Gardening with Less Water

My father was a keen gardener.  When we lived in Shannon, in an estate house with a standard small garden, he grew flowers in his garden and vegetables in an allotment just outside the town.  I have many childhood memories of weeding and petal-picking, which I hated.  More interesting jobs like actually planting things, squishing pests and pruning were reserved for adult hands.

I wasn’t a fan of the allotment, to be honest.  I was notoriously bad at eating my veggies as a child – to this day I still detest many green leafy vegetables.  Brussels sprouts?  Cabbage?  Bleuchhh.  So while I liked the pretty flowers in the garden, the whole idea of growing vegetables seemed a bit pointless to me.

Fast forward thirty years or so, and I was slightly better at eating my greens (I still can’t handle sprouts and cabbage, though).  I was also beginning to be concerned about the amount of chemicals in the food we were eating.  Organic produce was outrageously expensive, so with the help of a friend, I started to cultivate the very old, very mature manure heap beside our arena in Cork.  This stuff was amazing!  It was like digging into a bag of the most expensive compost money could buy!  And we grew the most fantastic gigantic vegetables that first year, in a very small space.  The following year, we tackled the rest of the manure heap, digging out the nettles and scutch, and replacing them with beans, onions and other stuff.

The results were so successful that, over the following winter, we installed four raised beds at the back of my house and filled them with the black gold from our muck heap.  Our growing space was more then quadrupled, and we successfully cultivated strawberries, broccoli, curly Kale, courgettes and other squashes, peas, beans… and more.  Enough for two small households for the whole summer.  All delicious, all organic.

And then I moved to France.  The manure heap became a wilderness once again, as did the raised beds.

I grew a couple of things in the garden in Cereste, where we spent almost three years, but I didn’t want to make any great changes there, seeing as we were just renting.  We moved into our own house two years ago, too late in the season to plant, but last year we put in a small potager.   We planted onions, herbs, rhubarb, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, with mixed success to be honest.  I’m not used to growing things in a hot, dry climate and I was appalled at how much water our little garden consumed.  Particularly seeing as we were in a serious drought for most of last summer.

Despite the lack of stellar results, we’ve doubled our growing space this year.  A couple of months ago, I began to research irrigation methods, the idea being that we’d install the irrigation system as we laid out the new beds.  We’ve got two 1000 litre tanks for rainwater.  The idea was to get a third tank, install it beside the garden, fed from the rainwater tanks, and run a standard drip irrigation system off it – goutte à goutte or drop by drop as the French call it.  The problem was, losses by evaporation are huge using this method.  Our water consumption would far exceed 3000 litres over the course of the summer.  Sure, I’ll be able to fill up a tank on the back of the Canyonero from the village fountain (fed by a spring, it has never run dry, even last year, the driest year ever here) but even so, maybe there were other irrigation methods?  I turned to Google…

…and I found this book.

Low cost? Sounds good.  Low tech? Sounds even better.  Use up to 90% less water?  Really?  Could that be possible?

And our adventures with alternative irrigation systems begins.

Next in series : We’re Growing Pot

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3 thoughts on “Gardening with Less Water

  1. I live in an odd climate…it rains 8 months of the year and the summers are hot and dry as the desert. I have tried several systems over the years of trying to keep plants watered without using a lot of water. I have found fabric soaker hoses to be the best. “Drip” irrigation is much too fussy, your plants never grow where the drip is. Perhaps if you put the drip hose right on the soil it might work. Flat (when empty) soaker hoses are best, but the sun kills them after a year of use. But it’s the best I’ve found so far. Do NOT use the soaker hoses that maintain a round shape and are made of recycled tires. They are pretty much useless. The water only goes so far, usually it stops half way down the hose. Which is why I like flat soakers.
    What I do is dig small trenches, plant my beans, flowers, etc in them and place the soaker hose in the trench an top of the soil. Water only in the morning, never at night. If you water at night, the water doesn’t evaporate from the plant’s leaves, which leads to powdery mildew. (more on that in a moment).

    To test if your plants need watering is to take a relatively large handful of soil, ‘crush’ it and if it maintains a ball shape, you have enough water. But also,,use your instincts. If the plants say they’re dry, they mean it. ON the other hand, don’t over water.

    Plants like squash, beans, etc, don’t like wet leaves. They’ll get powdery mildew and that inhibits their photosynthesis. I don’t spray water on them at all. They do very nicely with water at ground level.

    Every other year I add manure to my beds. I get the soil tested once in a while but realize that you really cannot change the soil chemistry. pH is almost impossible to change, despite the advice to ‘add slaked lime’. So what you grow is what likes your soil pH. If you do want something that doesn’t care for your soil’s chemistry, try going it in a pot.

    A bit of warning…do NOT repeat NOT use manure from animals (horse, cattle, etc) that have been wormed recently. Anti-helmenthics-wormers…do NOT NOT NOT break down after going through the animal. They continue killing worms and other beneficial critters in your soil even after being composted!! So what I do is…if the horse has been wormed, I pick up the manure for a few weeks after the wormer has been administered and dispose of it elsewhere than in a compost pile dedicated for garden use.

    Worms are your friends in the garden, you don’t want to kill them.

    I have been gardening organically for over 20 years. It is reassuring to know I can go eat the produce in my garden without worrying about pesticides/fungicides/ any other kinds of poison.

    Good luck!

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  2. I’m interested to hear about this, because we too live in a very hot, dry climate. So much so that usually I pull up the spring garden around June 15, and then let the garden lie fallow until September or so.

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    • We’ll see how it works! I was showing some French friends around it yesterday, they were all really interested in the different systems I’m trialling. I will do a couple of blog posts over the next few weeks as things start to emerge/grow/die as the case may be…

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