Gardening without irrigation? Are you mad?
No.. I don’t think so. Though you may not be able to garden completely without irrigation, I do believe you can lower your garden water usage considerably by changing your methods.
The key to getting more out of your garden while watering less seems to be adding extra space for each plant’s root system. We live in the Age Of The Raised Bed, so this sound nuts… but there are solid reasons to grow in rows with wide spacings.
Check out what Steve Solomon, author of Gardening When It Counts, has to say:
As recently as the 1930s, most American country folk still did not have running water. With water being hand-pumped and carried in buckets, and precious, their vegetable gardens had to be grown with a minimum
of irrigation. In the otherwise well-watered East, one could routinely expect several consecutive weeks every summer without rain. In some drought years a hot, rainless month or longer could go by. So vegetable varieties were bred to grow through dry spells without loss, and traditional American vegetable gardens were designed to help them do so.
I began gardening in the early 1970s, just as the raised-bed method was being popularized. The latest books and magazine articles all agreed that raising vegetables in widely separated single rows was a
foolish imitation of commercial farming, that commercial vegetables were arranged that way for ease of mechanical cultivation. Closely planted raised beds requiring hand cultivation were alleged to be far more productive and far more efficient users of irrigation because water wasn’t evaporating from bare soil.
I think this is more likely to be the truth: Old-fashioned gardens used low plant densities to survive inevitable spells of rainlessness. Looked at this way, widely separated vegetables in widely separated rows may be considered the more efficient users of water because they consume soil
moisture that nature freely puts there. Only after, and if, these reserves are significantly depleted does the gardener have to irrigate. The end result is surprisingly more abundant than a modern gardener educated on intensive, raised-bed propaganda would think (read the rest)
Until I did more research, I had always assumed the wide row spacing of traditional gardens had more to do with the need for using tractors and mechanized equipment than anything else. Apparently, I was wrong.
This spring, to test the idea that plants need much less water when spaced further apart, I planted a big patch of corn at 6″ spacing in 3′ rows. I haven’t watered it (except for the liquid fertilizer mix I poured along the roots every week or two) and it’s doing excellently thus far on nothing but rain. I also planted bush beans spaced 6″ apart in rows spaced 18″ wide. Though they’re not as happy as the corn, only some have kicked off.
I’ll keep you all posted on my results. I’m going to do further tests on gardening without irrigation, since one of the biggest drawbacks of modern gardening is the time it takes to water, not to mention the water itself.