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 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, needs 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.
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!’.