Gardening in drought
The word drought often conjures up images of faraway countries suffering from months of baking sun and no rainfall. It is not often a word which you’d instantly link with Britain, but unfortunately times seem to be changing and hosepipe bans are becoming more frequent.
Where possible every gardener should have water butts to harvest any rain that does fall. If you do decide to water your allotment, the best time of day is during the cool of the morning or evening. Water the roots of the plant and concentrate the watering to once or twice a week, as opposed to giving your plants frequent light showers, otherwise you’ll encourage the roots of the plant to seek water near the surface of the soil, as opposed to deep down in the earth.
Manure and Mulches
There is something that all gardeners can do to help prepare themselves for drought conditions and hosepipe bans and that is to ensure that your soil is fertile and contains plenty of organic material, which will help it to retain moisture. The condition of your soil is of paramount importance to your crops, and the easiest way of ensuring your plants have a good start in life is by ensuring that the four main growing chemicals needed - calcium, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous, are present in your soil. You can check this by buying a good quality soil testing kit form the garden centre but as a rule of thumb, add back into the soil whatever was taken out by the last crop grown. One of the quickest ways of adding these nutrients is through the addition of farmyard manure (well-rotted over a twelve month period), green manure (crops high in nitrogen, grown specifically to be dug into the soil e.g. clover) and good quality homemade compost (garden and food waste, not cooked meat, well-rotted and turned over a twelve month- two year period). Not only will these products improve the quality of the soil, but also the soil’s ability to retain moisture, meaning you won’t need to water your plants so frequently (and in some cases not at all). Dig the manure into the soil during a dormant period, end of the summer or early spring are ideal times.
Ensuring that your soil is always covered with a layer of mulch will help to retain moisture and suppress weeds; the mulch could be garden compost, composted manure, leaf- mould or a geo-textile etc.
When planting out your young plants it is always recommended that you water the hole or trench very well, before putting in your seedlings. This means the root system of your young plant will have instant access to water, also encouraging them to grow downwards to seek new water supplies, as opposed to waiting for you to come along with a watering can. Once the plant is well established, reduce or cease watering all together depending on the plant.
Good plants to choose for dry conditions
When choosing plants for your allotment it is a good idea to go for those that originate in a hot climate and so have evolved not needing very much water, or ones where the edible part of the plant grows below the soil – meaning its roots (and the crops) all benefit from deep water.
- Carrots – never water , it will lower the yield
- Potatoes – water only when the flowers have just opened, but otherwise there should be enough moisture in the soil to sustain the plants
- Parsnips – watering doesn’t benefit the crop
- Jerusalem artichoke – never water, otherwise you encourage the formation of leaves and not tubers
- Rosemary and Thyme – woody herbs which can withstand dry seasons
- Beetroot – don’t over water as this will increase leaf size not root size, but don’t allow the soil to dry out completely
- Brussels sprouts – established plants will only require watering during exceptionally dry weather
- Kohlrabi – the root system of this is plant is well developed for sourcing water and so can withstand very dry seasons
- Onions – after the plant has been established, they require little watering and never after mid-July as this will delay ripening
There are some plants which survive very well during wet weather and as such require a lot of watering during a drought. Therefore it is best to avoid the following – celery, courgettes, marrows, pumpkins, squash, rhubarb and spinach.