How much do you water?
The number one reason vegetable gardens fail is that people fail to water them sufficiently. People ask me how much water a particular crop requires, and I always ask them to consider how much water is in the final vegetable. Think of a tomato or a cucumber, and imagine how much water is required to be given to that plant to produce a fruit with a high concentration of water. Inevitably people underestimate the amount of water a plant needs.
In summer, daily watering of garden beds would not be unwelcome by your plant, by 3 or 4 times a week will sustain them. Pots require daily watering.
Soil quality can reduce the need for watering
Soil with compost, coco peat or vermiculite will retain more moisture than ordinary garden soil or potting mix. It is always a good idea to add these to your soil when you are establishing or setting up your garden beds.
Compost helps improve the water retention of sandy soils by improving the soil structure. It also breaks down and adds nutrients which the plants will feed off. Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral. It swells and retains moisture, holding it in the soil instead of allowing it to drain away. This is then accessible to the plants. Coco peat or coconut coir is the soft fibre from a coconut. It helps absorb water and keep soil moist, but also aids in drainage. Again it is a natural product and biodegrades.
Together these products help to keep the water you have provided the garden in the soil and not draining away, reducing the need to water.
My DIY soil mix contains all three.
Diana's Dirt - my DIY soil mix for vegetables and fruits
My soil is a variation of Mel's Mix, created by Mel Bartholomew of Square Foot Gardening. I have varied the "recipe" to suit me and my budget and had great success with the nutrient levels and water retention in Australia.
3 x 25L bags of organic potting mix for vegetables, best with added blood & bone
1 x 25L bag of organic compost
1 x 25L bag of cow manure
1 x 30L coconut coir
2 x 5L bags of vermiculite
Combine and it's ready to use. Note, if the budget is tight I will opt for non-organic bags.
I do not add blood and bone or dynamic lifter. This is firstly because I try to buy good quality potting mix to start so I do not need to bother. Secondly, my Compots provide blood and bone as the meat I place in it breaks down, along with other nutrients.
Water Storage Crystals
A change in opinion - water storage crystals, petrochemicals and organic-ish gardening (January 2021)
One of the reasons I started vegetable gardening was because I wanted to eat organic fruit and vegetables but I could not afford the supermarket/farmers market cost. However, I knew from the beginning that genuinely organic gardening was hard to achieve. It involves organic soil, organic seeds/seedlings, garden beds that have not been treated or leech any chemicals, and organic pest control and disease management. As a beginner gardener with a new mortgage this was not feasible, so I have always endeavoured to be "organic-ish".
One product I discovered was water crystals. They are just like the super absorbent compound in nappies which starts off like a grain of sugar and expands up to 400 times it's original size. I have recommended their use in pots and container gardening to help reduce the amount of watering required and prevent pots from drying out. My research into them a few years ago suggested they were harmless and biodegraded in a few years.
But since then an article drew my attention to the fact water crystals are petrochemicals This, coupled with my increased knowledge about plastics, what "biodegradable" actually means and my gardening experience, caused me to review my use of them.
Petrochemicals are derived from petroleum, the same liquid you put in your car. But they have found their way into a lot of products we use in our daily lives. Focusing on what petrochemicals we absorb and ingest, they are found in fertilisers, pesticides, plastics (do you microwave plastic containers?) Vaseline, and, noting 85% of my followers are women, make up and beauty products including shampoo and conditioner. The reason they have attracted negative publicity is because a substance called 1,4-dioxane is generated by many petrochemical products and this has been identified as toxic to humans and a possible carcinogenic. As a result, people have started trying to reduce the amount of petrochemicals in their lives.
So when it comes to trying to garden organic-ish in order to reduce the fertilisers and pesticides I consume, it caused me to question why I am removing one petrochemical but not others, like water crystals. Since there are alternatives to water crystals, which are more natural substances, I have decided I will endeavour to utilise those. Therefore I will not recommend the use of them in pots going forward.
But I acknowledge that petrochemicals are everywhere. I wear make up and I absorb petrochemicals in many other ways. I will not go and remove the water crystals from the pots they are in (even my edible plants), but I will not use them going forward, and when I repot, I will remove them then.
What you choose to do in your garden and daily life is a matter for you. But if you would like to avoid water crystals, I will be providing more information about other ways to improve water retention in your soil and other water saving tips soon.
If you choose to use water crystals, it is important you purchase non-cross linked (linear) polyacrylamide water crystals as these are water soluable and non toxic when they break down over many years. These are different to the cross-linked polyacrylamide water crystals which are not water soluable, which are most commonly found in nappies. Make sure you do your research before you buy. Look on the label for information like “biodegradable” and “safe for vegetables”.
Every vegetable garden, plant and tree should be mulched. The best kind is pea straw or Lucerne mulch. This breaks down easily and improves your soil and well and providing great water retention. Purchase an organic brand from your local nursery and RedCycle the bag, or buy in bulk from your landscaping supplier.