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Holding moisture at the root zone

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    Hi everyone,

    I have a decent sized veg garden of around 6x6m setup with drip irrigation on a timer and soon to be erected poly tunnel to shade from the harsh summer sun here in Adelaide. But was thinking how I might save even more water in the veg garden. What are your experiences/thoughts about limiting water seepage past the root zone in the veggie patch? I understand a lot of people have moved towards wicking beds due to the water saving benefits, would it be practical to do something similar “in-ground” by removing all the good top dirt and putting in a plastic barrier to stop water escaping to where the plants can’t reach it or should I perhaps consider some other method of retaining water?



    As I understand it, the soil would go sour(?) if you didn’t have a layer of sand/gravel at the bottom. But I’ll let wiser heads than mine tell you what that means!


    Ooops yeah I realise that, didn’t explain myself very well did I? :rol:

    I was thinking plastic to stop water draining away too far, but then gravel or some medium to facilitate drainage.

    Have just been reading about wicking beds and like the idea, but somehow it seems wrong to grow everything in containers when I have a perfectly good piece of dirt full of awesome goodness to grow things in – if I could only think of a way to use less water.


    I think the answer is a good layer of mulch. 🙂


    I am interested in this thread as I too have had water issues where we live (Western Vic). I have two vegie patches – 1st one about 15mtrs by 10, 2nd one about 10mtr by 10mts, more than enough space to feed a family of 4 plus a few friends. But atm we have limited water issues, and most of the beds are bare, and the plants that didnt die off are not very productive.

    I mulch heavily (about 10cm deep) – but when you have 10 ml of rain for a 4 week period, coupled with alot of days over 33oC, even with the mulch (I use pea straw and whatever I scrape out of the goat & chook pens when I am cleaning them) this doesnt produce a productive crop.

    And like you wicking beds seem like a great idea – for container plantings, though I did see an example of containers made out of lengths os shade cloth place in a wooden frame which were quite large (they then built a shadehouse over the top of these beds). I am thinking about doing this in a different spot in the garden as another problem we get is frosts in the cooler months – which can strike as late as early November here.


    :tup:Hi everyone,

    We are new to the group. joined today. We live in the southern tablelands nsw. on 27 acres hot/cold – heavy frosts sometimes snow.

    Our veg/orchard is all under 70% shadecloth which produces a micro climate – we pump water from our only dam to a header tank on a timed drip irrigation water system. garden beds are furrowed across the slope of the land, then mulched with a thick layer of newspaper then bedding straw. Rain has been spasmodic , but loss of moisture minimal due to structure. water is timed for 10min per day early morning. Our structure is completly netted and enclosed 19m by 15m x 5mts hgh. to keep out the wildlife. Garden has been very successful has we are 720mtrs above sealevel. Hope this helps cheers dianmef


    If your wanting to keep the moisture at the root zone, then you will need to discover what your watering frequency and volume balance is.

    This is tricky and will take time to discover, but even trickier is that it will be different at different times of the year, as this will be dependant on temperature/ winds/ humidity/ soil type/ soil moisture capasity levels etc etc. what will help you maintain a more even balance will be the layer of mulch over the top and the amount of organic matter in the soil to keep hold and retain the moisture.

    The good old finger test in the soil will help you work out your moisture levels.

    if you are worried about water leeching away can you put an ag pipe drainage line at the bottom (lowest point) of the veggie bed which drains into a sump which you can harvest and recycle?

    or another point the excess water which is flowing below the root zone, will in fact be adding to the underground aquifers to recharge ground water which isn’t so bad. this ground water can aid deeper rooted plants on your property such as trees, large shrubs which maybe located below your veggie patch. Or maybe you can plant some trees/shrubs in this place to take advantage of the seepage.

    Just a thought.


    katerina wrote:

    Or maybe you can plant some trees/shrubs in this place to take advantage of the seepage.

    Just a thought.

    I am trying to get a row of lavendar plants to grow around the perimeter of the patches to a) encourage bees and b) to hide the ugly chicken wire fence. So this makes me feel alittle better that these plants might be benefitting from the extra water I am having to find atm for the vegies. Thanks.


    Some citrus growers plant Wandering Jew under their trees as a moisture buffer. Being herbaceous it stores moisture as it grows but then releases that moisture as the plant dies back during dry times which then becomes available to said citrus trees.


    All good suggestions, thanks.

    I have been using mulch, last year I used a very thick layer of pea straw and had a massive problem with slaters (wood lice), ordinarily they are fine, but in the numbers I had proliferating under the mulch they decimated all my veg.

    This year I used a mulch from the local mulch shop which was a dark hummus, but I suspect being dark absorbed a little too much heat as the surface temp of the veg garden was on occasion up around the 65 degree mark – I like cooked veg, but not before they’re on my dinner plate!

    Perhaps I will erect the shade cloth and see what difference that makes before making any further changes. Just thought it would be easier to do it all at once. At least with the shade cloth up I won’t get sunburnt digging out the veg garden if I do it later :tup:

    Oooh, whilst I’m on that subject – does anyone have any thoughts on type of shadecloth? I was going to go for the 50% white (which gives about a 30% shade factor due to reflected light). Or would I be better off using hail net or something similar?


    Ashram, another suggestion would be, if possible, to bury some rotted/rotting wood around the drip line of your trees as it will soak up excess moisture which your tree roots will seek out and tap into. Have a look at and/or do a search for hugelkultur on your favourite search engine.


    OK, polytunnel has been up for about a week now and a few lessons learnt in construction.

    Firstly I decided to attach the shadecloth to the cross slats permanently, then fix the cross slats to the arches enabling me to roll-up the shadecloth for easy storage during the winter months. Two problems with this: 1) The shape of my veg garden means the tunnel doesn’t have square corners, meaning when you put the cloth on it is crooked. 2) The timber I used for the slats bows in the heat, and I imagine will break before too long. Should have used aluminium instead.

    Other than that, it is functional and the neighbour thinks it looks good, so it must be ok.

    Functionally it is performing much better than I anticipated. The tunnel is open at both ends to allow bees and beneficial insects in/out. The number of bees counted in my veg garden seems to have doubled, despite the odd bee wondering why it can’t fly through shadecloth. Also, the warmth is much more even, with soil temperatures being more even also (to a depth of 20cm). My watering schedule hasn’t changed, and from my calculations (from regular soil wetness testing) I should be saving around 70% on water (realistically meaning the plants get this extra 70%, not actually reducing watering).

    On a side note, I have now built a chicken tractor for the veg garden and have 2 chooks (1 pilot & 1 co-pilot) working the 1/2 of the garden I cleared for winter veg. Also planted out some sweet potato slips from a tuber that sprouted in the cupboard, under the fruit trees to hopefully provide a live-mulch to retain some moisture in the orchard. Will try to get my hands on some Pinto’s peanut to give that a go on the other side of the orchard. (If anyone near Adelaide has some I can pilfer it would be greatly appreciated).

    Fingers crossed it all keeps working 😀

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