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?
Picture the scene. It’s about 9 o’clock in the morning and I’m sorting the recycling into the right bins. It’s usually easy. There’s glass, paper, textiles, plastic, etc in one bin, food waste in another and cardboard goes in the blue sack. We also have the compost bin. The very last resort, of course, is the black bin, which goes to the landfill. Best avoided. Sorting on the whole, is straightforward, except this time I’m pausing. Unsure and frozen by indecision. Which bin am I expected to put this plastic pouch into?
It’s my own fault. I usually avoid buying unnecessary packaging. Especially the sort that is packaging with more packaging inside. The individually wrapped little bags inside a big bag. Bah!
The big bag is thick plastic. Quite substantial and, as I stand there, I’m half pondering why it needed to be so robust when it’s only job was to hold other little, light weight, plastic bags. Had the manufacturers imagined a whole list of amazing possible accidents that might befall the contents before it reached us the consumers, that needed such a bag?
The other part of me is wondering why I can’t put it in the recycling bin. I don’t want to throw it away. Not in the black bin, which is looking like the only option.
So I bring it back into the house. There is another option. I could recycle it myself. I have a couple of ideas. What’s more, both options are something that I need.
The bag sat on the kitchen table for the rest of the day. Various members of the family tried to throw it away. Oh no. Each time, I rescued it. This bag was getting a second life.
I was kicking myself that I hadn’t originally opened it neatly at the top. Eventually I cut the top off and gave it a straight line. Then I cut it in half. I’d go for the pencil case option. I had a few old zips that were rescued too and looking for second lives.
First challenge was to find a way to pin the zip to the plastic, without using pins. They left holes in the plastic. I used post it notes first. They worked well. Next I tried blue tack, which was even better. It held, was easy to remove and was more flexible.Sewing the sides was problem free. I used my old hand cranked Singer sewing machine. Seeing as it was Earth Day, it only seemed right to take the non-electric option.
Second challenge I found was turning it neatly the right way round, after sewing the sides together. Next time, (if there is a next time) I’ll sew it the right way round, with wrong sides together. I can avoid turning the pencil case inside out. Not an easy manoeuvre. It left marks in the plastic and I gave up trying to wrestle the corners into position.
Apart from those two issues, I’m really pleased with the pencil case. It works. I’ve saved throwing it into the landfill and given it a second useful purpose. Every little action helps.
It does a great job of holding my pencils too. The children love it and have dropped hints. Hmm. I hope to avoid buying similar packaging, but if something else comes my way, then maybe I could make one for each of them.
They had a good day too. They’ve taken to joining me for dog walks, on their bikes. (Sometimes with their hands in the air, attempting a Dr Who dance* – if you look carefully) I’m going to miss them so much when school starts next week. Can you tell they are a fun lot?