Water is more precious than Gold!
The long term prediction is ominous, the reality is ominous we are facing a dry summer of untold duration and magnitude. As gardeners we could sit, whinge and whine and watch our gardens die or we could be active not when summer legitimately arrives but NOW. By employing water efficient practices early when the rain does eventually happen your garden will be well positioned to bound back with a gusto and a flourish. So read on for some strange and unusual but none-the-less practical water conserving methods.
Mulch like a crazy person
There are many different types of organic mulch each delivering different properties to your garden but when mulching for water conservation begin with a type of mulch that has begun to break down. Partially composted organic material such as silage (which is wilted grass fermented in anaerobic conditions) is fabulous at absorbing and holding water. I have been known to haunt farmers who have roadside visible rows of old no-longer-cow-fodder suitable silage bales and a sweet baked treat barter has often proven successful. Slabs of silage are ideal as they absorb moisture from dew, rainfall and watering keeping the soil surface damp and cool. Lawn clippings can be turned into silage by placing them into a plastic bag or lidded bucket excluding as much air as possible and leaving them to ferment for a couple of weeks. When it is sticky, brown and sweet smelling it is ready to use. To complete the perfect water efficient mulch scenario cap your water absorbent mulch with open fluffy mulch akin to oat straw, bagasse and pea straw. This will limit soil surface evaporation and provide a greater surface area for collecting dew ensuring that any moisture that arrives is trapped.
Our urine although acidic is composed of many nutrients (depending on your diet) and typically contains a high percentage of beneficial nitrogen. Weeing outside onto mulch, the lawn or compost (wee is an excellent compost activator) and at different places around your garden not only provides plants with a nutrient supply it means less toilet flushing providing a double edged benefit regards water saving. Of course it may also mean that you encourage your visitors to toot their car horn or cough loudly to indicate their arrival!
Plant with a handful of worm castings
Worm castings are valuable for many microbial reasons but with water efficiency specifically in mind their ability to hold an enormous quantity of water is of primary benefit and can make the difference to seedling survival. Simply when planting seedlings collect some worm castings, dig a larger than required planting hole place a half handful of worm castings into the base of the hole, scatter a little garden soil over the castings, plant on top and water as normal. The worm castings act as a reservoir and seedlings rarely require additional watering.
Water to match the root system of your plants
As you would have noticed when digging plants have different root structures and formation. Learn to target your watering practice to match the plant’s roots system. For example Beetroot’s swollen root (the bit that we eat) will store water and it rarely requires extra water; Broad beans, Corn and Tomatoes can produce adventitious and stool roots so soil should be mounded high around their stems so that they can access extra water by extending their root systems; Rhubarb insulates its roots with dry leaf bases and will benefit from infrequent drenching style watering and chickpeas have many metres of fibrous roots that deeply penetrate the soil profile and so only initial deep watering to encourage this is required.
Compile a water budget
Respond to the following questions for the main plants in your garden. Is it a perennial or annual? Is it well established? Is it a pivotal component of the garden? Does it provide food, shelter, habitat for others? Is it of sentimental value? Those plants that tick more boxes deserve more of your watering attention. Those that don’t rate so highly may well be expendable.