Easy Watering in Times of Drought

This time of year, watering can become a major trauma on the plot. I can almost hear the squash and celery plants screaming at me to come over and flood their roots.

I rarely make it to the plot more than once a week so I’ve made efforts to increase the water retention in the soil around the most thirsty of plants. The celery, squash and butter beans have all been planted into trenches that were filled with partially rotted kitchen waste in the spring. In addition, the squash have been set into valleys so that I can tip a bucket of water around each plant without it running off to nurture the surface weeds.

Watering on allotments can be a contentious practice. Effin Frank will forcefully inform any newcomer to the site that they shouldn’t “effin water them plants or you’ll effin burn the effin roots”.

He could be right if watering means a scant drizzle from the rose of a watering can. The trick is to drench a plant if you’re going to bother watering at all. Send the roots downwards rather than encouraging them to stick close to the surface where the soil will bake in hours.

At home my problems are much greater. Most of my garden plants are in pots and although I technically ought to be able to water my plants daily, they rarely get considered from one week to the next. When I see the pathetic wilting of the entire plant I rush out with my jug of water and attempt to saturate the compost. It’s a futile effort. If you’ve ever let a pot plant dry out (I’m sure everyone has) its darn tricky to get the compost to absorb more than a thimble full of water. The rest whizzes through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot and nourishes the weeds in the cracks between the paving slabs.

Drip IrrigationI was recently sent an easy watering kit to set up amongst my pot plants and it has proved to be an ingenious way to re-saturate dried out pot plants and deliver a steady drip of water during the summer months.

You get an awful lot in your kit for the money. The drip irrigation kit I used was just under £30 and provided enough drippers for 20 pots and huge length of the main supply pipe, with connectors to allow you to cut and split the supply so you can water pots in different areas.

Easy watering drip irrigation kit

I set it up before I went away on my summer holidays and I have arrived home to find my pots looking extremely healthy, which never happens when I go away.

I’m extremely happy with this kit but if you keep your pots on different levels it takes a bit of faffing to ensure a steady drip to all pots.

Pros

  • accurately delivers drips of water direct to your plant
  • most efficient way of watering pot plants without run off

Cons

  • takes a while to install, laying out the feeder pipes, cutting out the dripper pipes and inserting the connectors
  • can lead to different rates of dripping if you have pots at different levels

Saving Water in the Garden

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Hitting the Water Table

We made a flying visit to the plot this morning to deposit the kitchen compost and to rescue the last few Brussels.

Compost has become a bit of a cottage industry at our house. I have a production line that starts by the kettle with a little repository for tea bags, moves down to the lovely silver caddy on the kitchen floor and then out into the back garden where it can go one of 3 ways.

In the garden we have a large galvanised dustbin, two bokashi buckets and a multi-tiered wormery. I haven’t quite worked out the optimum route for all our waste but the initial plan was to send everything to the bokashi buckets for high speed Japanese fermenting and then on to the wormery for compost production.

I hoped the worms would produce enough soil for me to replace the bank that has slipped into the neighbours garden but they only seem to devour at the rate of 1 lettuce leaf per week.

That’s where the galvanised bin comes in handy and in truth I may as well be bypassing the bokashi and the wormery and ditching all our waste into it.

Anyhoo, we waddled on to the plot with bin and bokashi buckets in hand and I decided to dig trenches to tip it all in. That way I could plant my summer squash into a moisture retaining environment and hopefully grow championship worthy whoppers.

It’s hard to imagine that the soil would need assistance with water retention. I hit the water table at one spades depth and found myself stuck, steadfast in a squelchy clay puddle.

We considered ourselves lucky though as our neighbours on the opposite side of the plot have had to return their usual seed order and panic purchase rice.

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A Room of One’s Own

20121103-203537.jpgI’ve always considered the allotment shed to be a home from home but the recent crop failings and resultant low morale has led it to be more of an irregular holiday home and our lack of attentiveness became apparent today.

Opening the shed I discovered my boots had been used as a rubbish receptacle, I tried blaming Lynn but further inspection revealed the worrying signs that squatters had moved in – the Rich Tea biscuits had been half inched, the coffee whitener nibbled and a row of unappealing black deposits lined up on the supplies shelf.

It appears that a mouse has declared my boot a room of his own.

20121103-203626.jpgI’m quite impressed with his interior design. A veritable cornucopia was packed deep into the toe recess, including two real ale bottle tops and a large handful of plum stones.

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In Search of New Hobbies

I feel like I have this entirely unsatisfactory hobby where I spend hours each weekend, weeding and tilling and planting, just in order for an army of soft, squishy critters to gorge themselves silly on our lush organic produce.

Next year I may try out a new hobby of browsing the veg aisles in the local Lidl so that I too, can gorge on some vegetables.

Broad beans have been the only success this year, in fact they were so successful that I can barely close the freeze door without bursting an over stuffed sack of beans.

20120721-175743.jpgEverything else?

Absolutely everything else is a complete flop.

Here’s the pitiful reward for digging an entire row of spuds in heavy and claggy clay.

The second row was no better, in fact I unearthed more slugs than potatoes.

The runner beans are nothing short of an embarrassment.

20120721-175756.jpgThe mountain goat species of snail has been up and down each wigwam, decimating each and every plant.

I’ve jumped from foot to foot squishing them in a furious war dance, done to the tune of much swearing but I am still a little unimpressed with this gardening hobby.

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Hammett’s Tights

I have been known to swear in the presence of the M1 Garden Rotovator but after Reg gave it the overhaul last year and passed on his top tips I knew that the trick was to filter the petrol through a pair of Tracey Hammett’s tights.

