The heat and humidity are nearly unbearable right now in South Carolina. Even in the early mornings, when temperatures are in the upper 70s to the low low 80s, simply watering the garden is a rather unpleasant, sweaty task. This warm weather is also taking a toll on the plants in my garden, as the heatwave unfortunately coincides with an ongoing drought. The dry conditions here and elsewhere in the world means that gardeners and non-gardeners alike need to be mindful of their water usage in the garden and around the house.
Growing up in an old farmhouse in the mountains of Virginia, I quickly learned about the importance of water. Built in the 1890s and far from urban utilities, the farmhouse still relies on the original shallow hand-dug well fed by the local water table. Summers meant short 5-minute showers and occasional trips to town to take advantage of the laundromat to conserve every gallon of water in the well. The vegetable garden and the ornamental landscape around the household also needed a share of that precious water. Using some simple tricks and tips we were usually able to keep the important plants alive even during severe droughts.
1. Maximize Storm Water
My family took advantage of occasional summer thunderstorm that passed through the mountains in the late afternoons. Every downspout of the house and outbuildings had a rain barrel perfectly placed to catch the rain from the quick downpours allowing us to easily fill our watering cans for the next few mornings.
2. Use Watering Cans
Speaking of watering cans, they are some of the most water efficient tools for your landscape and garden. Watering cans allow you to place a stream of water at the base of targeted plants, letting you soak specific root systems while not wasting water when you move between various plantings, as is common with open-hose watering.
3. Collect Gray Water
We also collected clean gray water at the farmhouse. While you waited for the water in the shower to warm up, a bucket was placed in the tub to collect the cold water. Dish water, cooking water and clean gray water from various other sources all helped our plants thrive without using additional well water.
4. Water-Wise Gardening
To help keep water needs for plants down we mulched both edible and ornamental plantings, used native plants in our landscape, and watered in the early mornings to help slow evaporation.
While I no longer live in the mountains, I still use some of the lessons I learned in my youth relying on watering cans, rain barrels and plenty of other techniques to maximize the usage of the precious water resources shared by us all. No matter if it comes from a seemingly endless supply of city water or a hundred year old shallow well in your backyard, we can all do our part to conserve water.