Water shortage (part 2)

Still waiting for the rain! Further to my previous post, I thought I’d pass on a few tips that I’ve learnt to ensure you use what water you have as efficiently as possible.

1. Prioritise. As mentioned on the previous post, prioritise which crops really need watering and which don’t. Carrots for example will grow longer and stronger if they are forced to go further down into the ground to find their own nutrients and water. Hence why you shouldn’t feed them either.

2. Treat them mean. Once you start watering crops, they come to rely on that water, rather than adapt to the drier conditions. Sometimes if you treat plants a little bit mean, they toughen up a bit and learn to survive without you. That doesn’t necessarily work with all plants, mainly those that are perennial and can learn to adapt to their conditions over time. The majority of the plants in my back garden (not including those in pots) rarely get water other than natural rain, and they cope fine.

3. Water the hole not the plant. You must give water to seeds and newly transplanted crops to get them started. But apply the water to the planting hole or the trench/furrow and allow it to drain down before you sow the seeds or plant the crop. This way, the water is down in the ground where you want it right from the start. This will encourage roots to go further down (instead of near the soil surface) where they’ll find their own source of moisture.

4. Use a watering device. For larger crops that need a lot of water (such as my sweet peas above, beans, courgettes, cucumbers, squashes, celery) it’s a good idea to plant a plastic bottle – upside down with the bottom cut off – next to the plant. You water into this, which ensures it goes slowly down into the ground, directly to the roots, and not over the soil surface where it will quickly evaporate on a hot day . . .

. . . it doesn’t look that attractive, but does make a difference.

5. Choose varieties carefully. There are vegetable seeds out there which are sold as ‘drought resistant’ varieties, which are worth looking out for. And others which with trial and error, just seem to cope better than others. Lettuce is a good example. I always used to grow ‘Little Gems’ but they never survived when we first experienced an allotment drought. So I bought a ‘batavian’ variety from the Organic Gardening Catalogue, and had great success last year.

These are red oak leaf lettuce which are surviving fine (only lost 1 so far), and I also have some Webbs Wonderful which is also doing remarkably well on such little water.

Most things already going on the plot are doing okay, except for the sugar snap peas, which are already suffering – badly – and the broad beans are struggling to push out flowers before they’ve really grown big enough. Hmm, prospects not looking good there. Early days though.

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