It seems that our habit of churning the soil without the air filter in place has resulted in flecks of soil clogging the fuel in-let pipe. With two whole beds to turn over before we could plant the spuds I was fairly determined to get the motor running and happily strained the fuel through the hand me down tights.

Of course it didn’t work.

You can’t pull that flipping machine out of the shed without a full scale meltdown.

We got Reg on the phone who had Lynn set to with a hammer and screwdriver trying to extract the spark plug in order to scrape a pencil over its points???

Of course that didn’t work.

I went back to the old fashioned method of forking over the soil while Lynn continued off and on, to wrench her arm out of its socket trying to get the thing to spark.

I was within seconds of listing the rotovator on eBay mobile when Lynn managed to coax a satisfying splutter and roar. She delivered it to my potato bed with an almighty smug smile and happily announced that the petrol tank was empty.

It was not flipping empty! I’ve got photographic evidence of it going through Tracey’s tights. Unless they acted like a wick and absorbed all the fuel before it hit the tank.

Still, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Digging is hard work and I could have the beds ploughed in minutes if I could keep it ticking over.

Lynn cracked on with the potato planting while I retired to play with a new gadget prepare a well earned cup of tea on the Valor 64C Petroleum Cooker!

My previous tea making gadget, the Kelly Kettle, was not that popular with her in doors. It usually caused a little friction on the plot as it took me an age to build up sufficient tinder to heat up a couple of mugs of tea and I think it was seen as an excuse for a sit down.

The Valor 64C didn’t fair much better though. I had a long mothers day chat with my mum, prepared labels for all my planned seed sowings and still the kettle was still only gently steaming. It wasn’t the only one steaming!

I blame the titchy kettle. When I tried the equipment out again to fry up a gammon steak and boil some freshly picked purple sprouting it worked a treat. It helped that I’d read the instructions as well I suppose, I hadn’t realised there was a high and low setting.

After such a good start to the day it was shame that we had to cut it short but with seeds un-sown and spuds yet to be planted we received a call from the cops to inform me that my beautiful Triumph Bonneville had been found on the common – trashed. Here starts a long wrangle with the insurers.

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Hot and Bothered

I haven’t been down to the plot since the great leek disaster but this morning my electronic to-do list beeped to inform that it would soon be time to plant broad beans so we gathered our sun screen and headed off into the heatwave to prepare a bed.

Here’s the M1 Gardener basking in the sun, mocking me. Lynn and I are collapsed under the shade of the shed having spent 20 fruitless minutes trying to start the frustrating machine in the hottest day since the last unseasonably hot day, probably back in April.

I am beginning to hate the rotovator. It offers so much in the way of pain free cultivation but its always such an arse to use. It weighs a tonne, requires repeated muscle wrenching yanks to even hint at a splutter and then when you finally get it started it roars for a matter of seconds before choking its way to a pathetic end. Then the process repeats.

I ended up reverting to the good old fashioned way of soil cultivation.

 

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Roasted Sweet Beetroot Relish

The plot and the hedgerows are so productive at the moment. It seems about two months too early but the sloes are already plump and juicy. I’ve just had to polish of the last remaining drop of slow gin from last year so that I can re-use the bottles for this year’s vintage. Extraordinarily tasty and potent stuff!

This year we remembered to take carrier bags for a trip around Mitcham Common and have collected enough apples and blackberries for about 30 pies. The trees were almost breaking under the burden of fruit, it’s a shame more people don’t take advantage of the free crops.

Back on the plot we’ve found ourselves overrun with beetroot and I’m in the unusual position of trying to find creative ways to cook and store it.

The Preserves book from the River Cottage Series has a fabulous recipe for sweet beetroot relish. I made slight adjustments, replacing creamed horseradish for the requested home-grown pickled variety and I also cheated with the tomato puree which I couldn’t be bothered to make from scratch. Here is my cheats version:

Sweet Beetroot Relish

  • Servings: loads
  • Time: 1hr
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

1kg Beetroot – roasted at 180’C
250g Sugar
150ml cider vinegar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
large onion finely chopped
2 tbsp creamed horseradish
4 garlic cloves crushed
1 tbsp tomato puree

Directions:

Put all the ingredients except for the beetroot into a preserving pan and boil for 5 mins.

Peel and coarsely grate the roasted beetroot. Add this to the mix and cook for another 10 mins.

The juice should be syrupy when ready to transfer to the sterilised jars.

It should last up to a year.

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Garlic, Bugs and Curses Galore

What’s happening with the weather gods? The rain has come too late for a bounteous crop of spuds but is perfectly timed to ruin my garlic bulbs that are desperately in need of a good sun basking.

I had a tricky decision to make this weekend. The ground was sodden and with no respite promised, the bulbs of garlic that had appeared to be drying a fortnight ago were now disintegrating into a white fluff. I decided to pull the lot up and deal with the drying task at home.

We’ve now got close to 100 bulbs of wet fresh garlic, lined up under every radiator in the house, acting as a dubious pomander. I’d put them in the airing cupboard but I don’t think the clothes would maintain their just washed, lenor freshness.

While I was despairing over the bulbs, Lynn was constructing the insect hi-rise. This has been a monster in the making – cutting hundreds of nettle and bracken stems to size has tried our patience but Lynn had the worst of it while trying to bring the whole she-bang together.

As ever with construction tasks, we start off appearing prepared, drill charged, screwdriver to hand, multiple assorted screws and so on but then the facade begins to crumble. Drill bits aplenty but they are all masonry bits, screwdriver does the job until the screw head flies out and disappears in the neighbour’s strawberry patch.

This is when the job really starts and the cursing and sweating begins.

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