The drought here in California is at the forefront of everyone's minds.  The following post is from north of us, in Napa, but the tips are valuable to anyone who would like to maintain a productive, beautiful garden while doing their part to conserve water.

  Tomatoes are a good choice for vegetable gardens even during a drought because tomatoes need relatively little water. In fact, many of the tomato problems that Napa County Master Gardeners encounter are due to overwatering. But what about the other vegetables in your garden or the ones you are still thinking about planting? How can you reduce water use in the edible garden?

  How much water a plant needs is driven by day length, temperature and wind. Plants lose water as long as they are photosynthesizing — as long as it is light out. The hotter and windier it is, the more water a plant needs.

  Usually, plants need the most water in early summer, at the end of June and beginning of July. A few weeks can make a big difference. Six weeks before that peak and six weeks afterward, your garden needs only about two-thirds as much water. By the end of September, plants need only about one-third the water that they did at the peak.

  How much water your plants need also depends on how you use it. It can be scary to cut back when you’ve been successful with your watering regimen. To help you, here are some tips for conserving water in the vegetable garden and orchard:

  Start with improving your soil because healthy soil holds more water. Amend with compost or other organic matter. Soil rich in organic matter retains five times as much water as depleted soil does. So the healthy soil on my one-acre property holds an extra 100,000 gallons of water. Make sure your soil is thoroughly moist before you plant.

  Mulch your garden. A generous layer of mulch will keep soil moisture from evaporating. As a bonus, organic mulches enhance soil fertility and water-holding capacity in future years and reduce the weeds that compete with your plants. Apply mulch to moist soil and make sure that irrigation water penetrates the mulch and reaches the underlying soil. Planting vegetables closer together will also help shade the soil and reduce moisture loss.  [editor's note: Woven Earth's mulch mats perform this job perfectly, without the fear of the mulch touching delicate plants, or figuring how much you need in three dimensions.  Additionally, as it degrades, the hemp fibers mix in with the soil while continuing to absorb precious water.]

  Water at the right time and in the right way. Use drip irrigation to apply water where it is needed, and irrigate when wind and temperatures are low to reduce evaporation. Early morning is best; evening is second best. Probe your soil for moisture. If it feels dry two inches down, it’s time to water.

  Get to know the signs that your vegetables are thirsty. Rather than a “set it and forget it” watering routine, look at your plants. Are the leaves getting dull? Is the plant a bit droopy? Then it’s probably time to water. Squashes and pumpkins are an exception; they often look wilted in mid-afternoon. As long as they recover in the evening, they probably still have sufficient soil moisture.

  Give new plants a good start. Apply adequate water early on and then taper off. As the plants mature, water less frequently but more deeply to encourage deep roots.

  Avoid or minimize your plantings of the “thirsty” vegetables. Corn, soybeans, squashes, pumpkins, most watermelons and some cucumbers require a lot of water. If you can’t live without them, look for varieties bred for drought tolerance and consider planting “bush” varieties if available. Plants with less foliage will use less water. Good vegetable choices include tomatoes and pole beans. Both yield over a long season without requiring large amounts of water.

  Shade your vegetables during extreme heat with an umbrella, shade cloth or floating row cover. Remove the shading as soon as temperatures return to normal; summer vegetable plants prefer at least eight hours of sunlight per day.

  In late summer, plant a cool-season garden. Even with below-normal rainfall, cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and greens require less water. In a wet year, you might not have to irrigate at all after the plants are established.

  Finally, if water rationing means that you have to choose, let your annual vegetables go and water your fruit and landscape trees instead.

  Taken from http://napavalleyregister.com/lifestyles/home-and-garden/columnists/master-gardener/drought-strategies/article_bfd54e43-21ab-5b48-ad60-9933fe00b72c.html

 

  It's easy to strike the balance between a great garden and conserving water.  Take the extra few minutes to see and understand what your garden needs.  It'll pay dividends down the road.