How will I water the corn?
This was my first thought upon hearing that, as of June 1st, I will only be allowed to water my garden once a week except my local water agency – the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, in my case – finds another way to reduce water consumption among its clients by 35 percent. Those of us who are in the Metropolitan Water District and import our water from the State Water Project (northern California sources) – as opposed to the Colorado River or local sources – are affected by the MWD’s water use reduction decree.
A map of those affected by the decree is available at mwdh2o.com. When you get there, scroll down to “Drought 2022.” When you reach that page, you will find the map and, in the paragraph below it, click “View list of affected communities” to see if you live in one of the 80 facing a mandatory cut in its state water allotment.
The details of watering restrictions have yet to be announced, and at least one water agency – the Inland Empire Utilities Agency — within the MWD has already stated that it will encourage general water conservation, as opposed to specific restrictions, and seek to tap into local water sources in order to reduce the need for imported state water.
It’s worth noting that the twice-a-week watering restrictions are currently in place in the city of Los Angeles do not restrict watering manually with a hose or drip irrigation. So it could be that we will be able to continue to water in these modes even after new restrictions are in place.
Apparently, the situation is so dire that, if the 35% reduction in water use is not achieved by September 1, the MWD could place a ban on all outdoor water use and begin to ration water for indoor use as well.
We have been facing droughts on and off for more than three decades and it is a mystery as to why much of Southern California, especially the city of Los Angeles, has not opted for ocean desalination to address our perpetual water crisis and why not a single running candidate for mayor of LA has advocated for it either. Here, it should be noted that Santa Barbara’s and San Diego’s water sources have been supplemented by desalination plants and Huntington Beach is in the final stage of the permitting process to build a similar facility that would serve all of Orange County.
Getting back to the corn, it is generally advised not to transplant corn because of its supposedly delicate roots and therefore planting seeds directly in the garden is recommended. But I have had a most pleasant transplanting experience. One month ago, I procured two six packs of corn in which two or three seedlings had sprouted in each cell. After removing the seedlings from the six packs and soaking their roots in water, I carefully separated the entangled roots and planted the seedlings in two beds, each bed with four rows of four, for a total of thirty-two seedlings altogether. I planted an early variety, Sugar Pearl, in one bed and Silver Queen, a classic later variety, in the other. Sugar Pearl is somewhat unusual in that it produces its ears when only five to five and a half feet tall, whereas Silver Queen can grow as tall as eight feet.
Corn requires at least six daily hours of direct sun, and eight would be better. Space plants 8-12 inches apart within in the row, with 20-30 inches between rows, although closer spacing in small plots is also doable. Corn’s water requirement is as great as that of any vegetable and, even when well established after a few weeks in the ground, corn will benefit from two weekly soakings in hot weather. Hence, my concern about the upcoming once-a-week watering limit. It so happens that I had already planned to install a drip system and the wisdom of that decision, especially concerning a vegetable garden, is now more evident than ever.
Corn is a member of the grass family; hence, it is somewhat thirsty. But what if you wish to plant lawn grass? What then?
Several years ago I asked readers how they coped with lawn irrigation in the wake of watering restrictions and I received the following testimonial from Jim Bermingham, who gardens in the city of Orange, regarding subsurface irrigation: “I have found great success with drip irrigation underneath the entire lawn. The only drawbacks that I have an invading gopher chew on the water lines.”
Upon hearing of the new watering restrictions, I emailed Bermingham asking for an update and received a photo of his lush lawn. “My ‘drip lawn’ has been installed for about six years now,” he replied, “and I remain very happy with it. It continues to look great but I do top dress it with a little bit of Milorganite (6-4-0 organic fertilizer) once a month and hand water over the Milorganite when I do so. Please note that you must use dripline with copper-infused emitters since copper prevents roots from growing into and clogging emitters. If I wasn’t happily retired, I would certainly create my own business installing drip systems for lawns.”
Currently, you can acquire 500 feet of Netafim copper-infused subsurface dripline for $177 through vendors or 50 feet of an online Rainbird product for $22 at home improvement centers. You can choose emitter spacing within the dripline of 12″ or 18″, while spacing between dripline rows is recommended at 12″ to 22″ depending on the soil; the heavier the soil, the farther apart the rows. Install the dripline 6 inches below the final grade and you will be able to aerate your lawn to a depth of 4 inches. You can utilize the same copper dripline, whether on the soil surface or below it, when planting shrubs and ground covers.
I recently saw subsurface irrigation tubing being installed for a landscape in a commercial shopping center, and I think it is fair to say that subsurface irrigation may be in all of our futures. Not only does less water need to be applied because it goes directly to the roots, but evaporative water loss from the soil surface is eliminated.
Another option for increasing our garden water supply is installation of a gray water system. Such a system recycles water from laundry machine, bathroom sink, bath, and shower, but not the kitchen sink. While suitable for lawns and ornamental plants, gray water should not be used for irrigation of edibles.