Garden Vegetables Watering

Needs One Inch of Rain a Week – Oh Yeah?

I was out in the garden this evening transplanting lettuce and lamenting the spring drought we’re having.

Beds that are heavily mulched are still ok.  Nice moist soil beneath the mulch even though we’ve been at least a month with nothing but a drizzle.  But beds where I’ve planted crops like lettuce, kale, turnips, carrots, onions and radishes and then just sprinkled a thin layer of straw on until they could grow up a bit — have lost a lot of moisture and are dry by comparison.

I’m especially concerned about beds that I had designated for tomatoes — usually very heavily mulched this time of year. This year I planted cabbage and broccoli in those beds to be followed by the tomatoes.  Then I only mulched lightly because I thought  the broccoli and cabbage would grow, the rains would come, and then I could mulch heavily.  Hopefully the drought will break and I will be able to reserve the moisture  for my tomatoes with heavier mulch. They’ll need it for the all-too-probable summer drought.

Fortunately, spring droughts are rare.  By the time the more-normal droughts of summer come, cold weather crops are grown and mostly finished.  Warm weather crops are getting big and can hold their own for a good while in the heavily mulched beds of my garden.

Then I got to thinking about the famous “one inch of water” per week.  You know — the one that seems to be in every article you read about every vegetable you could possibly want to grow. They all say — and onions <or whatever the crop is> needs one inch of water per week.

Wonder who ever came up with that and just how it was determined.  I guess somewhere in the world somebody gets an inch of rain a week, but it’s certainly not in my garden.  And I could almost bet it’s not in yours either. So who was this person that knew about every vegetable needing an inch of water?

If you’re new to gardening you’ve probably read those articles and have seen visions of the vegetable immediately dropping to the soil stone dead if it doesn’t get the required one inch of rain.  Those who still want to garden and with the means to do so — probably look into what system they can use to supply this one inch a week.

I only have two barrels to catch reserve rain water.  But if I had a system to catch a LOT of rain water and then pump it to the garden —- I could get real excited about watering.  Unfortunately, that has not been my situation for almost 35 years and I don’t think anything will change anytime soon.  So I don’t water unless it’s with a sprinkling can and that’s only enough water to water in my newly transplanted seedlings.

I would not use any kind of municipal water supply for consistent watering and I would also hesitate about well water unless it had been tested to see if chemicals had seeped into it.

Here in Virginia — drought in summer is the norm.  Thankfully, no one ever told any of my crops they needed an inch of water a week.  And I keep telling them how great they’re doing — so they live up to what I expect of them.  🙂

Just kidding of course,  —- but it makes the point.  Sure, there are some years that you’re going to lose some harvest because of a severe drought.  But if you prepare your soil deeply, add lots of organic matter and mulch heavily —- those losses will be minimum.

One more Thing

If I were set up to water — I would NOT water once a week.  I would keep tabs on soil dryness, but I would especially look to the plants.  As dry as things are in some of my planted beds — the vegetables in them are looking great.  They’re not growing as quickly as they might — but they look healthy and ARE growing.  Even my onions have already put out roots that are 8 inches long.  (I measured when I pulled a spring onion for lunch.)  They’re using those roots to go for that water that’s down deeper.

If you water when you think the plants need it — rather than when the plants really need it —- it keeps them from putting down deep roots. Deep roots are your best bet for a hassle free garden!

Wishing you rain in due season and great success in your garden!
Related Posts:
Should You Garden if You Can’t Water – YES!

Organic Gardening is Easy, Efficient, Effective —- and its a lot healthier.
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  • It’s dry but you are right … so far the plants don’t look too bad. I just used up the last of the water in my barrel tonight. Fortunately, here in Maryland anyway there is rain the forecast for the weekend! In the meantime I’ve been putting down more mulch than I usually would…thanks to the neighbors who leave their leaves and grass clippings on the curb.

  • Sure hope you get that rain, Steve! And please send some my way.
    You’ve got a goldmine in those leaves and grass clippings that your neighbors don’t want!

  • I have never lived in Virginia, but in California if you don’t water everything dies except plants that are drought tolerant. Such as cactus, oleanders, desert willows, or desert bird of paradise etc… I have not seen a food source that is common exist here without watering unfortunately. In my yard I usually do what I call survival watering for my non-vegatable plants and seeper hose watering on a timer for the garden. Wish we had rain but after early Spring it is very, very unlikely till November.

  • Hi Valerie,

    I understand there are places in the world that get too little water to support crops.

    Working with nature and preparing the soil so that it will hold water for times of drought – 20 inches of rain can grow the best crops. The goal being to hold one-half of that in the soil for crops to use in times of drought.

    There are more than 800 posts on TMG and many deal with all aspects of gardening with little water. (I’m thinking you’re new to TMG. And welcome if you are.)

    Here’s a post you may want to read:


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