Last Updated on August 29, 2023 by ILGM Ninjas
So, it’s been raining a LOT this year in Colorado, enough to force the water authorities to pipe down for a while. It’s pretty hard to preach drought when you are getting a years worth of rain in 6 weeks. The water is still flowing in streams that are normally dry this time of year, how fortunate for us. Your pocketbook has been granted a temporary reprieve from the clutches of the water authorities. BUT, this is sure to end. You know water rates will be raised to compensate and it’s going to be hot and dry again at some point in time. Are you prepared for that? What do I mean by this? Well there are a few strategies that you can implement to keep soil hydration consistent. An efficient irrigation system is good for starters. Check the coverage of your heads, make sure the nozzles are clear, keep the water off of the pavement as much as possible, look for blow-by around the piston of the head, etc. Water at night when there is no sun or wind to drive evaporation. Water deep, the water needs to go down 4-6″ into the soil and this is where we start to have problems.
There are a few things that can impede water getting into the soil. They are slope (gravity affects water as it tends to roll down a hill), thatch (this is due to our poor soils, synthetic fertilizer use and poor habits such as watering shallowly) and soil compaction (caused by natural tendencies of soil to compact and the use of synthetic fertilizers which kill of the fungal populations that naturally aerate soil). These can be overcome by better practices and biology as well as getting away from synthetic products.
Once you manage to get past these hurdles you face other problems such as CEC and Carbon amounts in the soil. CEC is a measurement of the capacity for ions in the soil such as Copper, Manganese, Phosphorus, etc. to hang onto and cling to the soil particles. This applies to water as well. A low CEC soil, such as sand will not hold any amount of water for very long. A High CEC soil such as clay will hold water but is not porous, this is why water pools up quickly on a high CEC soil. What no one is talking about is the amount of carbon in the soil, usually expressed as organic matter content. After running about 60 soil tests over the past few years I can attest that there is typically about 2-2.5% carbon in the soil. This is low and it causes problems. Being as synthetic fertilizers advance the loss of carbon in the soil and that carbon allows the soil to hold more water (water carrying capacity). As a matter of fact, if you increase the carbon in the soil by as little as 1% you will double the amount of carbon in the soil as well as advance the amount of biology, which furthers the development of carbon in the soil.
So, while it has rained a bit this year and we have gotten a break, a time will come when you will need to be more careful with the watering and be efficient. Make sure that you are keeping as much of that water as you can as it is not free when it comes out of the tap.