Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Surviving the drought.

Here in the East we've had an exceptionally dry spring with only something like 10% of the usual rainfall. I haven't found it too difficult to cope with although that's not to say I haven't had disasters. My broad beans and asparagus crowns have definitely failed and my carrots are worryingly slow to germinate but I've not giving up hope just yet. On the other hand my strawberries, fruit trees, borlotti beans, chard, cavolo nero, lettuce, leeks, sweetcorn and calabrese seem to be not just surviving but flourishing. This is down, in no small measure, to all the help I got in this post last year.

So, a year down the line, I thought it would be useful to review how I got on with the drought measures over the season, which tips worked and which am I carrying on with this year.

Last year I planted as many seeds as possible direct in the ground. I reasoned this would be less work than handling dozens of seedlings with all potting on and hardening off, but I was wrong. Hard work is trying to keep a 10m line of seeds wet enough to germinate (hence the fate of my carrots this year as I've sown them direct) It's much, much easier to keep a tray in a coldframe at home well watered plus this gives the seeds a head start as they germinate much more quickly. Once hardened off all the plants could all be watered simultaneously with 10 minutes under the sprinkler.

One of the best suggestions I got last year was from Craftygeek (see the comments on the old post) which was to plant bean seeds in cardboard tubes or rolls of newspaper full of compost. I packed mine together in an orange crate from the supermarket which I moved in and out of the coldframe en masse to harden them off. Once they were ready to go out I planted the whole tube/roll in the ground. This encourages deep roots and the compost and cardboard hold onto water, preventing it seeping away through the horribly cracked clay soil. Plus it improves the texture of the soil long term. Last year, once the beans were established I didn't water them at all but they continued to thrive and crop well.

Planting in a depression (just think of all the Lib Dem broken election promises ..... ) is probably the simplest and most effective thing I do. I put the seedlings in a dish shaped depression in the ground about 3cm deep and also build up a little 'wall' of soil around the plant. This holds the water, preventing it running off and giving it time to properly soak into the soil. As the plant grows bigger it tends to overrun the depression making it redundant but by this time the roots are deep enough to cope anyway.

As a proper double whammy, with large water hungry plants such as squash, cucumbers and tomatoes as well as the depression I use the bottom-chopped-off-plastic-bottle technique. I find this hugely effective, 48hrs after watering the soil is usually still damp around the plant, even on a hot, dry day.

These techniques are time saving too as I can quickly dump the water where it's needed and walk away, I don't have to stand at each plant for 20 seconds or so til the water has soaked in. Also as the water is getting directly to where it's needed, I don't need as much which means fewer trips to the tap/water butt. It takes me about 20 minutes to water each allotment, although I plan on stopping watering at all on the old allotment once the plants are established.

Have a look at Allotments4you's comment on the old post, I took this one to heart, last year I didn't water my borlotti beans, sweetcorn, brocolli, chard or cavolo nero once they were established and all did well. I didn't water the carrots either, apparently this encourages root veg to grow down further in search of water, making them bigger. Which they were. The wireworm seemed to approve anyway ....

PS - Just thought of another one. If you've got any spare seedlings with no room, pot them on and keep them alive as backups just in case your planted out ones fail, or die of frost, or get eaten by a chicken or something.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you got plenty of help on the watering front last year...i still haven't watered my plot...just water them in and then watch them grow....hope it all goes well for you this year too!!