February is already here, and gardening season is just around the corner! It’s none too early to start planning this year’s garden. For those of you who are starting a garden or orchard for the first time, we are posting a five-part series that will guide you through some of the planning process. Happy gardening!

Starting a Garden or Orchard: Water

While you might expect that water would be a limiting factor when raising livestock, would you have guessed that keeping the plants watered can also be one of the biggest challenges of gardening in less humid areas?

It’s true. In hot, dry weather, a garden can guzzle more water than you would think possible, and then ask for more! Add fruit trees to the mix, and you will find that raising plants places a huge demand on your water resources.

While the amount of water your garden or orchard will require depends on the weather, your soil, and the types of plants you grow, a good rule of thumb to estimate water needs is as follows:

  • Vegetables. 1 inch of water, or about 0.6 gallon, per square foot of garden space weekly.
  • Brambles. 1 inch of water, or about 0.6 gallon, per plant weekly.
  • Fruit trees. 1 inch of water, or about 0.6 gallon, per tree every 10 days.

This may not sound like much, but it adds up quickly. A modest vegetable garden for a family of four (about 100 square feet) will require 240 gallons of water per month.

Water Sources

Think about the climate in your region for a moment. Do you live in the eastern part of Kansas, where rainfall is fairly abundant? This is helpful, but bear in mind that droughts can and do happen anywhere in the state, or in the rest of the country, for that matter. No matter where you live, it’s not a bad idea to have a way to irrigate your garden or orchard, and in a semi-arid region it’s a must.

Even if you happen to get an average of 40 inches of precipitation annually, it’s best to have a backup plan in case the rain doesn’t fall:

  • Do you have a reliable well?
  • Can you irrigate from a pond?
  • Do you have a way to store rainwater for those dry spells?

The more alternatives you can come up with, the better.

Water Quality

Don’t overlook water quality. If you plan to produce fruits and vegetables for the organic market, your certifier may require you to test your water for substances prohibited by the National Organic Standard. Even if organic certification is not your goal, keep in mind that you are what your plants eat (or drink). Stay away from water sources polluted with chemicals, bacteria, and other contaminants as much as possible.

Water Delivery

Once you have figured out where you’ll get water for your garden or orchard, next you should consider how you’ll get the water to the plants. This will largely depend on the scale you are envisioning. A Square Foot Garden only requires a bucket and a cup. A huge row garden is going to demand a more elaborate setup.

If you have to install a complicated water system, you should probably sit down with a piece of graph paper and map it out first. Don’t forget to figure the cost of hoses, spigots, pipes, and other paraphernalia into your budget.

Water Conservation

Of course, there are also many ways to conserve water in the garden itself:

  • Mulch heavily.
  • Shape a shallow bowl of soil around new transplants to hold moisture.
  • Cover freshly planted seeds with plywood until they sprout (check on them daily).
  • Choose drought-tolerant plant varieties.


In this part of the country, water is key to successful fruit and vegetable growing. By planning ways to keep the garden watered before a drought hits, you will greatly increase your harvest and probably your enjoyment of gardening, as well.

Next week: Workload

Helpful Resource

Drought Gardening

Drought Gardening
This Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin offers many helpful suggestions for conserving water in the garden. Read our full review.

Complete Series

Starting a Garden or Orchard

Starting a Garden or Orchard

The Family Garden Journal