Spalding Guardian Gardening 4 April 2012
Hooray, just as the garden is getting into full swing for this season, we get a hosepipe ban, and just in time for Easter, too.
The drought of 1976 effectively put me out of work for three months Ė then it started raining and never stopped all winter. Luckily I donít have to rely on landscaping during this one, and if all I get is bulging muscles from carting cans about, I canít really grumble.
There are a few tips for conserving moisture a hardened gardener like me has picked up over the years Ė the first and most obvious one is not to rush out and buy a water butt until there is a remote chance of a decent amount of rain on the way, otherwise it will just sit there empty, annoying you, or, even more irritating, if itís on a windy corner, it can blow over, spilling what little amount of water youíve collected; that has happened to me several times over last winter and I wasnít a bit pleased.
More reliable is the advice that, if youíre about to buy a tub or other container, make sure itís capable of keeping water in the compost Ė porous materials like terra cotta are fine in winter (if theyíre frost-proof, of course), but the water evaporates through the sides during warm, dry spells like we had last week. Water retaining polymer granules really do cut down on watering during summer (they can make the compost too soggy over winter); you can further reduce drying out by mulching your containers with about 5cm of pea gravel, which can be removed and reused, if youíre careful, at the end of the season if required.
We all tend to over-water, just to be on the safe side. A moisture meter, which you push into the soil or compost, can tell you if you really do need to water Ė ornamental plants wonít die if they start to wilt a time or two, providing you donít make this kind of rough treatment a regular occurrence. Itís not a good idea to dish out this harsh therapy to vegetables, though, or many will end up running to seed or producing other equally inedible crops.
The best moisture conserving tip was told to me many years ago by an old chap who had gardened for more years than Iíd been on this earth at the time. ďA good hoeing is better than a shower of rain,Ē he often used to say, and how true this is.
First, you remove all the weeds which would otherwise compete for what little water there might be. Second, hoeing breaks the capillary attraction of the moisture through the finer particles under the surface, preventing much evaporation that would otherwise occur. Ideally, you should hoe when the soil is damp and not water again until you see signs that itís necessary Ė poor germination, wilting or slow growth, for example.
Iím sure weíll all survive this hosepipe ban without too much inconvenience, just as we did the last ones. Dry springs are often followed by wet summers and although this might not be what we would hope for in a perfect world, any weather that will fill up our rivers, aquifers and reservoirs would only be a good thing, in the short term, at least.
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian