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The third type of water is chlorinated water, which is common in big city water supplies. City water-works departments add chlorine to kill bacteria and other germs before allowing it to be sent to city homes. The problem is that the chlorine also kills, or stunts the growth, of young plants, but older plants can tolerate it somewhat better. To solve this problem, take a bucket of hard (chlorinated) water and allow it to sit for at least 24 hours, allowing the chlorine to evaporate off and the water to reach room temperature. Now use this room-temperature, non-chlorinated water for your seedlings and plants.

The above discussion sounds simple, but if you ask most people which faucets emit soft and which emit hard water from their homes, they would be unable to tell you. And if you are a serious, or even somewhat serious, gardener, you will want to know this basic information. Remember that vegetable plants and salt do not like each other, and the wise gardener will keep as much salt away from his or her plants as is possible.

There have been reports that gardens have been ruined if they lay next to, or on top of, a septic field. Why is this? The reason is that the water softener adds salt to the house water supply and this salty water goes through the septic tank and into the septic field. Over time, this salt builds up and causes a sodic soil condition where plants cannot grow. Excellent producing gardens have been ruined this way, and once the salt is there, it is almost impossible to remove. It might be possible to substitute potassium chloride instead of the traditional salt crystals (sodium chloride) that the water softener uses to soften water, but the cost is higher than using traditional salt. However, using potassium chloride will reduce the amount of salt in your ground and garden. Consult a water softening expert on alternatives to the traditional method of softening water if you are concerned about this.

Garden Over Septic Field

If this does happen to you and you cannot move the garden, you might want to place several (about 5) very thick sheets of plastic on the ground, construct raised beds using 2x10 treated lumber or concrete blocks on top of the plastic, and truck in new garden soil. This is the way we built our garden, although we did not have a salt problem (we don’t have a septic tank).

Plants generally do not like salt, especially sodium salt, because it makes it difficult for the plants to absorb water and nutrients and, since salt is soluble in water, the salt enters the roots and stem of the plant, causing great harm. Crops like beets, broccoli, lettuce, spinach and tomatoes can tolerate modest amounts of salt, but beans, carrots, onions and radishes cannot stand much salt at all.

The important thing to remember here is that if you want a good, productive vegetable garden, you must keep all sources of salt away from it, and one of the worst sources is treated, softened house water. Most people are unaware of this problem until the damage has already been done and it is too late to do anything about it. If you are buying a used home and want a vegetable garden, find out where the septic tank and field is located, and weather or not the house has a water softener. If the only place for the garden is in the septic field, be wary, for the soil in the field might be too salty for your garden.

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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