fruit developed brown spot and were useless.

Asparagus: first full season after planting in 2014; healthy green tops; nothing to eat but that comes next year.

Peas: Giant Sugar Pod: modest vine; tasty peas but short season; the heat did them in quickly.

Sweet Basil Italian: modest growth; good flavor.

Basil Cinnamon: small growth; good flavor.

Cauliflower: Cheddar Orange – growth was slow; bush well developed by heads never developed more than 3 inches in diameter.

Cantaloupe: Hale’s Best – vine growth was modest; two fruits which both succumbed to insect damage before I was able to harvest them.

Broccoli: Diplomat – grew well, healthy, large heads, flavor was less dramatic than in past years.

Sunflower – Mammoth – planted from seed. Only two germinated out of 8 planted. The two that grew did very well reaching over 9 feet in height. Flowers are stunning.

Thyme: planted in 2013; did not do well in heat.

Rosemary: very happy all summer long.

This was the driest and hottest summer I’ve ever gardened. There was virtually no rain from June 4 until mid-September. While I tried to water things sufficiently I suspect most of the problems were due to too little water and some irregular water application. I also am certain the soil needs additional amending. While I top covered with mint compost and dressed once or twice with organic fertilizer it was not enough. I will definitely be testing the soil next spring to add what it needs and plan to plant cover crops in the next week to beef up the nitrogen content of the soil.

Overall not a good year in the garden. Most happy I do not depend upon the garden for the bulk of my food – would have starved to death this year!

One of the things I like about gardening is what one learns in the process. I believe I’ve learned a lot this year about what not to do and what one must do especially in such a dry season.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Mulch in the Vegetable Garden

To mulch or not to mulch the vegetable garden. This is the question. Well, it is one of the questions and now that we are in June and the sun is bearing down upon us and the little plants and the temperature is in the 90s mid-day it becomes an important question.

As I grew up here in the valley no one that I knew mulched a vegetable garden. The soil was tilled each spring, rows planted, and then watered as needed. Some people put old boards on the ground to walk on but for the most part it was just a mud mess when watered and dry the remainder of the time.

Fast forward 50 years. Now we are concerned about water conservation and the need to avoid both over-watering and under-watering. One technique often advocated is to use mulch.

To mulch or not to mulch

There are those who warn against it. Steve Solomon, in his great gardening book, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, which I recommend, is not a fan of mulch. His argument is that without mulch the surface of the soil dries after watering and forms a micro crust that will not wick moisture to the surface easily. Moisture is then retained under this crust. With mulch he says the crust never forms and the moisture continuously wicks from the soil through the mulch and on to evaporate.

Solomon suggests mulching is particularly bad for deep root crops like beets and carrots because it deprives the deep watering needed for them.

I am not sure if Solomon is right or not. He is one of the most knowledgeable gardening experts for this area so I do not discount his thinking. However most other experienced gardeners I know recommend mulching as do the Master Gardeners.

My approach is to mulch in the late spring and throughout the hot summer but I do not worry about it for fall. My own experience is that mulch holds moisture and is over all more beneficial.

What mulch to use

I’ve used straw but it has some disadvantages. Straw tends to provide good hiding places for a number of pests to hide. It can also mat down when wet and if it gets too wet can slough water off.

My usual preference is well rotted compost. This year I am using mint compost and it is lovely. It is black and holds moisture very well. I find it particularly good for the high clay soil we have here. If you pour water on our bare soil a little will penetrate but it will quickly run off. When I water the mulch however every drop is absorbed and penetrates down around the plant’s roots. There is no run off and no waste.

Another advantage to compost is that it feeds the soil. Each time you water a compost tea filters down into the ground and adds nutrients. In the fall the compost breaks down further and creates more rich friable soil in your garden bed.

I use black plastic only around heat loving plants. This year I am using the black plastic only around my cantaloupe. It keeps the soil very warm which this plant loves and it retains moisture well. It also stops weeds.

Lee Reich in his book, Weedless Gardening, advocates using mulch this way. It constantly improves the soil, eliminates the need for deep tilling and retards weeds.

