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Trickle... drip... gone. Save water and your garden during times of drought

By Doc & Katy AbrahamSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / July 5, 1988



Naples, N.Y.

AREAS of the United States are experiencing the 14th consecutive year of drought. Last year was the hottest year on record, and 1988 is already considered to be the drought year of the century. The mighty Mississippi has been too shallow to accommodate barges, and midwestern farms are suffering from conditions reminiscent of the dust bowl of the '30s.

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Eminent scientists are warning that the long predicted greenhouse effect may have begun, resulting in abnormally high temperatures and parched soil. Along with the warnings have come recommendations which, if applied promptly, will help offset the devastating effects of carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons buildup that hold heat near the earth's surface.

One of these recommendations is to initiate a major effort to halt deforestation and implement a tree planting project on a national scale. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen to sustain life on earth.

Other recommendations are for energy conservation, development of alternative fuels, water conservation, and reuse of what is called ``gray water.'' The easier-to-take steps

Of these suggestions, probably energy conservation and water conservation are the two that individuals can act on most. Like oxygen, water is an absolute necessity for plants, man, and other animals. All efforts must be made to conserve it. Even in areas that are not yet suffering a severe dry spell or drought, one cannot afford to waste it.

To understand the tremendous amount of water being used today, and the devastating effects of being without, here are some enlightening facts about the supply available to earthlings:

Even though the earth's surface is three-quarters water, all the fresh water in the world adds up to only 3 percent of this amount; 97 percent comprises water in the earth's salty oceans.

About 2 percent of that fresh water is locked up in snow and ice.

Less than 1 percent is left for consumption because much is too far underground, or too loaded with minerals or pollutants to be useful.

Presently, the average person in the US uses from 100 to 150 gallons of water a day, and a family of four uses from 400 to 600 gallons, without any allowance for what they might use for watering plants, washing cars, etc.

The average American, in a life span of 70 years, uses 26,000,000 tons of water.

But a closer look shows that a person is accountable for an even greater amount of water.

For example, it takes 136 gallons of water to make a loaf of bread, allowing for what is needed to grow the grain and other ingredients. It may be startling to know that it takes 900 gallons of water to make a pair of cotton pajamas, considering the needs of a cotton plant.

What about a gallon of milk? Taking into account what the cow must eat or drink, studies show that an estimated 233 gallons of water are needed to make one gallon of milk. Mulch for water conservation

Since trees and shrubs provide oxygen for man's survival, and fruits and vegetables provide food, water is essential to sustain them. After water is supplied, it should be kept in the soil as long as possible.

A mulch prevents evaporation caused by sun and wind. Also, mulches eliminate the need for cultivation, since they inhibit weeds - the silent robbers that take nutrients and moisture from valuable plants. There are a number of mulches that can be used, but be sure to give soil a good watering so it seeps into the soil down around the root zone before applying the mulch.

Some folks prefer to use black plastic. In extreme temperatures it can hold heat around roots and burn them. This effect can be modified by applying bark chips or shredded bark over the plastic.

Mulches can be of hay, straw, leaves, buckwheat, hulls, corn husks, or any number of organic materials. Sawdust is a good insulator and moisture retainer, but you must add a fertilizer to it so plants will not suffer from nitrogen deficiency as the nitrogen-forming bacteria transfer their energy to breaking down the sawdust.

A liquid fertilizer solution can be mixed thoroughly with the sawdust at the rate of one gallon to a bushel. Be sure to read directions for proper dilution, and use recycled water. A light coating of bark chips over the top can make it more attractive and will add to water retention.

Newspapers make an excellent mulch, but layers must be soaked in water until thoroughly wet through. This may take several hours, depending on the paper. One inch is then applied over a pre-soaked area, and should be top-dressed with bark chips, shredded bark, hay, or other heavy mulch to keep them from drying out or blowing away.