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?
Making the most of the merest of sprinkling of snow to take my photos today. Perfect backdrop for my latest finished knitting project. Grey against the white seems to show these gloves off at their best. Although, I bet the hot chocolate takes the focus. It certainly kept my hands even warmer, during the photo shoot, and the contents soon disappeared. Brr! It sure was chilly out there.
But back to the gloves. It’s been eons since I last knitted gloves. Mittens are fast and furious to knit, and easy for young children to wear. So knitting mittens have been a natural course in the last few years. I have created basketfuls of mittens since becoming a mother. Seriously. Basketfuls.So why gloves now? Cold hands. Walking to school, last week, I had three choices: big, chunky gloves, fingerless gloves or nothing. None seemed to fit the bill exactly.
Back home, I dug out my Grandma’s glove pattern. I’ve used it before. Also, a couple of balls of wool picked up last year from a charity shop for 50p. ( I know, 50p!) The yarn is Sirdar Freya – short and brushed winter cotton grey. Not a yarn mixture I’d normally choose. That’s true for the colour too.
Grey is not kind to my complexion, or the increasing grey in my hair. I like grey. I even like the grey in my hair, but combining too much grey, saps all the other colour out of me.
Gloves are a perfect solution. Not near my face – well not often. I’m incredibly glad I bought this wool in the end. I was surprised at how exceedingly warm it turned out. It is described as brushed, which does seem to trap the warmth, as it should. Being a cotton blend, it has less give than wool, when you’re knitting it, but wonderfully luxurious when finished.
The glove pattern was printed in 1975. I like using it. Next time, I might down size the needles when knitting the cuff, as it could be a bit more snug.
Grandma has added her notes to the pattern. Judging by her numbers, she counted every other row and used it a few times. There is something comforting about using a pattern that she would have knitted on a similar cold, winter evening too.Something new. I used a tip I picked up on Pinterest to prevent holes where the glove splits into fingers. I usually end up stitching closed resulting holes. For those of you that knit gloves and have the same issue, the answer is to cross over two stitches, as you split the glove. It fixes the problem very neatly.
I love my new gloves. They are lovely to wear. Warm without being too chunky. Not itchy, in the least. For the ladies’s size, it uses 60g of yarn. Three balls of 20g each, according to the instructions. I like the idea that you could walk into your local wool shop and buy a 20g ball with no problem or compromise. It makes sense. Multiples of 20. Less yarn left over, as you can buy nearer to the required quantity.
For these gloves, I started with 100g of yarn, I still have about 40g left of it. It might make a smaller pair. I know my boy hopes they do. He’d like a pair too. For the school run, of course. Can you imagine? If I manage it, I’ll have made two pairs of warm, luxurious gloves for 50p. Just goes to show that sometimes those odd balls of yarn in charity shops may be a better bargain than you thought.
If that’s not a good reason to learn to knit, then I really don’t know a better.
I’ve had a corduroy skirt put aside for a while to work on. I think it used to belong to one of my big sisters and then handed on to me for dressing up. Once I was past that stage, I left it in a box. Using it to protect the contents of the box, during the many house moves that followed. I’m not sure I meant to keep it. I can’t remember feeling particularly fond of it. The skirt must date back to the 70s.
The label is faded, so I can’t tell which shop it originally came from. Or what size it is. Or even the washing instructions, if I wanted to. The skirt has seen better days.
(I took this photo last week, but somehow it still looks like its the 70s)
This week, I offered it to my stargazing Middle Daughter. It fitted her perfectly, but she didn’t want it. Don’t be fooled by the happy photo just above. She said that there was no way she would wear it. For a moment I wondered if the skirt was about to return to it’s former role as cushioning in boxes.
Ok. I understand. It was not her style. It was longer than this Tween would wear and decidedly dated. As she modelled the skirt I couldn’t help thinking that if I added a bonnet, she could rock a “Little House on the Praire” look. Sweet but most definitely not her.
Her style is shorter. She loves to wear shorter skirts over leggings. Jeans are not comfortable for my gymnast, so she opts for leggings. If she wears tunics, then it looks great, but with shorter tops the leggings transform into pyjamas. As if she’s just rolled out of bed. By wearing skirts over the top, it helps to show that she’s sporting leggings not pjs and also adds an element of modesty.
So I offered to shorten the skirt.
I cut it down to size, which transformed it and she said she would wear it, but only at home. Not outside. Hmm. Not really a win then.
She didn’t like the buckle. It wasn’t adding much to function of the skirt and had left rust marks on the fabric. It seemed to be more for decoration. I agreed to remove it and add a different button. We had fun going through the button tin, selecting the perfect button. The joy of a button box. She chose an enamel style flower button which is more contemporary. It always amazes me how changing a button can transform an outfit. The same way that new handles on a cupboard can change the look completely. Taking decades off it.
Back to the skirt. The pockets now looked huge on the shorter skirt. Completely out of proportion. I removed them, which left an obvious line on the skirt where the pockets had been attached. There wasn’t an easy way to remedy the marks, as they were too deeply ingrained after so many years of washing and storing. The only choice was to cover them. Using some of the fabric cut off the length, I made new patch pockets. Smaller and rounder. I suggested a bit of colour too. I also used the buckle fabric, minus the rusting buckle, to cover up the obvious line where the pocket had been connected up to the waist band.
She liked the idea, but once the pockets were in place, they stood out more than the original pockets. They had to go.
I removed the colourful edging and pinched the top of the pockets to change the shape again. Then positioned them back on the skirt, covering up as much of the old stitch lines.
As an upcycle project goes this was fairly straightforward. A bit of extreme scissor work reminds me of my ugly jumper upcycle. It helps that the skirt was well made to start with. Threads had started to undo but apart from that it was perfectly wearable. I suspect there may be a few people that think I should have left it as it was, but then no one would have worn it. I could still improve it by playing with the position of the button and giving it a good ironing, but I may need to sneak it away from her.
She loves the new improved skirt. Apparently it is very comfortable. It does fit her in all the right places. I guess we’ll have to wait to see if she wears it anywhere than home.