Kettering Allotments Association Guide to:
WATER ON THE ALLOTMENTS
Water is a constant requirement for living plants. It is used to carry mineral nutrients to leaf and stem, to distribute foodstuffs to all parts of the plant and to maintain what might be termed the pressure of growth forces. Excess water is constantly being lost through the plant by transpiration and elsewhere by evaporation. Insufficient water leads to wilting, a loss of growth and eventually the plantıs death, so it is important to supply sufficient water to your crops.
Water is a precious and finite resource. We owe it to future generations to use it responsibly. Donıt just water as a matter of routine – For best effect water your crops according to their actual requirements.
With these points in mind what is there that you can do as a plotholder to help conserve water.
Please remember to only water plants that need it! Some plants, even root vegetables, will survive on very little water. Some, such as broad beans, need water when they are filling out and only some, such as lettuces, tomatoes, courgettes and marrows need water throughout the season. Water plants at the base thoroughly and infrequently so that water reaches the roots, rather than giving them a light sprinkling more often. Roots will then go down in search of water, making the plants stronger. Cut the base off a plastic bottle and bury it upside down next to the plants – poured in water will then get straight to where it matters – the roots.
Below are ten points that may help you to maintain your allotment to a high standard with the minimum amount of water.
1. COLLECT AS MUCH RAINWATER AS YOU CAN! It is pure and free from additives that are needed to make water drinkable – another main advantage is that if left in the sunshine it reaches the plants at the correct temperature without giving them the shivers. Use a water butt to collect any rainwater, position it close to your shed so with the use of a length of gutter and a piece of drainpipe water can be collected from the shed roof. It is important to cover the butt to avoid algae growth. When available! soft rainwater is undoubtedly best for plants.
2. Mulch fruit and other long term crops; a good thick layer of mulch helps to conserve water but it also helps prevent weed growth. Well rotted manure or garden compost, even straw or grass clippings, can be used. From some crops, such as strawberries, it may be appropriate to plant through a layer of black polythene pegged down to the soil. Make sure that the soil is well watered before mulching.
3. When cultivating your allotment incorporate plenty of organic matter into the soil as this will help retain moisture in the ground.
4. When growing hungryı crops, such as beans, sweet peas, etc., dig a good deep trench and fill the bottom with any type of organic matter, even old damp newspaper will do before backfilling. This will help to act as a reservoir for these plants. Spinach, chard, parsley, lettuce and other leafy crops also prefer moist conditions and can be planted in shallow trenches which can be used for watering. It is possible to get good results from using the shade produced by other plants. Parsley and spinach for example like the shade cast by runner beans!
5. Grow crops that do not require excess watering, for instance many herbs such as Sage and Rosemary come from Mediterranean climates and can survive fairly dry conditions.
6. If you grow plants in tubs or containers incorporate a water retentive gell into the planting compost. Stand pots, containers and grow bags on trays to catch any water that drains through, this water can then be recycled.
7. When choosing a watering can pick one that is well balanced and not too heavy to carry when full, 7 to 9 litres (1½ to 2 gallons) should be all right. Polythene cans are shorter lived than metal ones but are inexpensive and with reasonable care should last for several years. Buy two roses (perforated heads), a fine one for watering seedlings and a course one for general purpose watering.
8. When you do water, it is better to pick one section of the allotment and water thoroughly to some depth. A thorough soaking at weekly intervals is much better for the plant than a daily sprinkling of water as this will encourage plants to grow deeper and search for their own water (water on the foliage will just evaporate or remain on the leaves encouraging fungal disease). It is best to water in the evening or early in the morning so that the water soaks into the soil. Early morning is better if possible, particularly in greenhouses, so plants are surface dry at night. This helps to keep diseases down. Never water in the heat of the day as most of it will evaporate.
9. If watering has to be curtailed because of a water shortage, the addition of a dilute liquid feed to the water used makes it more of an immediate benefit to the struggling plant and less water will go further.
10. Regular hoeing of cultivated areas not only reduces competition for water from weeds but breaks the soil capillaries and therefore reduces water evaporation from the surface of the soil.
If you take note of these points and are careful with the use of water it will still be possible to grow a wide range of crops through the driest of summers. It is these battles with nature that are amongst the things that makes gardening so enjoyable.
Further useful information:
HARVEST AS MUCH RAINWATER AS POSSIBLE
Most water authorities now offer water butts at subsidized prices. You can also buy some rather smart wooden ones from garden centres and online suppliers, or re-use any suitable container you can get your hands on. Car boot sales, garage sales, ebay and freecycle may have cheap ones available. Make sure all water butts are covered - this prevents any nasty accidents to children, wildlife and pets, it stops the water becoming a mosquito breeding ground in the height of summer, it keeps out leaves and other debris and excluding the light prevents the water from turning green. Try to fit butts to every available down pipe, and fit guttering connected to butts onto sheds and greenhouses. Most butts only hold around 200 litres so you may need to connect several together to see your garden through a severe drought. To prevent cracking in frosty weather float a tennis ball on the waters surface. If rain is forecast in a dry spell, pop outside and fill up as many watering cans as possible from your butts - this leaves spare capacity in the butt for more water.
These can be one of the most water-hungry areas in the garden or allotment. Seedlings are very vulnerable to 'damping-off disease' - a catch-all term for a variety of fungal infections that can kill an entire tray of seedlings in hours. Because of this danger, seedlings should only be watered using tap water, which has been treated by the water company to be free of any pathogens. Once your seedlings are past the first potting-up stage, harvested rainwater can safely be used. Never place pots directly onto your greenhouse staging as much of the water applied to them will simply drain off.
Invest in capillary matting or gravel trays for greenhouse staging to prevent runoff when watering and to enable plants to access this water when needed. There are many automatic watering systems on the market suitable for use in a greenhouse from inexpensive 'watering spikes' to entire systems with porous hose and timers. Some can use harvested rainwater or be connected to water butts and some need connecting to the mains - this would be illegal during a hosepipe ban so think carefully before deciding which system to buy. Simple measures such as putting plants in a spot that is shady at midday, and making full use of gravel trays and capillary matting will reduce the need for watering.
By Nikki Glazebrook, Groundwork Northamptonshire / The Green Patch.