When watering the garden, there’s more to consider than when and how much, explains GV contributor A.H. Jackson.
Longer days mean gardeners are thinking of what and where to plant. The what is easy to answer with the help of new seed catalogs, saved seeds and past experiences, while the latter—limited by available space and the amount of sunshine received—will receive little or no thought other than basic planting requirements. Why should it? The garden faithfully yields a good crop and should do so for many years to come, right?
As the Walrus said to the oysters in Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novel, Through the Looking-Glass, “The time has come to talk of many things,” including the ethical treatment of garden soil, because we all know that garbage in equals garbage out and nobody wants garbage produce.
Trihalomethanes or THM’s are carcinogens formed when the chlorine added to municipal drinking water reacts with naturally occurring organic matter. To fix this and to prolong the disinfection process and remove the taste of chlorine, most North American municipalities now add ammonia to chlorine creating a chemical called chloramine, something gone unnoticed by most consumers—aside from hydroponics farmers, who report chloraminated water causes root browning in salad plants. Dig a little deeper, however, and one discovers a dirty little secret called organic chloramines, a byproduct of both chlorine and chloramine disinfection. Chloramine molecules become organic by attaching onto microbes found in water and soil creating a kind of soup as the microbes die. This releases organic chloramines into the soil or water, a process that attracts even more microbes until all the inorganic chloramine becomes organic and evaporates, as it does in countless swimming pools (creating the telltale smell associated with man-made swimming holes).
Gardeners have long been advised to age chlorinated water in buckets before application, but if your city or municipality has switched to using chloramine the aging will simply attract more microbes to the water, creating little more than a microbial soup that could contain pathogens.
So forget about aging tap water. A simpler, readily available rainwater gathering system already exists at your home in the form of gutters and downspouts. Don’t waste this precious resource. Put on your thinking cap and devise a capture system (a simple barrel and hose works) that will pay dividends when it’s time to harvest the produce of a healthy garden.
For more information
“Chloromides in Drinking Water” by the United State Environmental Protection Agency
Stormwater Management: Rain Gardens, a free download by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Toronto-based Garden Variety contributing writer Alan H. Jackson offers an informed perspective on the methods, background, history and lore of food and gardening. A former food broker, greenhouse-garden center owner and golf course head gardener who has pursued rare orchids in Asia, produced bananas in South America and cultivated vanilla beans in the South Pacific, Alan has experience with everything from tropical fruit production to cold-climate vegetable farming. He is author of a dozen books, including “Beginning Gardening for Canada” (Lone Pine) and “The Canadian Food Encyclopedia” (Company’s Coming), published in October 2013.