Q: I grow vegetables for my family, but I know we are in a severe drought. How can I use less water and grow tasty vegetables in my garden? Lindsey, Atascadero
A: Now is the time to implement water-wise strategies that save water while still producing a bountiful harvest.
Prepare the soil by removing all weeds by the roots and amending the soil with organic matter. This will increase the water-holding capacity. Improving soil nutrition can increase yields without increasing water needs. Next, add a heavy layer of mulch. Well-mulched soil will retain moisture longer.
Consider a new planting strategy. Try planting in blocks rather than single rows to shade plant roots and reduce evaporation. Group plants with similar water needs to irrigate more efficiently. Plant reliable varieties that have produced well for you before, or simply plant less to save additional water.
Irrigation strategies are critical to the overall goal of water conservation. Its best to water during early mornings when the wind is calm and temperatures are cool. But most importantly, heed guidelines set forth in your community. A soaker hose is the least expensive and is easy to use. Drip or trickle irrigation on timers is ideal and can reduce water usage by 50 percent.
Either way, remember to place irrigation hoses below the mulch to further reduce evaporation and make sure your plants have easy access to this precious resource. Check soil moisture regularly to avoid watering too much. Dig down below the mulch to evaluate soil moisture. Squeeze a handful of soil in your hand. If it holds its shape, additional irrigation can be delayed. If the soil is dry to a depth of 4 to 6 inches, its time to water.
In-depth drought information resources are available at the UCCE San Luis Obispo County website: http://cesanluisobispo.ucanr.edu/Drought_Informa tion/Vegetable_Gardens.
GOT A GARDENING QUESTION?
Contact the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners: at 781-5939 from 1 to 5 p.m. on Monday and Thursday; at 473-7190 from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Arroyo Grande; and at 434-4105 from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Templeton. Visit the UCCE Master Gardeners website at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo or email firstname.lastname@example.org .