Many times in life, we do not appreciate something until we lose it. And I always took for granted growing healthy plants until I came to West Texas. Understanding what our soil is lacking has caused me to do much research in the area of composting and soil biology. It has also motivated me to come up with ingenious systems that help make gardening both fun and convenient in Lubbock’s harsh climate. Three areas of my focus have been: chicken composting systems; drip lines and water timers; and soil life.
The very first time I ever gardened, I literally stuck a seed in the hard clay soil, watered it a few times a week, and waited for my bountiful harvest. Obviously, all that I got was a gaunt and weak plant. But after several years of experiments and failures, I learned some really valuable lessons.
The first important lesson I learned is soil texture.
Soil that is hard, and has a high percentage of clay, causes water to run off to other areas. The ability for water to penetrate the soil is poor, and most water, instead of going into the soil goes away as run off. But when your soil is soft, mixed or dressed with compost, and your hand can easily penetrate and go inside the soil, then your soil will act like a sponge, soaking up all the water, instead of causing it to run off. This is what you need from you soil. If you are able to walk on your garden bed, and your foot is not sinking into the garden, then you need to continue to improve the texture of your soil, amending it with compost.
You can either buy compost, or make your own compost. But once you have amended your soil with compost, and improved the texture, the next step is to find a creative way to keep your new soil moist so life can abound. When life in the soil abounds, fertility increases. And fertile soil is our goal for producing strong and healthy plants. As a litmus test for determining how much life is in your soil, the more worms you can find in your soil, the more life that is in your soil. So really, you need to become worm farmers, and increase the population of worms in your soil. When I was experimenting with raising composting worms, I told a friend of mine who farmed in rural Vietnam about my worm farm. He told me that in Vietnam, you simply stick your hands in the earth, turn over a clump of dirt, and pull out all the worms you want for when you want to go fishing. That is probably why gardens in Vietnam can look like this:
But I think dry and arid climates like West Texas can get there with intelligence and creativity. And that brings me to the second valuable lesson I learned. People were only able to settle in West Texas only after the windmill was invented and we could pump water from the ground. This technology was revolutionary. And we West Texans need to continue to use technology to improve our quality of life and standard of living. And right now, I think the best option for us to keep our soil moist and fertile is to amend with compost, and make use of drip irrigation, and water timers.
It is easy to have high hopes at the beginning of a growing season, thinking you will be able to keep up the daily routine of watering and maintaining your garden. But the truth is, you will probably get too busy, and go through a two or three week stretch where you neglect your garden, and killing your plants. I have since learned to apply technology to create low maintenance solutions for keeping plants alive. What was really amazing the first year I started using water timers, was that I did all the upfront work, planted seeds, and my garden was on autopilot. All I had to do was pull weeds, and make sure the drip lines and water timers were not leaking. I even went on vacation for two weeks during the hottest time of the month, and came back home to healthy and strong plants.
These are the materials I used from Home Depot for the water timer:
- DIG Push Button Programmable Hose Thread Watering Timer
- DIG 3/4 in. Hose Thread Screen Filter
- DIG 25 psi Hose Thread Pressure Regulator
- DIG 100 psi Hose Thread Backflow Preventer
These are the materials I used from Home Depot for the drip line:
- DIG 1/2 in. (0.700 O.D.) x 100 ft. Poly Drip Tubing
- DIG 1/4 in. x 100 ft. Poly Tubing
- DIG 1/4 in. x 50 ft. Poly Micro Drip Tubing
- Deluxe Hole Punch
- 1/2 in. Tubing Stake (I also use this to steak the 1/4″ drip lines, as the smaller tubing steaks do not perform well.)
- DIG Figure-8 Hose End Closure
- DIG Goof Plugs
- And then you will need your various barb fittings for both your 1/2″ and 1/4″ connections.
Buying these materials is like buying a hired hand, except these materials are much cheaper, and much more efficient.
Below are pictures from my garden as a result of following some of these best practices that I have laid out above.