Before you reach for the hosepipe..think about water conservation on your plot

Photo by Filip Urban on Unsplash

Now that the sites’ taps have been turned back on, it’s tempting to connect up the hosepipe and spray every inch of your plot. But, with us all impatient to get going growing this year’s crops, the demand for water on our allotments is immense – not helped, of course, by our free-draining chalk soil and winds that quickly blow dry our largely exposed hillside plots.

It’s no wonder then that the Council’s allotment service runs at a deficit of approximately £35,000 a year, with most of that (£30,000) due to water usage. If nothing is done to reduce this then plot rents are likely to have to increase substantially in the future to cover the cost.

Yet, there are things we can all do as plot holders to reduce our water usage and to use water more wisely, not just to reduce the financial burden on the Council, but also to benefit the wider environment, our local community and the time we need to spend irrigating our plots.

Tip 1: Deal with or report any leaks

Hoses not fitted properly can waste valuable water

(a) Hoses
Five minutes spent fixing your hose connection might save £5 a month in wasted water. Between us all we might be literally throwing thousands of pounds down the drain through faulty connections and punctured hoses . If you have a leaky hose then fix or replace it. If you see a leaky hose, have a gentle word with the owner.

(b) Taps and pipes
If you spot a leaking tap or notice a leak somewhere report it to one of the site reps immediately. If you can’t get hold of a site rep, then report it to the allotment officer as soon as you get home. The best way to do this is to email Allotments@brighton-hove.gov.uk with the words WATER LEAK in the subject line.

Tip 2: Water, don’t sprinkle!

Using a watering can, ideally filled from a water butt, means you can direct your water to the crop you are growing, and starve the weeds in between rows. Watering by hand also gives you the benefit of being able to get up close and personal with your plants, helping you observe their health and to decide whether any pests and diseases need to be dealt with.

While using a hose is acceptable for filling water butts, or used sparingly in a similar manner to the watering can, spraying wide areas of soil is both ineffective and wasteful.
And note, Council rules are very clear that sprinklers are NOT ALLOWED on allotments.

Tip 3: Collect your own water

Those of us that have sheds have no excuse for not fitting up some sort of guttering and collecting water in a butt. It doesn’t have to be pretty or cost a lot of money, as long as it works – secondhand guttering with downpipes made from water bottles will do just fine!

Tip 4: Create a swale

The Swale Principle – water runs downhill to irrigate the roots of your plants

A swale is a shallow level trench that is designed for filling with water (either manually or through rain), before it gradually seeps into the soil downhill, where crop roots quickly benefit from the moisture. Scrape furrows can be created between rows of crops, and shallow wells around larger individual plants (a draw hoe is ideal for this).

A similar idea is to simply upend a plastic bottle with its bottom cut off, then filling with water to allow it to seep next to the plant to be irrigated.

An upended plastic bottle can deliver water directly to the plant roots

Tip 5: Mulch!

A mulch, such as straw, is great for reducing water evaporation, as well as keeping down weeds

A mulch is just a covering of matter (straw, compost, manure, seaweed, etc.) to protect the surface of the soil. It conserves water by stopping evaporation and also has many other added benefits, including:
– protecting the top centimetre of soil from the sun’s UV rays (which are harmful to the
plant-benefitting bacteria and organisms that live there)
– preventing soil compaction and nutrients being leached out during heavy rain
– reducing weed growth
– moderating soil temperatures, promoting healthy root growth
– and, as it rots down, adding good organic matter to the soil

Tip 6: Put some form of protection over your crops

Creating a mini-greenhouse around plants not only protects them from cold weather but also slows wind evaporation and promotes condensation of any water lost through transpiration.

How you protect your crops – and more importantly the soil – obviously depends on the size of the plants. For newly seeded drills, a fleece covering will protect the emerging seedlings from chilling winds and help retain moisture in the soil. Larger plants can be covered with homemade devices, such as plastic bottles with their bases removed (as above), individual or row cloches.

Using a combination of these techniques will make a huge difference to the amount of water you need to import to your plot, should radically cut down on the frequency you need to water and should ultimately result in better crops – all of which can only be a good thing!

This article is an edited version of the Brighton and Hove Federation’s Water Saving Tips factsheet and has been republished with their permission.

Published by Nick

A plotholder on Craven Vale Allotment since 2010. I'm particularly proud of my expanding vineyard, which in a good year creates litres and litres of red and white wine! I love our site for the fabulous views over the sea and Downs, as well as the wealth of wildlife that can be found here. It really is a bit of countryside in the heart of the city. I feel very lucky to have my plot.

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