Parched days of summer; Giving the garden maximum moisture

The mellow, golden peak of midsummer usually brings expectations of hot days and probably a spell of drought now and then. At this stage I am contemplating not so much "what my garden can do for me" -- to paraphrase President Kennedy at his inauguration in 1961 -- "but what I can do for my garden."

There can be times, living in a rural setting, or even if dependent on city water, when the supply may be cut off. Wells can go dry and the city may be forced to curtail garden and yard watering. This has happened to most of us at one time or another.

Then, too, natural water tables are being lowered everywhere by excessive use.

Conservation is more and more vital when innovative methods must be called on to make the best possible use of the water that is available.

Drip irrigation is something to consider. In the small kitchen garden that may mean nothing more complex than a soaker hose. Mine is made of canvas that will gently sweat water out along a row all day long. Not a drop is wasted.

Turn off the water and, as soon as the seep stops, move the hose to another row. I find the best hose length for me is 10 feet, because any longer is too cumbersome to manage, especially when wet. These soakers also come in plastic.

There are various ways to place water in slow access, deeply and precisely where it is needed.

Each idea will take daily time and care. If you opt to go for the all-out modern drip system, it can be somewhat costly as well. Then, too, it's not a state of everlasting automatic perfection without a worry, as we may be led to believe.

[A comprehensive article in the May issue of Organic Gardening magazine give information pro and con to help you make your decision.]

Following is a list of preparations for times of drought:

* Mulch is about the oldest and greatest of earth savers and builders.

Often when summer peaks with the arrival of really hot days, it finds the garden spread out all over, as clean as tile floors. rows are neat and straight , with each plant in its right place. If rainfall is sparse, mulch alone will not be enough to hold the moisture the garden is going to need.

Mulch must be deep to be of any pratical use in conserving moisture. Also, it must be in place beforem the garden dries out.

* Scoop out troughs of earth to hold water around individual plants. Punch no more than two or three holes in the bottoms of gallon-size plastic milk cartons (an ice pick is about the right size, but first heat it in a flame). Fill the jugs with water and place one close to each plant, or you can move them about to serve several plants or even a full row.

* If there is any way to get waste water into the garden, then do so. You can save the water used for washing vegetables and fruits, or streams that run out while you wait for the hot water to come through the pipes.

One way that some families are managing is to have the plumbing altered to divert the flow of kitchen waste water, or even bath water, into a tank or barrel outside the house.

* One or two discarded hot-water tanks placed where they can catch the overflow from the eaves troughs is also a useful installation. My plumber tells me it's not much of a job to connect a plastic hose from the house to such a tank.

A hose attachment can be provided for getting the water into the garden. If "secondhand" water from the kitchen is going to run into a tank, however, a filter should be installed on the receiving end of the hose to trap any grease that can blocks the hoses and coat and inside of the tank.

* Another water-saving method is to go back to the custom of an earlier age and be content with sponge baths. That way you can save significant amounts of water for the garden.

* In readiness for dry periods, you can train plants to grow deep instead of along the top layer of soil where the sun and wind can reach with drying effect. deep watering leads roots down. Open up the mulch and dig in the daily kitchen scraps as deep as 6 to 8 inches. It will aerate the soil, hold moisture, and make a congenial atmosphere for deep-growing roots. Besides, it will encourage the assembly of earthworms.

* Prepare several lightweight lath frames (or stretch cheesecloth or piece of old white sheets on frames) to prop over plants on hot afternoons.

With all this going on, you'll be able to enjoy the happy days of midsummer -- and so will your plant s.

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