Water is taken for granted in many parts of the world

Most of us think nothing about turning on the water hose and giving our gardens a good long drink. We let the water run until everything has a thorough soak and never think about how much we are using. So much is wasted with run-off and evaporation that only a small percentage is actually used by the plants. We need to consider more environmentally responsible ways to irrigate our gardens. For most of us, the water that falls from the sky, takes care of most plants on our properties. However, there are places in the world where every drop is considered precious and if we do not change our habits, it could easily happen to us as well.

Frank Herbert's 'Dune' is a powerful ecological guidepost

Over fifty years ago, Frank Herbert wrote Dune, a science fiction novel about a planet where rain never falls. It is a desert world consisting of supposedly uninhabitable sandy deserts and rocky plateaus where the cities are located. Water is imported from other planets for the rich, while the desert-dwellers (the Fremen) have to exist with creativity and water conservation. The ecologist character Liet Kynes made a very profound statement in the novel: 'The thing the ecologically illiterate don’t realize about an ecosystem is that it’s a system. A system! A system maintains a certain fluid stability that can be destroyed by a misstep in just one niche. A system has order, a flowing from point to point. If something dams the flow, order collapses. The untrained might miss that collapse until it was too late. That’s why the highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences.' Herbert is credited for raising global consciences about ecology and was instrumental in the creation of the first Earth Day in 1970 and was also one of the featured speakers. He told the crowd 'I don't want to be in the position of telling my grandchildren 'I'm sorry, there's no more Earth left for you. We've used it all up.' He was inspired by the ancient desert dwellers of the Middle East who existed with very little rainfall and had thriving communities. We should incorporate water conservation practices today to help save this vital resource.

Rain barrels help irrigate responsibly

There are a few easy ways for gardeners to irrigate responsibly. Rain barrels are one of the easiest ways to capture and store rainwater. The ancients, and the fictional characters of Dune used underground reservoirs to hold their precious water. We can do something similar by catching the run-off from our homes and storing it in containers or barrels. There are only two states that prohibit rainwater harvesting, Colorado and Utah, however both of these states do allow for home owners to capture up to 110 gallons for Colorado and up to 2500 gallons for Utah. Both states require permits. The laws that are on the books are about 120 years old and were put in place to keep ranchers from capturing water that would have flowed to neighboring farms, so it is definitely time for an update. The rest of the states have no laws and many actually encourage rainwater harvesting. There are a number of rain barrel plans on the internet. Harvested rainwater can hydrate gardens, wash cars or even flush toilets. Some people even connect several rain barrels together to provide even more usable water.

rain barrel

Drip irrigation conserves our water resources

Drip irrigation is a method of delivering water to the root zone of plants without wasteful sprinklers or hydrating large portions of the garden unnecessarily. The ancients actually buried clay pots in the ground and filled them with water. The porous clay allowed the water to seep out gradually, keeping the plants alive. Today, we have several types of drip irrigation. Soaker hoses are the cheapest and fastest way of creating a drip system. The hoses look like regular garden hoses, however they are porous and water slowly seeps out of the surface. They are really good in vegetable gardens as the hoses can be placed along the rows where the stems emerge from the ground. This directs the moisture to the root zones instead of wetting the whole garden. I've even covered them with a few layers of newspaper and straw to prevent evaporation of the little water that dampens the surface. Soaker hoses are very effective and an excellent advanced irrigation choice. Drip emitters are another system. They work on basically the same principal as the soaker hoses, however they have little outlets spaced about fifteen inches apart and the little nozzles constantly drip water. This is a good solution for shrubbery and ornamental beds. A cheap, basic drip system that is good for new trees is a large bucket with a small hole in the bottom edge. Fill it with water and place it at the root zone of your new tree. The water drips out and keeps the root zone moist as the young tree settles in.

drip irrigation

Ordinary gardeners can help conserve water resources

In today's world, about 70% of the world's fresh water is used for agricultural irrigation. So much of it is sprayed into the air or sent across the fields in open channels. While home gardeners do not have much say in how water is used or abused in these commercial operations, we can do our part to ensure that we are hydrating our gardens responsibly. Sprinklers that spray water all over, have so much loss due to evaporation and run off that they should be shelved. Re-use water that you've steamed or cooked vegetables in on your container plants as opposed to sending it down the drain. This does double duty as the nutrients should be welcome too. The same goes for water you've used to wash your vegetables in. The less you can send down the drain, the more you conserve. For our ornamentals, choose plants that do not require much additional moisture other than what nature provides. And in your vegetable garden, water only as supplemental moisture is needed and then concentrate on the root zones instead of the whole garden. Flat, green carpets of 'water junkie' lawns are falling out of favor, being replaced with plants and grasses that do not require the tons of water and chemicals that help keep these artificial carpets alive. Making environmentally wise choices ensures the next generations a healthier and water-rich world.