Waste Not a Drop: 9 Ways to Get the Most from Your Water
Water is precious and a finite resource, so it’s up to us as growers to use it wisely. Check out these 9 tips that will help you do your part.
We all know water is the essence of life and one of our most precious resources. Water conservation in agriculture has become an important concern for the sustainability of humanity and our food systems. There are many claims about the future of our food, but the challenge of feeding so many people can be adequately addressed by utilizing technology to obtain more efficient water stewardship practices in agriculture. This article addresses these solutions and offers ways to become more efficient in water usage while gardening, as well as using modern technologies to improve crop reliability and minimize labor costs.
New Technologies and Techniques
By utilizing modern farming technologies, from precision irrigation to robotics, nature and technology can be used harmoniously to improve our agricultural systems and leverage our food production. We can increase output while minimizing inputs. Never in history have we had such a huge opportunity to put automation and technology into action to see the real results of lowered production costs and increased efficiencies.
Controlled irrigation technologies such as drips, hydroponics, and aeroponics can help us leverage our food production. Conventional agriculture uses 90-plus percent more water than these methods. It’s important to further pursue these technologies and conduct vigorous research and trials to stay ahead of the curve on agricultural practices that are unsustainable.
Drip irrigation equipment used in modern farming utilizes precision emitters, pumps and tubing designs, manifolds, and more to deliver a controlled amount of water and nutrients to each plant. This widely accepted method of farming greatly reduces water usage by preventing runoff of excess water and nutrients while still delivering what the plants need. It is also beneficial to the environment due to the reduced amount of fertilizer making its way into the water table and rivers.
Agricultural drones, as well as many other land-bound robots such as weather stations and equipment that communicates to each other over thousands of acres of farmland, produce a plethora of data used in food production models. The intelligence associated with such equipment coupled with the promise of artificial intelligence technology shows hope in achieving huge strides in water conservation and mass production. These sensors used along with intelligently controlled irrigation counterparts can grow an immense amount of food with minimal labor.
High Pressure Aeroponics
High pressure aeroponics (HPA) takes water conservation and aeroponics to the next level by delivering only a fine mist to the roots. In the late 1990s, NASA determined in its research on aeroponic potatoes on the International Space Station that the most efficient droplet size for a plant to uptake water and nutrients is approximately 50 microns. High pressure aeroponics equipment provides a droplet size range of 30-80 microns. The fine mist appears fog-like and the tiny droplets will stick to the roots and the sides of the grow chamber, providing a humid and super-aerated environment for optimal growth under the most efficient conditions. Most systems are drain-to-waste and are not recirculated due to the minuscule amount of water dripping out of the system after a spray cycle.
Foliar fogging is a way of feeding plants via the foliage that achieves the benefits of water conservation and quick uptake. When the nutrients are delivered with high pressure pumps and sprayers, water use is greatly reduced, allowing gardeners a better opportunity for dense nutrient administration with little or no waste. Many applicators have adjustable nozzles that allow for different applications of liquids with various viscosity and density. This also offers a chance to apply herbicides and other sprayed liquids to help control pests and diseases. Be sure to wear the proper protective gear, as the tiny droplets can easily be inhaled.
Watering Less Often
Plants need water and nutrients, but it is easy to overwater. In soil gardens, overwatering happens slowly over time, yet in hydroponic gardens or aeroponic gardens, the devastating results can creep up in a matter of hours. Remember plants need air, so try giving them a little more and they will likely respond positively. This will in turn will make your water usage more efficient, allowing you to save that valuable resource for when the plants can use it most productively.
Greywater is recycled water available for other uses. For example, water obtained from recirculating hydroponic systems or filtration practices such as reverse osmosis is a valuable resource for lawn irrigation or to improve the soil web in your immediate area. So, reconsider just flushing greywater down the drain.
Transpiration and Plant Size
While planning for water usage needs in any garden, consider the size of the plants and their transpiration needs. The larger the root mass, foliage, and canopy size, the more amount of transpiration occurs. As photosynthesis occurs, leaves breathe in CO2 and exhale oxygen. This process draws water and nutrients from the roots, through the xylem, and on to the shoots and leaves. As photosynthesis occurs and plant mass slowly increases, water is lost via the transpiration process and vapor disperses into the surrounding air. The larger the plant size, the larger the root mass and thus, more water is used as more transpiration occurs.
Positive Pressure and Closed Rooms
Positive pressure greenhouses and grow rooms create positive pressure by treating and recirculating the air in the room rather than pulling air through it, as is the case in most negative pressure gardens. In a positive pressure building, humidity can be recaptured and reused with a dehumidification system, which recollects the moisture as air is pulled across a condenser. Positive pressure rooms can essentially increase the water usage efficiency up to 99 per cent, as the potential loss would be minimized to allowing humidity to escape by random events such as opening doors, for example. A considerable amount of electricity would be used to run the condensation systems, however. This would be canceled out, though, by the lack of ventilation fans to pull huge amounts of air through the greenhouse or grow room. This technology should be considered if there is a need for water conservation in any garden, large or small.
When considering water conservation, try these methods in your own garden. Utilizing modern farming technologies and learning various methods of watering plants will propel you to levels of sustainability and conservation that the earth will appreciate. The gained knowledge and tools will also yield maximum benefits as you grow.
Written by Keith "Tree Frog" Bouchard | Founder & Co-inventor at Multiponics
Keith is the founder and co-inventor at Multiponics, an indoor gardening manufacturer and online boutique. Multiponics has a passion for pushing innovative ag-tech forward and is a consultant to the NASA-funded X-Hab project via the University of Colorado in Boulder.