Meet Violet. She eats slugs for a living. Not just any old beetle.
To top it all, she has the most amazing colourful sheen that only reveals itself if you look closely. She is a Violet Ground beetle.
Fortunately, Violet is not an uncommon beetle in the UK. Some of her kin could easily be living in your garden already, chomping their way through your slugs and other garden pests. They start young. Devouring pests even in their larvae state.
How often do we look? How often do we lump black ground beetles into the same category?
Violet’s an easy garden guest. She’ll find her own food. Nothing special. She likes to rest under leaf cover, stones and logs. Also happy to sign-in to conveniently positioned bug hotels, if provided. So if you would like one, like her, to move into your garden, you know what to do.
Joining in #30DaysWild with the Wildlife Trust
As sure as eggs are eggs, plants need water. The ones I grow in our kitchen garden, are no exception. Some are more greedy than the rest, like cucumbers and squashes. I can’t miss a day watering them if I want a decent crop and my hard work to pay off.
But water is precious. Some years, even in the wet UK, we don’t have enough rain. If rainfall is down in the winter, we can take bets on which water company will be first to issue a hosepipe ban.
To add to the issue, using the chemically treated tap water is a less than ideal option. For those in the UK with a water meter, it adds to the household bills, but also the cost of the treatment is an unnecessary expense to shower on our plants. We all pay in the end. Better to use rainwater as it costs nothing and is as nature intended.
How we water the garden is an issue.
When I first started gardening on a bigger scale, there was an annual licence to use sprinklers. I don’t know anyone that actually paid it. A quick look at the advice given by different water companies, seems to suggest that this still happens, but only during droughts. They’d rather you conserved water by manning hoses and had a trigger gun on it.
A quote from Southern Water:
“A sprinkler uses as much water in one hour as a family of four in a day. Outdoor taps use about 15 litres of water each minute with a hosepipe In hot spells, garden watering uses up to 70 per cent of a home’s water use”
I’d add that a sprinkler is also likely to water more than the intended ground, which seems an inefficient way to water.
A good alternative is a drip hose. Our neighbour has a brilliant system of drip hoses and timers on the tap. They have a number of greenhouses and this works fantastically for them. It is something I would love to set up in our garden, at some point. Maybe with a hose from one of my bigger water butts.
In the meantime, here are the ways I currently save water:
1. Water butts
We have lots of water butts around the garden, catching the rainwater. The bigger, the better. Everytime I see an offer, I buy a batch more. It is worth keeping an eye on the water companies as they have great deals occasionally.
2. Watering cans
I have a number of watering cans around the garden. I keep filled watering cans in the green house. Three reasons:
a. It makes more room in the water butts for the next downpour.
b. It warms the water up to the temperature of the greenhouse and is less of a shock to the plants when watered.
c. On a hot day, it evaporates and helps to control the greenfly, by making it humid.
3. Water pump
I have a water pump, that I can use to transfer water from full water butts to others. The ones on the house collect more, so it makes sense to transfer water to the water butts attached to smaller buildings, if they are empty and closer to my latest plantings.
I could use it to empty baths, but in the summer we tend to have showers anyway, which uses way less water.
4. Individual plant reservoirs
When I plant, I use plastic bottles and pots to create an individual water reservoir for each plant. While the plants are settling in, they are given more water. I can focus the water in the area of the plant and it releases the water slowly.
I have a collection of 1 and 2 litre plastic drink bottles, with the bottoms cut off. I’ve collected them over the years. When I plant the tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers in the green house, I sink a bottle, neck first, into the ground beside it. Preferably up hill from the plants. I put a bean pole in the bottle and push it firmly into the ground. The plant is then tied to the pole. Each evening, I use a watering can to fill the bottles a few times.
Two advantages. The water is focused on the plant. Its roots will naturally grow in the direction of the bottle and I don’t end up watering the path or optimistic weeds. Secondly, it doesn’t encourage the snails, as the top soil is dry.
For plants outside, such as lettuce and squashes, I sink a pot beside them, when first planted. I can water them in the same way as the others, until they are established.
Which leads on to my next tip…
5. Limit watering
If I continued to water each outdoor plant its roots would grow near the surface, missing out on the moist soil below. Once established, unless we have a very dry spell, I don’t water. This way, I encourage the roots to grow down and not rely on me.
