Over the past two years, we have discovered the most significant barrier to having a successful and healthy garden in Colorado.
We’ve installed about 1,000 gardens to date, which has given us an extremely rare and amazing opportunity.
Collectively we’ve had the privilege of seeing hundreds and hundreds of Urban Farm Company gardens.
Why is that so special?
It has given us the opportunity to really hone in on what makes a garden successful. It’s common for a good gardener to understand one garden, with one irrigation system, with one specific micro-climate, year-after-year. The variability of nature makes gardening inherently challenging and interesting in this way. One year it snows seven times in April while the next year it hails six times in August. It’s a large enough task to understand how to make one garden successful, let alone hundreds or thousands.
Yet our customers have essentially given us the unofficial “data” to really try to understand the key components that make gardening easier for everyone, in any condition, at any time of year, in any micro-climate.
All of us at The Urban Farm Co. have spent a lot of time staring at plants. A lot of time feeling soil. A lot of time thinking while stuck in I-25 traffic. And a lot of time talking to each other.
What have we found is the key to the best garden ever?
Or more specifically, the right amount of water. What’s the difference between a 3′ tall kale plant with no pests, and a 6″ tall kale covered in aphids?
The right amount of water.
What’s the difference between an heirloom tomato plant that produces dozens of two-pound tomatoes with few blemishes, and a small tomato plant that will only ever produce three small fruit?
Consistent and proper soil hydration.
What’s the difference between a jungle of vegetables and a disappointing box of soil with a couple plants?
Probably not a shocking answer. But providing a garden with consistent water is one of the most difficult things in Colorado. It’s so hard. Sooooo hard! (This makes sense because most of the crops we’re growing in our gardens didn’t actually evolve to grow in Colorado. You don’t see wild tomato plants or giant pumpkins while hiking in the woods, and most of the time the lack of moisture is the reason.)
More than half of all the gardens we see with drip irrigation are actually over-watered.
So what’s the answer?
We’re working on that. Right now, we’re testing an automated watering system that is calibrated to optimal soil moisture. A device pulls water through the drip irrigation line when the soil dries out and shuts off when there’s proper moisture. It doesn’t involve timers, or batteries, or cords. It’s fully automated and theoretically provides constant and nearly-perfect soil moisture. It reduces water waste tremendously, which is great since we live in a water-constrained state.
Here is a picture of us testing the new drip irrigation. We’re still trying to figure out the inconsistency of the output that you can see on the soil.
We have always believed that if you can control the five major variables that make up 95% of the battle behind gardening, you will almost surely be successful. We’ve focused very heavily on soil, and now we’re changing the focus toward water.
- Good chemically-balanced and biologically healthy soil
- Planting at the right time
- Spacing crops correctly
- Choosing the correct crops to grow for your garden
- Good soil hydration (watering)
Until our new automated drip irrigation system becomes available (and even after), dig your hand in the soil and feel it. That is the BEST way to know if you need more or less water. It’s the BEST way to grow the two-pound tomatoes, the BEST way to grow a jungle of food, and the BEST way to have a healthy and beautiful garden.
How often and for how long do you suggest watering in June? We have a very sunny spot where some plants are looking good and others are still in micro-green stage 6 weeks in. Would appreciate any thoughts on watering times and frequency. Thanks!
How long you water for really does depend on what kind of irrigation you are using in your garden and how many drip lines, etc you have. We use drip lines with in-line emitters every 6″ and we put one drip line per foot in the garden beds. We also have 1 micro-sprayer every 4-5′ in the garden boxes. With this system, we recommend watering once per day (in the morning) for 11 minutes. If you have more drip lines than that, I would recommend cutting the irrigation time in half and still watering every day. But really, the best way to tell if your garden is getting enough water is to feel your soil. That is critical and it is the only way to know what is really happening in your soil. You want your soil to be moist like a wrung out sponge, but not muddy wet.