Don’t wait ’til summer, save water now!
As gardeners we could sit, whinge and whine and watch our gardens die or we could get active not when summer legitimately arrives, but right NOW.
By using water efficient practices early means that when the rain does eventually come, your garden will be well positioned to bound back with a gusto. So read on for some strange perhaps even unusual, but none-the-less practical, water conserving methods.
Mulch like a mad man or woman!
There are many different types of organic mulch each delivering different properties to your garden, but when mulching for water conservation begin with a type of mulch that has begun to break down.
Partially composted organic material such as silage (which is wilted grass fermented in anaerobic conditions) is fabulous at absorbing and holding water. I have been known to haunt farmers who have roadside visible rows of old, no-longer-cow-fodder suitable silage bales and a sweet-baked treat barter has often proven successful.
Slabs of silage are ideal as they absorb moisture from dew, rainfall and watering, keeping the soil surface damp and cool. Lawn clippings can be turned into silage by placing them into a plastic bag or lidded bucket excluding as much air as possible and leaving them to ferment for a couple of weeks. When it is sticky, brown and sweet smelling it is ready to use.
To complete the perfect water efficient mulch scenario, cap your water absorbent mulch with open fluffy mulch like at straw, bagasse and pea straw. This will limit soil surface evaporation and provide a greater surface area for collecting dew, ensuring that any moisture that arrives is trapped.
Our urine – although acidic – is composed of many nutrients (depending on your diet) and typically contains a high percentage of beneficial nitrogen.
Weeing outside onto mulch, the lawn or compost (wee is an excellent compost activator) and at different places around your garden not only provides plants with a nutrient supply, it means less toilet flushing providing a double edged benefit regards water saving.
Of course it may also mean that you encourage your visitors to toot their car horn or cough loudly to indicate their arrival!
Plant with a handful of worm castings
Worm castings are valuable for many microbial reasons, including their ability to hold an enormous quantity of water which can make the difference to seedling survival.
Simply when planting seedlings collect some worm castings, dig a larger than required planting hole, place a half handful of worm castings into the base of the hole, scatter a little garden soil over the castings, plant on top and water as normal. The worm castings act as a reservoir and seedlings rarely need additional watering.
Water to match the root system of your plants
As you would have noticed when digging, plants have different root structures and formation. Learn to target your watering practice to match the plant’s roots system. For example beetroot’s swollen root (the bit that we eat) will store water and it rarely requires extra water; broad beans, corn and tomatoes can produce adventitious and stool roots, so soil should be mounded high around their stems so that they can access extra water by extending their root systems.
Rhubarb insulates its roots with dry leaf bases and will benefit from infrequent, drenching style watering and chickpeas have many metres of fibrous roots that deeply penetrate the soil and so only an initial deep watering is required.
Write a water budget
Respond to the following questions for the main plants in your garden: Is it a perennial or annual? Is it well established? Is it a pivotal component of the garden? Does it provide food, shelter, habitat for others? Is it of sentimental value? Those plants that tick more boxes deserve more of your watering attention. Those that don’t rate so highly may well need to go.
Keep your rinsing and cooking water
It always horrifies me that it can take more water to wash and prepare vegetables than it does to actually grow them. Keep a bucket in your sink and wash vegetables into that. Also add to the bucket water from steamed vegetables, boiled eggs and drained pasta. Allow the water to cool and use wisely in your garden.
Of course if your water budget no longer allows an edible garden, all is not lost: look to the many organic vegetable suppliers from Warrnambool and surrounds. They too may be doing it tough in the dry weather and would relish your support.
See you next month – Kylie.
Catch up on Kylie’s earlier columns here…