Normally when we talk about water wise gardening, we are talking about ornamentals. Vegetable gardeners need to be water wise, too. Vegetables require a lot of water, relatively speaking. It is our responsibility as gardeners to give them what they require in the most efficient manner possible. First the means of watering: use a soaker hose or drip irrigation. Oscillating sprinklers can lost 40% of the water they put out to evaporation in the warmth of a summer sun. That means if you put out ten gallons, only six reach the ground. You still pay for ten, of course. You can also get a ticket for violating watering restrictions, if they have them where you live.
Soaker hoses are very inexpensive now and can be laid down easily. To tell how much water they put out, use an empty tuna can and bury it even with the soil line, then drape the hose as if watering plants. Turn on the hose and check to see how long it takes to get one inch of water in the tuna can. Remember that number. Drip irrigation can be calibrated in the same way.
Now the amount: the first week you transplant your vegetable plants, you will probably have to water them every couple of days. Their roots are shallow and are still spreading out and developing their ability to soak up water. After the first week or two, watering twice a week and applying an inch each time is usually sufficient. Now you can use that test you performed with the tuna can to tell how long to leave the water on in your garden.
If plants start to wilt between waterings, you may have to add a third watering. However, watering every day is excessive. Not only do you risk problems such as blossom end rot, you give the plant roots no reason to grow deep and pick up ground moisture and nutrients.
No, they can stay shallow because they get all this water every day. But they are not as healthy and cannot utilize soil nutrients as easily. It is better to water less frequently but give the plants a good drink each time. If you have mulch in your garden, it absorbs some of the water and acts as a time release water dispenser for your plants. It also blocks weeds, which compete for water and nutrients.
In summary, to be good stewards of our resources, we need to water efficiently, water in the amounts our plants need, and use mulch to help keep the water in the soil and available to our plants. This allows them to produce the maximum amount of produce for the least amount of water.
For more help gardening, buy my book, “Preparing a Vegetable Garden From the Ground Up.” Available in print or eBook, this book walks you from choosing the site of your garden all the way through what to do after the harvest. Buy a copy for yourself or a friend today!