June 28, 2012

Stoplight Watering System

Having a large summer garden and coop full of chickens can make it hard to go on an extended summer vacation, or even a short one, for that matter. I got lucky recently when a very capable and responsible friend agreed to watch over the homestead while we were up in Washington for two weeks earlier this month. Not only did I not worry at all, but I barely thought about the food or animals while we were away.

Most of the garden is being watered by hand right now, and that definitely complicates things when asking someone else to help. My friend doesn't keep a big garden herself, so it was especially important to provide good guidance on watering. One of the things I did to prepare for my absence was create a stoplight system of green, yellow and red tags to hopefully simplify the watering process.

Stoplight watering system tags

Last summer I bought plastic dressing room tags from a retail supply place to help me keep track of how often I was watering my fruits and veggies. (In my system, the numbers on the tags stood for days of the week instead of pieces of clothing; one was Monday, two was Tuesday, etc. and I hung them on plant cages to indicate the last time I watered.) The tags came in a bulk package, so I had plenty leftover to make a stoplight system without putting a dent in the supply. It was as easy as buying three cans of cheap spray paint.

Supplies: tags, newspaper & paint

Red tags after the first coat (I gave them two)

Once they were dry, I placed the tags on my plants as follows: green for plants that need lots of water, such as cucumbers, summer and winter squash, basil and flowers in clay pots; yellow for plants that need moderate amounts of water, including melons, peppers, eggplant, corn and beans; and red for plants that need occasional water, such as tomatoes, and also for plants I didn't want watered at all, such as the apple trees I'd deep watered before leaving and potatoes that were curing in the ground.

Winter squash with a green tag for heavy water

Peppers with a yellow tag for moderate water

Tomatoes got a red tag

The idea was if you see green go ahead and water, if you see yellow hold back a little, and if you see red you know to water a lot less often or not at all. A written information sheet provided additional detail.

Except for the tomatoes, which had blossom end rot caused by my own inconsistent watering back in May, everything looked fantastic when I returned. My friend said that the colored tags worked well in combination with the written information to help her remember what needed to be watered when.

Someday Mr. English and I will get around to re-doing the irrigation system in the old beds and installing new hoses in the new beds, but for now I'm actually enjoying the hand watering. It forces me to slow down and gives me a chance to really examine each plant for pests, fruits, etc. as I'm watering. If we go away again before that new irrigation is in place, I'll definitely use these tags again.

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