Thursday, June 26, 2008

Disinheriting Bad Gardening Habits

My grandparents moved into the house in which my grandmother still lives when I was in kindergarten. For as long as I can remember, my grandfather planted a huge garden each Spring in their backyard. His garden was at least 50' x 30', possibly larger, and was loaded full of tomatoes, onions, rhubarb, green peppers and many other long forgotten crops. To the day he died (at 81 years of age) he maintained a garden. In fact, we served fresh vegetables from his garden at his wake. I liked that idea. It had been too many years since I had enjoyed vegetables from his garden and the tomatoes tasted sweeter that day than I had ever remembered them tasting.

Now that I know what I do about gardening, I look back on my memories of my grandfather's gardening success with a bit of doubt. My grandfather was a "mister" when it came to watering. He hand-watered his crops daily with the spray nozzle set to the mist setting, and watered just the foliage. I know now that plants get no benefit from foliar watering. In fact, they would prefer to keep their foliage completely dry to prevent disease and fungus. Also, light watering will lead to shallow roots since roots grow toward the water source. Shallow roots are easily damaged by a hoe, foot traffic, and by the heat of the sun. Ideally, roots should burrow deep into the ground where the soil is cooler and water that has been absorbed from the surface is stored. Shallow rooted plants require more frequent watering, and are susceptible to damage and disease. This is why you should water deeply at a less frequent interval rather than watering lightly at a more frequent interval. Furthermore, nutrients are absorbed by the roots of a plant by way of water. If the soil is dry, the roots are not getting any nutrients.

Unfortunately my grandfather passed his bad watering habits on to my sister, and she cannot understand why her crops will not grow and bare no fruit. I tried to explain the reason to her, but she has yet to take my advice. She is convinced that she just needs more fertilizer!

My mother was also an avid gardener, having maintained a garden for at least 10 years that I can remember. She, like my grandfather, enjoyed growing vegetables and planted a garden as big as the one he maintained just a mile down the road from her house. Although my mother did abide by the deep watering rule, she was intent on watering at night. Her reasoning made sense to me at the time - water at night so the sun does not evaporate the water. It stands to reason that you would want more water getting into the roots of the plants than is being evaporated into the air, but you actually do want water to evaporate from the surface of the soil and the foliage of the plants; otherwise, you give fungus and bacteria a playground for reproduction. You should always water in the morning, or at the latest, in the afternoon to allow the water to evaporate and prevent it from remaining on the foliage and around the base of the plants overnight.

I do give my mother and grandfather credit for the amount of success they had with their limited knowledge. I never remember seeing either of them reading a book or magazine on gardening, and they definitely did not use the Internet. On one hand I am so fortunate to be equipped with the resources that I have, and I try to use those resources to their fullest, but on the other hand, I wonder if I take my gardening efforts too seriously. Their more casual attitudes toward gardening may have allowed them to enjoy the act of gardening and worry less about the outcome. I can see that I did not inherit my type A personality from either of them!


At 5:08 PM , Blogger Tami said...

You are so informative! I was always told by people to water at night. Thank you for setting the record straight.


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