Community Gardening 101: How to Water

Rachel Brown

Watering was always my favorite part of gardening when I was a kid. Spraying our garden beds with a hose and nozzle felt like grown-up work, but fine for little hands. And it was tangible, with an immediate impact. In the Texas sun, the plants would visibly perk up, looking greener, more lush. It was easy and refreshing, unlike the grime and sweat of weeding and digging.

Yet in our community garden today in Washington, DC, watering is a chore, and a dirty one. Our garden space lacks a tap or plumbing, which means that all gardeners share water from six large catchment containers. It can be a messy and muddy business, plunging watering cans into the barrels to fill them up and back and forth between the barrels and our plots to hydrate the tomatoes and vegetables against the summer heat. And when the rain barrels dry up, which they often do, we refill them by tapping the fire hydrant on the street outside the garden. It may attract strange looks from passers-by, but it gets the job done.

Here’s how it works:

In many ways, filling these containers is the ultimate civic duty in the garden. It’s frustrating to find the barrels left empty, especially if you are in a hurry to water before going to work. Garden members (or most of them anyway) contribute to refuel whenever they start to run low. And despite the hassle, we’ve come to prefer containers over just spraying from a hose because it’s easier to quantify how much water we’re using.