Monday, 5 March 2012 10:33 AM
By Old Geezer
With things as they are, this is probably the most important article I have ever written. Pay attention troops!
We have all seen the news and current affairs programmes expressing concern over water supplies (or at least you should have). Hose pipe bans and restrictions seem inevitable.
If you watch or listen to gardening programs all you hear is to 'keep well watered'. Watering and regular liquid feeds are either not going to be possible, or likely to land you with a heavy fine.
However, there is an alternative to the profligate use of water seeing as it is becoming such a scarce commodity.
It all begins with the correct preparation of the soil. The first stage is to get plenty of coarse compost dug in to the bottom of your trench. This coarse compost is the stuff purists say isn't ready yet, in other words, although it is just about rotten it hasn't broken down to a peaty texture.
The compost needs to be wet, really wet and a bit 'ugh' when you dig it in. Cover it with at least 10 to 12 inches of soil and it will become a reservoir for moisture.
Two quick things to consider: one, don't do this with carrots or parsnips as they will produce a lot of tap roots. These 'prongy' roots might cause some humour and taste alright but peeling them is a nightmare!
Secondly, wet compost tends to be acidic; it is a good idea to lightly dust each trench with magnesium limestone. Use rubber gloves when handling this stuff – not everyone's hands are as leathery as mine! If you've got lumps of chalk in your soil you don't need to worry about doing any of this, as the chalk will do the job for you.
So you've now got your wet and coarse compost dug in, you can follow the planting instructions for the various crops, as in previous articles or as described in 'Beyond the Potting Shed'.
As soon as you have planted your crops start hoeing between the rows. Use sticks at either end of the rows along with your garden line. That way you know where the seeds are and you can hoe before your crops emerge.
A lot of this might sound daft, but I promise you that it really works. Hoe at least once a week, and after heavy rain.
Keep the top inch or so of your soil as loose as you can, then any rain which does fall can soak in quickly. Many soils form a crust after a sharp shower; any subsequent rain lies in small puddles and evaporates, or runs off.
The aim is to form what is known as 'dust mulch'. This not only allows any rain to soak in, it also goes a long way to preventing the soil under drying out. The great side effect is it keeps your veggie plot weed free.
The other related technique is to lightly earth up such crops as peas and beans. Earthing up is where you cover part of the plant with soil to protect it, ordinarily the stem. Pick a day when there has been a shower as this will assist in keeping the soil around the plants cool and moist.
Combined with the 'dust mulch' this is just as effective as watering.
A real advantage of these methods is that they encourage the roots to go down after the water. Comparatively regular watering encourages plants to produce a lot of surface roots, which is a recipe for disaster if you miss a watering for any reason.
Happy gardening, and enjoy your tasty home grown crops, drought or no drought!
All the best, Old Geezer.