When I got my greenhouse a few years ago, my husband obtained from a local car valeter a large container which he turned into an additional water butt. This was full at the beginning of this season but even with the occasional rainwater top up it is now verging on empty and we have only used it for greenhouse watering rather than the vegetable beds. A good improvement, but I now realise it is not enough for our needs. Nearer the house I use the outside tap to fill my watering cans for the grow bags and vegetable containers. Due to shoulder and back problems my raised beds are best watered with a hose to reduce the lifting and carrying. My mother would probably say - reduce the amount of water in the can, but time is of a premium, so what to do? Alternatives require planning and implementation.
Water storage and reuse
Increasing storage from rain runoff - requires some investment in setting up water butts and making sure they are covered to reduce algae from light. The RHS also recommends cleaning once a year during winter with a bleach based solution. Timing cleaning in autumn and winter, when the butt is already filling, may be a challenge especially in some areas but with planning should be achievable.
Reuse of grey water
Water from washing, baths, showers, and rinsing drinks cans and bottles can be used on the garden. The half a washing up bowl saved from the shower given to a much loved shrub which we wouldn’t otherwise water, may help it pull through a period of drought. Water in the first year after planting, for trees and shrubs is especially important in order for them to establish good root systems.
Grey water is best used, once cooled, to water flowers and containers due to residues and possible bacterial contamination it may contain. Some sources suggest grey water is fine on vegetables too as the soil contains E. Coli and there isn’t a significant risk from the grey water if applied carefully to the roots and not splashed on the edible part of the plant. Cleaner grey water from cold water run off while waiting for hot water to run and the washing of fruit and vegetables can all be used on vegetable crops.
Drought resistant planting
Grasses, sedums, palms, some tropical plants, desert plants, cacti, mediterranean plants such as sage, rosemary and oregano dislike wet feet and have mechanisms that help them preserve water during hot dry summers. They achieve this either by water storage for example: in the leaves, leathery or waxy coated leaves. If you want to see drought resistant plants in action look at the conditions where self seeders grow: walls; between paving slabs; cracked areas in full sun as shown in the picture of gazanias which have self-seeded in my drive. The Royal Horticultural Society has a variety of recommendations as to how to create drought resilient planting.
In July, I visited my son and family in a little village north of Bordeaux. My daughter-in-law has several raised beds and a small plastic greenhouse, suffers from ill health and my son is currently working away. This year they have aimed to reduce the physical burden of regular watering by installing a pump driven trickle watering system fed by their well. It’s working well, but they’ve found it is far easier to install before planting is established! One of the issues with watering systems is getting parts that are compatible. I looked at a tap splitter a few years ago and discovered it wasn’t compatible with my outside tap and I would therefore need something to convert the tap. Maybe there is more room for compatibility of design for small scale gardeners. I know my son looked at quite a few options before they worked out what might work but still found the trickle pipe particularly fragile to install. Burying the pipes in the ground will eventually help reduce the problem of the sun heating the water in the pipes and reducing evaporation from the sun. It’s a work in progress and if you are thinking about installing a system you need to plan and install before the growing season starts.
Don’t forget! Just like us all forms of wildlife need water whether it’s in an accessible shallow dish, birdbath or pond.