Flavoursome crops are something we all aspire to – indeed it’s the main reason many of us grow our own fruits and vegetables. But did you realise that how you water has a direct impact on the final taste of your harvests? And that by tweaking your watering you can transform your produce from bland to delicious?
When it comes to the flavour of our crops, the biggest mistake is to overwater. The taste of the fruits, leaves and roots we eat comes from the combination of sugars, aroma compounds and vitamins found within them. Adding too much water dilutes these flavour components, which in most cases means less tasty produce. Once established, most vegetables and fruits cope pretty well with dryer conditions, which helps to concentrate both flavor and nutrients.
How to Water Fruiting Crops
Tree fruits such as peaches and cherries, and fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and chilli peppers benefit from reduced water levels. Less water means less leaf growth, so plants are forced to concentrate on fruit production. Roots will reach deeper in search of moisture, while at the same time accessing minerals that contribute to a more complex flavour.
At the very least, reducing irrigation just one week before fruits are picked can improve taste. You could try this with container-grown fruits such as blueberries or strawberries.
Enhance Tomato Taste
Tomatoes taste great with reduced irrigation. The secret is to keep plants well watered as they establish then reduce watering once the fruits start to ripen.
Begin by applying water generously, about two to three times a week, depending on your local climate, weather and soil conditions. Then, once the fruits set, significantly reduce the volume of water you give your plants at each watering. Don’t go so far as to allow plants to wilt though!
Soils with lots of added organic matter will naturally hold onto soil moisture for longer. This minimises the need for more frequent watering, which keeps those all-important sugars from being diluted. Some growers practice ‘dry farming’ when irrigation is reduced to an absolute minimum or stopped altogether once the fruits have set. Yields may be a little smaller, but the flavour is significantly intensified.
How to Water Root Crops
Root crops such as carrots, parsnips and beetroot all see improved taste levels in dryer soil. Dry conditions encourage roots deeper into the soil, which has the added bonus of making them more resilient. As with other crops, watering in the early stages is important. Water for the first three to four weeks after sowing or planting to ensure plants establish, then taper irrigation to a minimum.
Leafy Salads and Greens
On the other hand, some crops benefit from plenty of water, which helps to dilute otherwise excessively spicy or bitter tastes. Naturally hot leaves such as rocket will be very spicy if they are kept dry. This means you can water more or less, depending on whether you want your leaves super-hot or a little milder.
Other leafy vegetables and salads should be kept moist so they put on more leafy growth. The result is softer, more tender leaves with a smooth and succulent texture.
Something as simple as watering can have a really profound effect on taste. If you’ve tried any of these techniques, please let us know how you got on by popping us a comment below.