How to be Water Wise

We are constantly being reminded of the necessity to use water with great care, yet this does not mean we have to abandon efforts to grow things — and especially our own food. There are many simple and practical ideas for home gardeners to make sure that their food gardens survive and thrive in the hot, dry and windy months.

Water harvesting – catching and storing rainwater and dew from the roof

Even a small roof can collect a lot of water.

Many houses do not have gutters, but it is easy to fit them. Guttering in general is rather expensive but we found a very effective and also economical way to fit guttering onto a corrugate iron roof is to instead use large 120mm PVC piping, which is generally used for irrigation.

The piping gets cut along its length and this you can fit over the edge of the roof and attach it approximately every 50cm with wiring. Drill holes in the edge where you want to wire it up and this will hold it in place. The pipe must be pushed well over the edge, but not entirely, as you want the water to be able to flow into the pipe.

View from above

View from below

This method of guttering is also very effective at keeping leaves and debris out of the gutter, so the water that you are saving from the roof is much cleaner.

At the ends of the guttering you fit a downpipe that goes into a holding drum or tank, old bath or any kind of container. To reduce evaporation it is best to cover the container if you can.

To prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the water, add a few drops of cooking oil which will suffocate them and will not damage your plants. The oil also helps against evaporation.

Another idea to catch rain water is to bend a piece of iron sheeting into a “V” shape and place it on wooden poles so that it is supported at a slant. Keep it from blowing away in strong winds by securing it with wire. A drum placed at the lower side can catch the water.

Planting pits

This is another simple way of harvesting water if your garden is on a slope. Even a slight slope will suffice.

Dig a pit of about 50cm deep and 30 – 40cm wide and fill it with a little manure and compost. The pits collect run off water and any soil that is carried by the water. You can also channel grey water from the bathroom and kitchen into the pit.

Surround the hole with plants – small ones close and bigger ones further away.

Deep watering in the garden

Did you know that only two out of every one hundred drops of water actually reach the roots of a plant? Yes 98% is wasted through runoff and evaporation by the sun and wind.

To ensure that the water gets to the roots of the plants, make four tiny holes in the lid of a plastic bottle using a hot needle. Fill the bottle with water and loosely replace the cap. Lay the bottle on the ground at the base of a plant and let the water slowly drip out. This is a very simple way of watering the roots of each plant. You can place bottles of water in close proximity to each other in the garden and allow them to drip out onto the plants.

A Simple method for drip irrigation

This is a simple bucket drip system and it costs very little to set it up and works very effectively.

What you need is a 16 litre bucket or drum, either raised off the ground with some bricks or suspended about one metre of the ground with a wooden pole. The bucket or drum gets placed close to the vegetable bed to be irrigated and the drip tube is laid down the middle of the bed.

Fittings are attached to the bottom of the bucket and a line of plastic irrigation pipe or old hose pipe is attached. Make holes in the piping or hose pipe with a sharp knife approximately at every 20 cm intervals and thread 110ccm of natural fibre baling twine through each hole. Tie a knot in each end of the twine and lay the twine across the length of the bed, running next to each planting line and then cover with your mulch.

The vegetables are planted in rows along each dripper line at the correct spacing for the chosen crop. The bucket is filled once in the early morning and if necessary in the evening. Check with your finger to determine if it is necessary to water.

Don’t forget that the most important thing you can do to conserve water and effort in the garden is to mulch…mulch… mulch.

Not only does it keep the soil cool and damp but it also reduces the number of weeds that come up between the vegetable plants, and some weeds do compete with your vegetables for water.