Henry Homeyer | Gardening: What to do in dry times

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August and September are critical months in the vegetable garden, and your tomatoes, corn, potatoes need adequate moisture to plump up and arrive at the dinner table in their best form. But often it is hot and dry at this time of year. You know what to do: water! Even if you have a day job, family, pets or even a vacation planned, you still need to figure out how to water, too.

Different types of soil affect the moisture levels in your garden. Moisten your soil and rub some between your thumb and first finger. If it feels sticky, it's a clay based soil, and should hold water for days after a good rain. But it also gets compacted if you walk on it, and may shed water after a downpour, especially on a hill. A sandy soil, one that feels gritty when you rub it between your fingers, will be dry after 3 days of sunshine (or less). Water will percolate right through it.

What we all want for soil is a dark colored loam that has both sand and clay and lots of organic matter. You can improve any soil by adding compost each year, starting this fall after you clean up the garden. Buy a truckload of compost and work it into the soil.

Where to get bulk compost? Many garden centers sell it by the scoop and will load it into a pick-up truck. Some farmers do a great job of "hot composting" dairy barn material. They use a front-end loader to turn and aerate the manure and bedding, so that it breaks down and heats up, killing weed and grass seeds.

Fresh manure would be great for improving you soil, but most manures contain lots of seeds you don't want. Aged manure — aged for 3 years or so — is better. And some landscapers will sell -and deliver — compost by the scoop, too. Llama, goat and bunny manure has fewer seeds than cow manure; horse manure is often the worst. Chicken manure generally has no seeds, but it has so much nitrogen that it can burn crops unless it is mixed with leaves or brown matter and composted first.

But back to watering. You can water with a watering can, but that's a lot of work. You need a hose. There are a number of considerations to make when buying hoses. The bigger the diameter of the hose, the more it weighs, but the more water the hose can deliver per minute. I like a 5/8 inch hose. Half inch hoses don't really take much longer as most pipes delivering water to them are half-inch pipes, too.

Better hoses — more expensive hoses — generally do a better job. Almost all will claim they don't tangle or kink, but most do. If you buy a new hose it needs to be unspooled, filled with water, and left in the sun. That will help it to straighten out and lose any memory of being in a tight coil.

I recently was given samples of a new type of hose manufactured by Water Right Inc. These are American-made polyurethane hoses - as opposed to rubber hoses or plastic hoses. I like that they are food grade polyurethane, since I'm an organic gardener and I don't want chemicals leaching into my hose while it sits full, but out of use for days at a time. I like the fact that it is much lighter than rubber hoses, and that it is kink-resistant. And I admit that this is silly, but I like the color options. I have a purple hose! It's available at stores, or from Gardeners Supply . They call them their Featherweight Slim Hoses.

So what to do if you are leaving for a week at the beach? Get a timer. These really work. I use one made by Gilmour, and find it easy to program and use. Once programmed you can have it water on a schedule you like. You can use them with a sprinkler, or a soaker hose.

I don't like overhead sprinklers very much. They do get water into the garden, but they waste water on walkways and water the weeds, not just the plants. So I prefer hand watering. I use a watering wand that allows me to direct a gentle flow of water at the base of a plant. Mine comes with a rose, or diffuser, on the end of an aluminum 30-inch handle with a shut-off for my thumb. I use ones made by Dramm . Cheaper versions are available, but for a gentle shower with lots of water, Dramm is the best, in my opinion.

If you are going away, you might want to consider soaker hoses. In the past I've gotten black hoses that slowly ooze water. I found a need to pin them down with landscape staples, as they didn't want to stay in place. I recently got a new one, also from Water Right Inc. This is a polyurethane hose that lays flat and I didn't find a need to pin down.

My new soaker hose will actually spray water about 6 inches if the hose is on to full pressure. So it delivers more water, faster, than traditional soaker hoses. And it claims the pores won't get clogged, the way traditional soaker hoses sometimes do. I've only used it a little, but so far it seems great.

Lastly, you can conserve water and keep soils dry by mulching. Mulch shades soil from the hot sun and reduces evaporation.

So go to the beach — plenty of water and there are no weeds there!

You can reach Henry Homeyer at henry.homeyer@comcast.net. Read his regular blogs at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy

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