Real Men Sow

How Much Do I Really Need to Water?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself recently. It’s a busy time of year: not only is the plot full of plants, the mountain bike trails are true and sweet and there are lots of bass laughing at me because I can’t catch them.

Living in one of England’s driest districts, I’m also mindful of using my water efficiently.

I currently water about three times a week, but do it quite indiscriminately. Everything gets a good water, whether it’s a baby beet or an adult aubergine.

I love my allotment – I love sowing, growing, nurturing and eating, but the watering bit can be… well, boring. And I’d often prefer to be riding my bike than lugging watering cans back and forth from the tap.

Reducing the Amount of Watering
Dreaming of a zippy piece of woodland singletrack whilst waiting for the can to fill up last night, I decided to review my watering schedule. Could I reduce the amount of water I use and the time spent watering?

I once spent a few weeks working on a farm in the Pyrenees where the lady there insisted that many fruit and veg plants don’t actually need watering. That seems rather radical to me, but there are some plants that don’t appear to need much water at all.

Herbs rarely require it, and my beets and spring greens have always done well during the driest times.

What Does Need Plenty of Water?
Focusing my watering on the crops that need it most seems the obvious way forward. Leafy stuff, like salads and brassicas need regular levels of watering, and my container plants dry out very quickly.

Plants also need more water depending on what stage of their life they’re at. Seedlings need plenty as they only have a small root growth, so can’t reach right down to the moisture retained in the soil.

Recent transplants require regular watering until established too, as do my tomatoes, squashes, peas and courgettes whilst they’re flowering. Once they stop flowering, it seems I can lay off. Although the fruits are all water, they only need regular watering if I’m after exhibition sized jobbies.

Reducing Watering Once Plants are Established
I’ve also been reading that once plants are established, many of the common varieties of veg grown on my allotment are actually drought resistant. These include leeks, radishes, carrots, beetroot, PSB, sprouts, onions, spring greens, parsnips and perpetual spinach.

Other Ideas
When I sow my next carrots and beets I’m going to experiment planting within ridges, similarly to how my mum taught me to plant out squashes. I have done my courgettes, cues and aubergines like this, and it really helps to keep the water in and around the root of the plant.

I’ve found that loosening the soil around my plants also helps, as this stops the water running off when the ground is like concrete or I’ve been lumbering around and treading it down.

From Here on In
The plan from now on is to water my established veg once a week, my squash and toms twice a week, and my little seedlings and container plants three times. By reducing my watering, I reckon I can fit it in before I go to work or after dinner. These are the best times to water as the temperatures are lower and therefore evaporation reduced.

Getting Rid of the Weeds!
This might also free me up to do something else that helps make more efficient use of water: keeping those poxy weeds down, and removing competition for moisture.

Mind you, dry conditions don’t seem to bother the weeds at all. If only we could bottle whatever it is they thrive on. Sara, from the Physic Blogger, put it nicely this week. ‘Now at the allotment,’ she Tweeted, ‘where it appears someone has been planting weeds!’.

Happy Gardening.

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5 Comments

  1. robJuly 16, 2011 at 9:29 amReply

    You might want to look into mulching round your plants too. I put leaves I’ve gathered the previous autumn around plants like brassicas once they’re established, and also around fruit bushes. You can also mulch with compost around your beans, which will also help feed them. But I’d keep watering squash plants once they’ve stopped flowering.

    Most other things I don’t water though once they’re in the ground, apart from when it’s been really dry like this and even then I usually only water them a couple of times a month, and they cope just fine. But it’s been raining steadily all morning today so only the polytunnel to worry about today ;>)

  2. Helen/patientgardenerJuly 17, 2011 at 8:34 amReply

    I only water my plot once or twice a week, although my parents often water it for me too. I tend to focus on the plants that are either setting fruit or are newly planted. I planted my courgettes in dips with a ridge of earth around them so the water sort of forms a pool

  3. JulesJuly 17, 2011 at 9:15 amReply

    Sinking pots into the ground next to squash/courgette plants and then watering into those ensures that the water goes direct to the roots rather than evaporates from the soil surface. With all the rain we’ve had this year, I’ve managed to maintain my kitchen garden just from the waterbutts – as we’re on a water meter I’m dreading the day I need to use mains water for the garden.

  4. NaomiJuly 19, 2011 at 6:12 pmReply

    I hardly ever water my plot, but have to admit that I’ve completely changed what I grow over the last few years to plants which seem happy to look after themselves such as Jerusalem artichokes,leeks,spinach, chard, raspberries, strawberries, Japanese wineberries and blackberries-probably water these fruits if it’s really dry as they flower and fruit.I know I probably get bigger yields if I watered more regularly, but I do find it tedious too.I do grow tomatoes and lettuces in front and back gardens to keep a closer eye on and to water more frequently(and reluctantly) if necessary. Have been reading Mark Diacono’s new book ‘a taste of the unexpected’ and I think this is the way I want my plot to go-more perennial fruits such as Blue Honeysuckle and Fuschia berries and Gojiberries -can’t wait to start growing these.
    Also, went on a fab foraging course with Miles Irving at a local community garden in Islington recently, and it’s amazing that what we pull out as weeds can be rather delicious too. Had a great salad of hairy bittercress the other day-lovely mild cress flavour and springy texture too.Edible flowers blew my mind too and as Mallow flowers are so abundant now ,Hollyhocks will be joining my other greens in the salad this eveing. Has changed how I think about weeds and (edible) flowers forever!

  5. Jono

    JonoJuly 20, 2011 at 8:02 pmReplyAuthor

    Thanks for your comments everyone.

    Naomi – thank you for that great reply. Like you, I’m becoming very interested in growing certain things depending on what I cook with most, and how they fit in to my environment.

    The sort of stuff you mention also fits in around an everyday life. My plot is so weedy at the moment because I’ve had to go away for the last couple of weekends.

    I love hairy bittercress too. Picked a load of cherry plums also this week. Seems strange that these get left to rot.

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About Real Men Sow

meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope.

However, three years on, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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