6. Plant in the ground
I plant as much as possible in the ground, rather than pots. The plants grow bigger and better, and can tap more water in the ground. Especially good if I have a few days away. All my plants in the greenhouse are planted straight in the borders. No pots or grow bags, and I’ve found my harvest is more successful that way.
7. Grow your own ground cover
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know I use the three sister planting method: bean, corn and squash. I cannot recommend this method enough. My crops have improved. In terms of water conservation, the squash plants grow through the corn and beans providing ground cover and reducing water evaporation.
They don’t compete for soil resources. The squash plants are planted a few feet away from anything else.
I also grow fast cropping plants like lettuce between plants, for the same reason. Mainly in my raised beds which can get a bit baked. Provides cover and I have a useful crop to harvest.
(Yes, that is a slow worm, but that is another story)
8. Plant through sheeting
There are various ways you can do it. I have friends that use cardboard between their plants to reduce weeds and water loss, but there are other choices. My neighbour uses layers of straw, which is chopped up and mixed with the soil to improve moisture retention for the next year.
One year, we had building work going on. As the builders left, I rescued some of the black plastic woven sheeting they were about to throw out. That year, I covered the kitchen garden with it, which surpressed the weeds. I then planted my potatoes through it. No need to earth them up. No need to water lots. I had a great crop.
9. Improve soil
Last but not least, improving the soil can improve the water retention. We added a foot or more of rotted horse manure to the kitchen garden, one year. We dig in our composted kitchen waste into the raised beds. Theory is that if the soil holds more water, then less extra watering is required. It works for us.
Right. There are my nine tips. It may be raining today, but there is no better time to sort out the watering for your garden, I think.
I’d love to hear if you have any other ways to optimize water usage in your garden. Preferably low cost. Any tried and tested methods that you’d like to share?
Last week of term. Phew. It feels like we are squeezing everything into it.
The Teen for one is chasing forms for her DofE, and also work experience, ready for after the break. Qualifying to go on to the next stages. I think it’s been an eye opener for her. There is no let up with homework. She is discovering that each teacher seems to believe that their subject is the only one on her timetable. A concept most students will probably sympathesize with. I found her up at 6 this morning finishing her art, that she was working on the night before.
I’ve been squeezing in time to work on my new summer dress. I’ve broken the process down into elephant bites. Doing one bite every evening.
(collar and both sleeves are now attached.)
The bodice is complete, except for buttons and buttonholes. I’m loving the fabric. So soft. I’ve tried it on a few times to check the fitting and I’ve not had to squeeze into it. A good thing for a garment intended for summer days.
I’ve squeezed in time to plant the sweetcorn and half of the squash plants. I’m using the three sister planting method again – sweetcorn, squash and bean. They did really well last year. I have noticed that I can plant the sweetcorn slightly closer using this method and the deep bed. I’ve squeezed 72 sweetcorns in, which even I am thinking may be over the top.
I may yet be dressing the children in dungarees and straw hats, ready to man the stall at the end of our drive.
Salad beds are doing well. Spotted the beetroot coming up that I planted just over a week ago. During the day, I grab five minutes and a cup of elderflower tea, to hand weed an area. Amazing how much I can clear in that time.
When next door’s builders moved my compost bins, they must have muddled up the composts. As a result, I now have a sea of tomato plants making a bid to take over one of the salad beds. Seeds from my passata making last year. I’ve never seen so many tomato seedlings. I can’t squeeze them in, so back to the compost for them.
Along with our resident slow worms. To be admired for their slug eating habit.
I did notice another slug eating friend in among the squash plants. When I planted the spaghetti squash, I sunk the empty pots into the ground beside each plant. Makes it easier to drench the plants, without wasting the water. As I poured water into one pot, last night, a toad popped up. Squeezing through the drainage holes in the bottom. It swam around in the water for a bit, until the water drained through and then it squeezed back down through the holes. Not a bad place for a toad to make its home, I think.
We have a lot of toads in our garden.
And slow worms, which are not really slow.
My theme this week has turned out to be squeeze. With the horrendous attack in Manchester this week, I’ve found myself hugging the children even more. We both have. I don’t think they minded the extra squeezing. Just want to hold them that little bit closer.
Now to squeeze in the rest of my work before end of school and half term begins!