All plants depend on water in order to absorb nutrients required for growth and manufacture food. Constant transpiration through their leaves means that once water loss exceeds the amount taken in by the roots, wilting occurs reducing growth and yield. Therefore an adequate supply of water is essential, but this does not mean drenching them every day.
Seeds and transplants require plenty to aid germination and growth, but vegetable crops requirements vary. For example:
- Leafy crops: of which foliage or shoots are eaten benefit from frequent, regular watering from seedling stage onwards. (lettuce, cabbage etc.)
- Pod producers: (peas, beans etc.) too much to early increases leafy growth at the expense of flowers and fruit, but is essential at flowering and pod development time.
Always try to water crops in the evening or early morning, allowing reasonable quantities to penetrate deeply into the soil around the roots.
Where watering by hand is difficult (ie. large plots) sprinklers are useful. However, avoid sprinklers if water is scarce as you can waste water on non-productive ground. Better results are achieved by watering directly to the root zone, either by watering can or drip hoses, which realistically is more achievable on smaller plots.
Soil that has been well prepared, with moisture retaining organic matter applied on a regular basis, reduces watering requirements, aided by the removal of competition from weeds, the correct spacing and thinning of crops.
Mulching reduces water loss and is best applied after rain or watering and as soon as the plant is established. Types of mulches that can be used are:
- Black polythene
- Geo-textile matting
- Well-rotted compost
Do not use bark chippings or pine-derived products as a mulch on vegetables, as they rob the soil of nitrogen thereby affecting leafy crop development.
Mainly used as a form of preventative crop protection against butterflies, birds, rabbits et al.
Brassicas, for instance, require protection against the Cabbage White Butterfly laying its eggs, as the resulting caterpillar causes total defoliation if left unchecked.
Rabbits overnight can destroy a crop. Birds, one of the worst pests, are known to eat freshly sown seeds and also take large bites out of foliage.
Fleeces can also be used for protection of crops and seedlings, and are less harmful to the environment than using chemicals.
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