By Michael Kelly.
The ongoing good weather brings an increased workload for the GIYer, with extensive watering needed outside as the drought continues. Given that in a normal Irish summer, we rarely if ever have to water outside, you get a sense of how exceptional this weather really is. We should spare a thought as always for our commercial growers and farmers – the weather has wreaked havoc on their livelihoods this year. From an interminable 8-month winter, we went almost straight in to drought conditions. If you have a lawn, it’s probably scorched at this stage, and you almost certainly haven’t had to cut it in a few weeks. The same applies out in the fields, where grass growth is almost non-existent. That alas, means nothing for livestock to eat and some farmers are already using the stored fodder that should be used this winter.
Meanwhile the hosepipe ban brings some existential angst for the home-grower. On the face of it, a ban on using a hose seems to make sense given how scarce our water is (and might yet become), but there’s an inconsistency to this ban that concerns me. I get that it’s silly to use say 30 litres of precious water to wash your car when, you know, there are really worse things than having a dirty car (not having any water to drink for one thing). But here’s where it’s confusing – you can still happily go to a car wash (exempt from the hose pipe ban as they are a commercial concern) where they use about 10 times that amount of water to wash the same car. Hmm.
When it comes to the garden, the ban is a hose pipe one – so in other words I assume you can fill the watering can to your heart’s content from the tap with the same amount of water that you would use by watering with the hose. To me, that just sounds like a ban on efficiency. The focus is (rightly) on eliminating non-essential watering, which again, makes sense. I heard a lady from Irish Water on the radio say that it was mainly about watering things that have purely an aesthetic value (those things you like to gaze on from the deck as you sup your morning tea – the lawn, your flowers and the like) and that had me wondering, where does veg growing stand in that case? Can it be considered essential? I certainly consider it as much, but would Irish Water agree? The nice lady from Irish Water mentioned veg growing only once – to say that they hope people would water their veg garden using leftover water from cooking etc. This is good advice, but the amount of water you use in cooking, would be entirely inadequate for all but the smallest of veg growing enterprises – bearing in mind that a single pumpkin plant requires about 20 litres of water a week.
Of course all of us as GIYers have an obligation to limit our water use as much as possible. In the main, do your watering early in the morning or late at night to limit the amount lost to evaporation in the heat; and focus your watering on the plants that need it. We reprint the water conservation tips from last week below. With all that in mind, dare I say we should be hoping for rain at this stage?
The Basics – Tips for Conserving Water
Generally speaking, we don’t need to water much if at all outside in the veg patch in a typical Irish summer. But in these heatwave conditions, watering is indeed necessary and conserving water becomes a significant challenge. Here are our top tips:
Water properly – getting water down to the root zone takes much longer than people think. If you just water the top layer of soil, chances are it will evaporate off before it can benefit the plant. A good, heavy watering is better than an occasional light one. If in doubt, stick your finger down in to the soil to check. A heavy watering is 20 litres (or about 2 standard watering cans) per square yard.
Water when it’s cool – either first thing in the morning or last thing at night to reduce evaporation and to get the most from your water.
Having as much organic matter as possible in the soil will help to increase the water holding capacity of the soil.
Keep the surface of soil around plants mulched to prevent evaporation. Mulch after watering to retain the wet conditions for longer. Mulching can reduce a plant’s water needs by up to 50%. Straw and newspaper are both good mulches.
Get rid of weeds – weeds compete with plants for water.
It’s too late in a dry period, but a rain butt to collect water from a shed or greenhouse roof will provide significant volumes of water for later use. They are a sinch to install, simply diverting water from the drainpipe in to the butt. It’s estimated that you could collect 24,000 litres of water a year from a standard roof. Whether you’d need that much water is another matter.
Drip irrigation or seep hoses are efficient and can be buried under soil to reduce evaporation.
Focus water where it’s needed most – the leafy veg like brassicas, spinach etc; celery and celeriac; fruiting vegetables at flowering stage (but not too much when fruiting)
Focus water when it’s most needed – typically when seedlings are young and have not developed a mature root system, right after transplanting and during flowering and fruiting.
Reuse water used in cooking when it’s cooled down and grey water from baths, showers etc for watering plants (but don’t use water that has detergent or disinfectants in it)