Do not use sawdust as a mulch (except for around acid loving plants such as roses and blueberries) because it is not good for most plants. It can leach nitrogen and make the soil too acidic. Do not use fresh unrotted manure as it will burn plants. Do not use bark dust or bark chips around veggies – same problems as sawdust.

If you have other ideas on mulch or a different experience let us know – just post a comment.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Water and Climate Change

PWHydrolRainfallIt is another beautiful day in the Willamette Valley. As I write this there is not a cloud in the blue sky above. It has been dry, with low humidity (currently 45%) for the past three days. Earlier last week we had a little rain, but not much.

For those of us who have lived our whole lives here there is a noticeable change in the climate over the past several years. We are seeing less rain and fewer days when it does rain. The summers are extending further into the early fall months. Winters are seeing less rain than in the past.

A quick search on the internet shows a number of articles on this subject but little real agreement. The one thing they all agree upon is that global climate change is affecting us here and will continue to do so. It appears it will become drier and warmer here than we remember.

For the garden this means doing things a little differently. It means giving thought to planting decorative plants that need less water including more native plants. It means conserving water more through better mulching, watering more intelligently (using less and watering deeper but less often) and saving rain water.

Saving Rain Water

I already save about 100 gallons of rain water each winter and use that mostly to hand water plants in their early stages in the vegetable garden. I plan to double that capacity to 200 gallons of capacity this summer. When it does rain hard here it is easy to accumulate a lot of water quickly. My garden shed roof, which is about 50 square feet of roof space, gathers over 100 gallons of water in just a few days of heavy rain.

However my space is small and I do not have room for a serious rain water reservoir. It would great to have a thousand gallon tank, but no place to put that. So my rain water reserve will only last a few weeks in early summer to water starts and seeds as they start out.

Smarter Watering

The more serious watering from early July through October requires the municipal water supply which is expensive. Therefore it is even more important to water wisely. I try to avoid over-watering. I’ve reduced by lawn area to a very small patch so there is a reduction in water demand from that.

How much drier and warmer it will get here no one can say. Will it get as dry as northern California for example? Will that happen in my life time? No one knows.

What seems certain is that it will get somewhat drier and warmer on average, though we will still have floods in winter and cool weather at times. To adapt to that I will continue to find ways to conserve water and use it most wisely in the garden. I hope others will do the same.

Heat and Mulch

sunHeat and Water 

It has been hot lately here in the valley. The daily highs are in the 90s. It does cool down at night which helps people sleep but does little for heat loving veggies.

My tomatoes are happy. Picked some fruit this week and more coming on quickly. The plants have not grown as much as in past years. That may be the weather or may be that I am doing something wrong.

The most difficult thing to get right in this heat is the watering. I am conservative as I can be with water mostly because it is city water and very pricey. I have found that I am not watering enough with this sustained heat however and have had to increase waterings. I had been watering 2 times a week with an occasional additional watering. All but out most drought-tolerant plants are not happy though so I am increasing watering now to every other day until the heat stops.


I got a yard of compost from U & D Nursery yesterday in my pick up. I unloaded it and spread it around in various beds where it was needed. I will need at least two more loads this year, maybe three.

I got U & D’s best quality compost. They call is their Organic Compost which is kind of humorous because most compost is organic. It is equal parts composted mint, mushroom, steer manure and general organic compost. It is very fine and very dark. It is some of the richest compost I’ve ever gotten, even from U & D. This is excellent stuff. U & D has been in Albany for 49 years now and I’ve consistently received excellent products and service from them. They are my go-to place for mulches, rock, gravel, and some plants.

I usually get one or two yards of bark dust and three or four yards of good compost every year. It has turned soil, which started out when we moved in as high quality ceramic grade clay, into friable rich soil. Having lived in the valley my whole life I know that the only way to improve and maintain soil quality here is to add good compost every year. After two or three years of that you have excellent soil to a depth of about six inches. After 14 years, as in our case, it is even better.

And of course mulching around established and new plants helps feed them and conserve water – which brings me back to where I started today.

Happy Gardening!