Vegetables: Not Without Water

This time of year, the day starts early and ends late. It starts and ends outdoors.

These are the HHH days, where heat, haze and humidity spawn afternoon showers–if we’re lucky. If we’re not, the garden takes an extra hour of attention at least every other day to keep it watered.

No less than for us humans, there is no vegetable life without water. it provides a water skeleton that supports the plant (or not: you’ll know when plants wilt they are dehydrated.) Plants use water like we use blood to get goodies in and badies out, to plump up fruits and make more sun-gathering leaf surface. The water footprint of our garden is huge!

The Water Footprint of Food

For these thousands of gallons needed in a summer of vegetable gardening, we generally have enough–or almost enough–rain. In dry years, we are fortunate to have the creek as a source, only fifty feet away from our very limited very fenced garden.

Caveat: the creek can dry up–like it did to the very bedrock–in 2002. Without the creek, it’s game over for the gardenr. This season has started out dry and I’m concerned the creek will last until the garden has produced.

Our small rectangle is confined to the bit of level land locked between the county road, the hillside, the parking spot and the septic field. That doesn’t leave us much garden, but it seems big enough when everything has to be watered by hand.

Ann, never one to shun avoidable hard work or find any merit in efficiency, would fetch water, bucket at a time, from the creek. Brawny as she is, you can imagine how many gallons she carries per load.  A full watering takes at least 30 gallons. That’s a lot of fetching.

I, OTOH, will generally find a way to avoid wasting  time and effort, so years ago, I set up this little pump system. The short green length of garden hose is my supply. It draws water from a deep-enough pool created by a temporary dam of rocks across Goose Creek.

The little pump and lawn-and-garden battery do the work. A battery charge will pull a hundred gallons or more. The mason jar is used to prime the system by pouring water down the intake before connecting the pump clips to the battery. The bucket covers it all to keep it dry. Not exactly rocket science.

What I have not done but have discussed with myself is finding a larger reservoir for higher-capacity storage than the filled 35 gallon garbage can that sits on the level of the garden. I’m just not sure how HIGH my little pump will lift. A 300 gallon farm tank up on the hill would gravity-feed a soaker hose system.

Or maybe we’ll get rain.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. or Maybe seal your little green hose into a hole in the side of the 300 gallon trash can near the bottom so it doesn’t have to pump the water uphill at all : )

  2. Nah. It wouldn’t take too long before the pressure of the water as the can fills would be greater than the pressure generated by the pump.

    The one notion that a neighbor and I have talked about is making a “ram pump” that would have no problem lifting water as high as needed. It’s an old and simple technology.

    But like my little system now, the water would have to come across a county-maintained road. I can trench a little groove for my garden hose and get by with it.

    Bringing a 1.5 inch pvc pipe across it is another matter.