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Garden Care - Watering

It is said that plants need an inch of water per week, but equally important is that the water be received on a regular basis. If a plant does not receive its required amount of water, it undergoes ‘water stress’, which can lead to plant death or weakening, a reduced crop yield or premature seed production (bolting). Cabbage and cauliflower are good examples of plants that cannot tolerate much water stress or the cabbage heads will split and the cauliflower will bolt. So maintaining the proper water supply to your vegetables is not only important, it is critical.

In the past, water was cheap and taken for granted, but not anymore. Water in our area, even though we live next to a large lake (Lake Michigan), water is still expensive. To conserve water, we use a black plastic as a mulch that retards evaporation, drip hoses underneath the plastic to directly water the roots of the plants, and a water computer that can water the garden for us automatically, a nice feature when we go on vacation for a week or so during the summer. In general, never try to water the garden with an overhead sprinkler, as it wastes water, does not water the roots of the plants, and promotes leaf diseases and fungus invasions.

For most home gardeners there are three types of water: 1) hard water, 2) soft water, and 3) chlorinated water. If your water is ‘hard’ it means that it contains numerous minerals, calcium and magnesium being the two most common. Plants like hard water but most people don’t, the reason being that the calcium and magnesium combine chemically with soap and detergents to form a coagulated soap curd, commonly called soap scum. In addition, the calcium and magnesium cling to the insides of water pipes, causing them to clog-up over time (calcify). So what most people do is to purchase a water softener to soften the hard water.

The second type of water is soft water. Some areas of the country have naturally soft water, but most don’t, so softened water is normally water that has passed through a saline (salt) solution via a water softener in order to make it less hard. The water softener exchanges sodium chloride ions (salt) for the calcium and magnesium ions making the resulting water more salty but containing fewer mineral deposits. This type of water combines well with soap and detergents and produces lots of suds and feels soft and smooth on your skin, forming little if any scum. But if you use soft water on your plants, you will probably kill then, or severely stunt their growth, this especially being true of young seedlings, due to the increased salinity of the water.

To determine which faucets in your house emit soft water and which hard (non salted) water, proceed as follows: Locate where the main water pipe enters your home, normally where the water meter is located, and trace this pipe to your water softener. All faucets that take their water before the water softener emit hard (natural) water, and those faucets that receive their water after the softener emit soft water. In most homes, the outside faucets are spliced into the main water line before the water softener, so that when you sprinkle your lawn, you are using hard, natural water with no salt in it, which is a good thing. Also, the cold water faucet on many kitchen sinks also splices into the main water line before the water softener, so when you take a sip of water, you are drinking hard, non salty, softened water. Many times these are the only faucets in your home which contain hard water, all others are soft water including all hot water from your water heater.

Water Pipes In House

What this means is that when you get water from your basement laundry tub, and put some of it on your plants, you are putting soft, salty water on them, which is almost a death sentence for the young seeds. Most people don’t know this! Most people think that the basement laundry faucet contains fresh, natural water. Not so! It contains soft, salty water that has passed through the water softener, so beware of this. Always perform a check of your house and know which faucets emit soft water and which hard water.

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