July in Ohio usually brings to mind one word- HOT! If the rising temps aren't enough to drive you nuts, it's also typically a very, if not entirely, dry month. In 2009 I think it rained less than 5 times at our house.
If you enjoy gardening, the heat is both a good and a bad thing. The heat is good for a lot of heat loving plants like melons and cucumbers as well as chili peppers (I was told that the hotter the soil, the hotter the pepper gets). On the other hand, high temperatures usually mean less rain and drier soil which means more need to use the hose for happy vegetables and fruits. With this in mind, I thought I'd share a few tips that have served our garden well over the past few years.
First there are the basic guidelines that you usually hear on the news; water at nigh or in the early morning. Watering in the early morning has served me best, providing the plants with a good saturation as early as possible (I like it around 6 AM) this puts the water on the leaves and especially the roots where the plants can readily use it as they wake up. I have always had much better results watering in the morning than at night, however, night or late afternoon watering is very helpful too. Watering at night it will help reduce evaporation since it is darker and cooler, it allows the water to reach into the roots as well as moisten the surrounding soil.
Mulching your vegetables helps them maintain moist soil throughout the day and keeps the plants from looking wilted in extreme heat. This also helps reduce weed growth which steals water from the vegetables.
Using a soaker hose or drip irrigation helps reduce the quantity of water by distributing it directly to the base or root area of the plants where it is needed most.
There are a couple of non traditional methods that have also served me well in the past and present dry seasons: 1) Buried water jugs. Take plastic jug of some sort (2 liter bottles work too) and poke a series of tiny holes in them from top to bottom and all the way around then bury it up to the neck in the center of some plants and pack dirt around it. Next fill the jug and put the lid back on to keep out mosquito's. The water will gradually leach out into the surrounding soil serving as a buffer against drying especially when there hasn't been any rain. One gallon sized jug is decent for an area about 3 foot by 3 foot which isn't much space for a larger garden but it helps greatly for big drinking plants like watermelons. 2) Air conditioned water. If you use a window-mount air conditioner during the really hot times, you can harvest clean water from the condensation that drips from the bottom of the air conditioner. Most units have a small drain hole in the bottom somewhere but if yours doesn't, you can drill a small 1/8-1/4 inch hole just below the fan where water tends to collect (be certain you're not drilling into any important working parts). Next, simply place a bucket underneath to catch the water, we collect about 5 gallons in 24 hours when we use ours. If you're going to spend the money to run the A/C, you might as well get some water for you garden out of it as well.
These are some of the best methods that we have used at our house over the years and we're always looking for new ones, so if you have any other tricks, tips or secrets please feel free to pass them on to us and we'll continue to keep you updated when we find other water conservation methods.