Water Resilience: pulling the plug

Whether you believe in climate change or not, at certain times we need, as gardeners, to deal with water shortages as well as water gluts. I have been trying to retrain myself in water saving habits at home and this morning still found myself automatically pulling the plug on washing water rather than saving some by scooping out. A small thing but being careful about resources when we are used to them being ‘on tap’ takes a conscious effort to change our habits. 

Self sufficiency is important when it comes to vital resources such as water. It is important to have an infrastructure in place to enable security of resources for our needs, whether it is on a personal or national level. Sometimes this requires investment of time and money, sometimes it requires a change of mindset on priorities, habits and reducing and re-use of resources. Times of drought should encourage us to rethink and review - have we got our priorities right? What can we do to future proof ourselves against similar extremes in the future?

Drought resilience can be tackled in a variety of ways: through extending water storage availability; drought resistant planting; reviewing and improving the ways we water our plants; investing time and if we have it money to create watering systems that ease the physical burden of watering: finding the ways that work for us by increasing our knowledge so we can inform our watering priorities.

Where can we reduce our water use?

With the impending energy crisis my son and I were reviewing the changes we could make to reduce our bills. The same is true of water ue, but the costs are not so obvious at a personal level. 

Looking at how we manage our household use of water is the first step to becoming water efficient. Not leaving taps running, doing full rather than part loads of washing and dishwashing… Asking questions such as do we need to wash clothes as frequently? or take showers everyday? The answer to these and similar questions will depend on each individual and household.  In other cultures, and in my youth, baths were shared, hair was washed once a week, as were clothes. If you are working in a dirty environment then washing may be required more frequently there is no right or wrong it’s a question of relevance. I’m not a ‘it was better in my youth person, we managed etc therefore you should to. It’s gleaning what can be done when resources are scarce.

It’s also worth remembering to continue these habits, where possible, when the rain does start to fall. It takes a good deal of rainfall to replenish our reservoirs and aquifers and not all of that rain can be captured. 

Gardening methods

Good practice can improve both the availability and uptake of water. Here are some suggestions but there are probably many more:

  • Reducing weeds around vegetables means more of the available water goes to the vegetables. 
  • Breaking up soil that is crusty and dry by hoeing, so that the next heavy rainfall is absorbed rather than runs off.  
  • Planting young plants in a small hollow so that our watering goes to the root of the plants.
  • Watering in the cool of the morning allows more available water for the plants to take up. Watering can also be done in the evening once the sun has gone off the plants but may increase slug and snail issues.
  • A good soak once a week rather than a daily sprinkle will encourage roots to go deeper in search of water.
  • Prioritising water for key stages of plant growth. Seedlings and transplants first. Flowering and fruiting next and for leafy greens and salads. Containers where the plants cannot grow down to find more water next. Leafy veg such as lettuces, salad crops, and brassicas where we need leaf growth.
  • Planting green manures prevents the runoff from bare soil while the ground is uncultivated for other crops. It also improves the organic matter once dug in and that will also increase the  water retention or the soil. Green manures can also add nitrogen to the soil depending on which green manure is used.
  • Thick mulching of pots and beds will help preserve soil moisture. 
  • Larger pots can have a better reservoir of moisture than smaller ones.

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