Yesterday it rained. it rained for about 24 hours. Not the heavy Welsh rain we know so well, but a constant misty drizzle. After such a long time with no rain, it was a lovely excuse to have a slow morning in the house catching up with office work (which i never manage to do when the weather is fine). I did get out on the land in the afternoon and was working in and out of the polytunnel. Although it sounded like heavy rain when i was inside, when outside I was hardly getting wet, but it was giving the ground a good slow watering, constant and long enough to totally wet the bone dry soil.
So today i was on a mission to get all the beds mulched to keep them moist. Starting early to get the job done before the sun starts baking the bed dry again. Arriving at the field everything felt fresh and alive. Plants in the field looked lush, bright and green, sitting upright in their beds.
A mulch is something you put on the surface of the soil. It can be organic or man made. Organic material is anything that was once alive, so you use whatever you can get; garden compost, well rotted farm yard manure (FYM), grass cuttings, straw, wood chip/ bark mulch, wool. I don’t have enough of anything for all my growing space, so i use a bit of everything. Using high nutrient mulches like FYM on the hungriest crops. Grass cuttings and wood chip on the less hungry crops. Mulch protects the soil from the heat of the sun reducing evaporation, feeding worms and micro-organisms, it also prevents weeds from germinating (it will not stop perennial weeds like nettles).
Last week plants were looking very sorry, dried out and starting to look like straw. We don’t have much water and i don’t like having to water plants in the field. But sometimes i have to. Before mulching, the ground must be moist. I started mulching the onion beds last week, firstly watering, it took a lot of water to wet the beds thoroughly. I emptied two of the compost bays, each giving seven barrows, enough to mulch one bed each to a thickness of 1-2cm, (1″). Each of my veg beds are 1.2m wide by 25m.
So it’s rained, the beds are properly watered and we got busy mulching. Dave, Amy and I started with the muck heap. Two garlic beds done, we then move on to the flower cutting garden.
Each flower bed is 1.2m by 4m and i have 24. We worked our way through them mulching around emerging plants and covering empty beds ready for digging in late. We got four to the end, when we run out of muck and energy.
Another day tomorrow and i will be moving back to the compost heaps. One more bay to empty and this will be going on the peas and beans (legume bed). My compost is high nutrient, made from food waste, with no weed seeds in it. Legumes do not need high nutrient, but they do benefit from organic mater and it’s moisture holding capacity. See my blog on growing legumes.
After the wettest winter, who would have thought we would be suffering drought so early in the year. With no mains water, bore hole or well on site we are reliant on the rain water we collect over winter and every down pour. There has been no considerable rain for sometime now.
We have a total 18,500 litres of water collection on site. Using 1000 ltr IBC’s, recycled cider, 1,500 ltr barrels and 1 larger 2,500 ltrs water butt. As more structures and roofs are built on the land we are able to collect more rain. Gaining more containers each year, but even so we run out of water every spring. It is normal for us in Wales to have our best weather during April into May, often we have a month without rain at this time.
Most of our water is used in the polytunnels and greenhouse and then all the nursery potted plants, I rarely water field veg. We have 4500 litres of water linked to an irrigation system in our first polytunnel (enough for 3-4 weeks without rain). When it is working it is fantastic, keeping everything alive while my back is turned, but when these tanks run dry we have to water by hand, carrying the water from elsewhere. That’s 700ltrs a time for the big tunnel (70 watering cans) and 400lts (40 cans) for the second tunnel to water it completely. This is needed every 3-4 days. On top of watering the greenhouses and nursery pot plants, that need watering every day. I love the hot weather, but i am often wishing for rain.
This is how it works…
We collect water in three old cider barrels, giving 4,500 ltrs (enough for 3-4 weeks without rain). Each tank has it’s own tap, in case we need to isolate them for maintenance. The water enters the tunnel via alcathene pipe and through a filter, before reducing to conventional hose fittings. The hose then goes to the 12 volt pump and from there into the accumulation tank and onto the timer. The pump is linked to a leisure battery, kept outside the tunnel in a box and connected to a small solar panel that trickle charges the battery.
The timer is a cheap (£15) one run on two AA batteries. From the timer the hose goes to a four way splitter, each with a tap. These four hoses go to each long bed of the tunnel. There is a fine filter on each bed and again the hose splits. I have three lengths of seep hose in each 25m long bed. I will be putting four lengths in my new tunnel. Seep hose is reported to seep 30cm, but i find plants do best planted next to the pipe. So inter-planting and catch cropping needs extra water.
I find sometimes i need to give extra water by hand to new planting and thirsty crops, but on the whole this systems stops drought and keeps everything alive while i’m not looking.