Saturday, 10 April 2010

Water Problem ....

The fences going up at the allotment has had an unexpected psychological impact in that I'm feeling a greater sense of ownership and confidence about the plot. We've started planting in earnest, raspberry canes, red currant bushes and a couple of courgette plants have gone in and next week's project is to plant our billions of seeds.

Planting continues apace at home too with lollo rosso seedlings, courgette plants, rainbow chard seeds and runner bean seeds going in.

Watering in the newly planted fruit bushes graphically underlined what a problem we're going to have with water. We have no mains supply at all, our shed has guttering and a water butt but it's mostly empty as we have only had one night of rain since it went up. We have begun to take 25 litre containers full of water with us every time we go to fill up the water butt but they are very heavy and difficult for me to handle alone. I was quite disappointed by how little the water level went up after our one rainy night.

So I have spent the last day or so pestering the people on Twitter and combing Google for advice growing veg with the minimum of water (thanks to @abbipanks and @ukallotmenteer) and this what I have come up with so far:

  • Dig newspaper into the soil to help retain moisture and improve the structure of our heavy clay soil.
  • Hang a big plastic sheet strung between poles over your water butt, feeding water to the top.
  • Invest in an IBC 1,000l water container
  • Use mulches such as bark chippings or grass clippings to slow water loss
  • Cut the bottom off a plastic water bottle, sink it into the ground next to water loving plant, water into the bottle so that water goes straight to the roots and doesn't evaporate from the surface.
  • Plant seedlings in a slight depression in the soil to allow water to puddle around them rather than run off
  • Plant seeds in small pots initially rather than directly into the ground, you'll need to water a much smaller area while they germinate.

Plus, I came across this really useful document (link is working now!) from the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners which explains the differing water requirements of various crops (I had no idea carrots didn't need watering at all)

I'm hoping to put all of the above into practice over the coming season, obviously I will report back on how successful they are. If anyone has any further tips to add, I'd love to hear them. I'm beginning to realise that there are advantages to growing veg in a small garden, protected by high walls with a mains water supply!


  1. I did the plastic bottle trick & the planting in a depression last year - they work well.

    Also for things like beans, if you start the seeds off in toilet rolls, it really helps drive the roots downwards to search for water, rather than spreading out sideways.

  2. Ooh, that's a good one, will do that for my Borlotti beans. Do you use whole rolls or cut them in half?

  3. I use whole toilet rolls & half kitchen rolls - one bean in each.

    When you have a decent size seedling, stick the whole thing, roll & all in the ground - the cardboard will vanish in no time.

  4. extra thought - you can roll up newspaper to do the same thing with a little piece of tape to hold the tube together....I can't imagine that you have already prepared a huge stash of toilet rolls :-p

  5. Glad you're not imagining my toilet rolls tbh!

  6. I'm a great lover of letting nature take it's own course. I plant a lot of my seeds at home in trays and then take to the allotment once the seeds are hardened off. I dig my trench or wholes to plant the seedling in and water this well and then let nature take it's own course. Unless we actully have a drought I NEVER water my allotment. Obviously if you have a greenhouse then it is going to need watering or if you have anything in tubs but otherwise it will all do fine without. Water reguraly makes your plants shallow rooted and then they don't get the nutrients from deep within the soli. As for the water butt...when I first got my allotment I had hardly any water for the first year...but next year you will do just fine although you may want to invest in one for each corner of your shed as you will lose so much over the winter by just having one. I currently have 4 water butts and intend to get two more aswell...three of mine are just old black dustbins which I dip my watering can and effective!!

    Hope this helps.

  7. That's brilliant,thanks. Really interesting that you don't water your allotment, do you deliberately grow stuff that doesn't need much water? eg my books are telling me brocolli needs a lot of water so would it be best to avoid?

    Are you 4 butts connected to gutters on the shed? We have a gutter on one side and were thinking of doing the other too at some point.

  8. I don't think about what I am growing much...just plant what I fancy. I have grown purple sprouting broccoli successfully two years running with no watering being done.

    As for the water spouting on the shed, I meant to do this but never got around too it, I just placed the butts strategically so when it rains the water pours off the roof into the tub as they have no lids on.

  9. Wow! That's great news, I must rush out and buy some cheap bins! Thanks for your help.

  10. Hi

    Look at this site below they sink pottery pots into the ground , maybe plastic water bottles / water fountain bottles would do the same trick ?

  11. What an interesting idea, thanks for the links.

  12. Tracey..just had another thought and this is something I always do this time of year. I have 4 watering cans and before I leave the plot I always fill them from the water butts, that way if it rains before I get back to the plot there is more room in the also helps the water warm a little if it has been particularly cold night as I leave them inside the shed!!

    Saw the comment about sinking the pots, I have done this often with things I am growing but don't want to plant directly into the ground due to spreading...or for whatever reason, if you slice the bottom of the pot off then they can get water from the earth so less watering is required....Alternatively you can stand pots in buckets/bowls and fill this with water...that way you have no wastage and the plant only takes what it needs. Hope you're still having fun!!

  13. Good tip re the watering can.

    We're still having fun - most of the heavy work is done (for now!) still got a few things to plant then we can sit back and wait for them to grow (along with the deeply buried dandilions ....)