Thursday, April 16, 2009

Save on Water in your garden

In honor of Earth Day, April 22nd, I thought I would post about a way to save water in your garden.

Add some water gel crystals (aka crystal soil) to your pots. Add some when planting new plants. Add some to your lawn. You will be able to cut back your watering. They are biodegradable and will last for up to 8 years. Come see how I am adding some to my garden.

If you have been reading my earlier posts many of them have been using these crystals. If I haven't convinced you yet that these things are great...keep watching for future posts. My boys love these things. We can't get enough. I hope to give you many reasons to go out and get some for yourself, or what to use them for now that you have them.

This product can be found in the garden section of your home improvement store or at your local nursery. If they don't have this product you can ask if they have crystal soil, watering crystals. They are all the same thing. If not, I found them on line by searching "crystal soil for gardening." My parents recently found them in the fertilizer section. The kind they found have fertilizer added to them. Which makes sense to me. I was actually going to try soaking them in water with fertilizer and see how well they do. Now I know that is a viable option.

I have two methods for adding these crystals to existing pots.

The first one involves a turkey baster. (I just love how silly that sounds! It has kids written all over that statement.) Your kids will have fun filling the bulb up with hydrated crystals (they have to be the smaller finer crystals to work in the baster, not the ones you get from the craft store they will be big like crushed ice). The product I have pictured at the top of the post is what I used for this. You can still use the others just not with a baster (unless you are willing to cut the tip off to make the end bigger).

This is something that your young children can do with you and they will have lots of fun along the way. I had a little helper while adding these to my strawberry pots. My oldest got interested and asked what we were doing. I told him that we were adding the water crystals to the soil next to the plants so that they could help water the plants. I explained that they soak up water as we water the pots or when it rains. They help to save water that would other wise be wasted. He said "I like giving toys to kids who don't have any like the way the crystals give water to the plants when they need it." What a wise thing for a 7 year old to say. My 4 year old just liked making holes and squirting crystals in to fill them up.

Push your turkey baster or what ever you are making your hole with into your soil. This is nice loose potting soil and the baster went in easy. Make the hole as deep as you can. You want to encourage the roots to go down.
Pull your turkey baster or stick or what ever back out. Here is the fun part for your kids. Let them squeeze the bulb of the baster to put the crystals in the whole. Fill it to about 2" below the surface. Do this next to each of your plants in the pot. These are fairly small plants so we made a lot of holes. If you have bigger plants you may want to put 3 or 4 holes filled with the water gels around each plant. These are the hands of my 4 year old.
This is what it looks like with the hole filled with crystals. This one looks a little over filled to me, but with the dark soil it is hard to tell. No worries, we made our holes fairly deep. I then just covered up the holes with soil. Rinse out your turkey baster outside so you don't fill your drain with crystals. Then wash it and you can use it as was intended next time. If yours is like mine it is old and may be time to get a new one for the kitchen. Personally, I don't use pesticides around my edibles so I have no problem washing and putting this back in my kitchen.

The second method isn't as much fun but is less messy. Poke holes into the soil with something about the diameter of a turkey baster (large tent stake, dowel). Try to make the holes as deep as you can. Then sprinkle dry crystals into the whole. This method requires a lot more guess work. Remember that from my neck cooler tutorial 1 teaspoon will hydrate to 1 1/2 cups total. Then you have to water normally for a week or two to hydrate the crystals. Even though this method is quicker, I like my first method because I knew the amount of crystals I was using would fill the hole exactly as I wanted it to. The other thing is that they are already hydrated and I can cut back my watering right away.

Also when planting new plants, add some hydrated crystals to the bottom of the hole you dig and then put your plant on top.

Adding water crystals to your lawn:

Adding these to my lawn requires that I aerate my lawn. I have a tool for this. It pulls out two cores at a time out of my lawn. Leaving a hole behind. It is called a core aerator.

Yes this will be time consuming, however, it is recommended that you aerate your lawn 1-2 times a year, in the spring and fall. This keeps it from getting too dense and helps with drainage. We have Bermuda grass and it gets very dense and spreads by seeds and by putting out runners. The under layer becomes a mesh of the runners over time. De thatching by using a heavy rake is not one of my favorite jobs. It is like trying to comb extremely tangled hair on a much bigger scale. Back to the crystals. I have also seen a tool meant for aerating the lawn that does not take out cores of the grass and soil but rather pokes holes. This would also work. Or have some one come out and do it for you. When you aerate your lawn you will want to water it and let the water soak in and soften the soil.

With my core aerator I just step in the middle and push it all the way into the grass. Go along and poke holes all over your lawn. Don't worry about picking up the cores. They will dissolve and help to nourish your lawn.

I made my holes about the same distance apart as the core aerator does. About every 6" or so.

Then you can go through and just put the crystals in all the holes. Be careful not to put too many crystals in your holes. When you water they will expand and come up out of the holes. For this reason, I suggest you use an 1/8 teaspoon to measure your crystals. However, I would suggest you use less than that even. Show your kids how to do it so they can help put the crystals in. For little kids you can give them a little funnel to put in the hole and then pour the crystals into the funnel. The funnel really helps to get the crystals exactly where you want them, in the bottom of the whole.

I did the rest of my law with my children. I gave them the funnel and a 1/4 teaspoon (because I don't have a 1/8 teaspoon) and instructed them not to use a full scoop. As I went along making the holes, they followed behind adding the crystals. Even still I had a few holes that, when we watered our law generously, had crystals coming up out of them. I simply scooped them up and mixed them in some of my pots. I think that one of the best parts for the kids was watering the holes after we were done. They just can't resist playing with water. I also found that it too several days for all the over filled holes to over flow. So maybe a pinch would be a better measure for kids. What ever you use make sure it isn't very much. A little goes a long way.

I figure if I am going to spend the time to make the holes, then I might as well add water saving crystals. I can't wait to see how much time this is going to save me this summer. I don't have sprinklers set up in my lawn yet. So I spend time nearly every day in the hottest part of the summer watering my lawn. Though honestly, a lot of the time it becomes water play time for my kids so I don't mind so much.

It makes me happy to have my little patch of green. It has made it more enjoyable for us to play in the back yard. At one point my kids spend a good 80+% of their day outside when the weather was nice (meaning not over 100). Even then they were out side, just kept going in to cool off and then back out again. Little by little over the years we have added things so we could enjoy our yard more. My oldest was a runner as a toddler. I would take him to the park and before I knew it he was heading off the other side of the playground. I couldn't take my eyes off him for a second. It got to the point that I didn't want to take him to the park, especially with his newborn brother. I just couldn't relax, I couldn't even sit and talk with friends. I was always on guard. So I created my safe haven for my kids to play safely outside in our own yard. It is my little patch of heaven. My friends son refers to our yard as "the park."


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