I thought this extract from ‘Mr Middleton Talks About Gardening’ seems quite timely advice for a lot of people at the moment:
I expect some of you will wonder what on earth l am going to talk about. “Watering” may seem a strange subject, but it is a very important one, and one which is not very well understood by garden lovers. I venture to say that more mistakes are made in a garden with the watering can and the hose pipe than with anything else.Indeed, l would go a step further, and say that more than half the laborious watering that is done does a good deal more harm than good. Let us consider it in detail for a few minutes.
In the first place, l am convinced that in a well-cultivated garden very little outdoor watering is ever really necessary, even in the driest weather. During a hot, dry spell last year l took a party round a famous Surrey garden, and it was very noticeable that although the natural soil there is almost pure sand, and the surface appeared to be as dry as dust, the various flowers and plants were standing up fresh and well, and appeared to be suffering no ill effects from the dry weather. Someone remarked on the amount of watering that must be necessary on such a soil, and was surprised when the Head Gardener remarked that no watering at all had been done.
Mr Middleton goes on to explain how the ground was dug deeply in the winter leaving the soil in just the right condition for drawing up water below by what is known as capillary attraction, using a cube of sugar with just a corner dipped in a cup of tea to demonstrate how the tea is absorbed.
In solid, unbroken soil, cracks appear and allow the water to evaporate quickly, but a deeply dug and well-cultivated soil not only lifts sufficient water from below but holds it in the surface layers where it is most wanted. Moreover, in such a soil the roots of plants can descend much easier to the lower regions in search of more abundant supplies.
He talks about the virtues of mulching as a means of conserving water explaining that this is done not only to feed the roots but to keep them cool and moist in hot, dry weather. he states not to do this too early in the year and suggests using manure, hay, straw, leaves or lawn mowings.
I think i should be quite safe in saying that there are far more casualties among greenhouse plants through over-watering than from any other cause. It need not be so, because after all, watering is really a question of judgement and common sense.
For many years now l have grown my vegetables using deep-beds.These are 4ft wide beds, dug deeply with lots of compost. The idea is that you never walk on them hence the soil is not compacted. The plants can be spaced closer together and develop a good root system and you can see exactly what needs mulching, watering, feeding etc. I don’t think l would ever go back to the conventional method of preparing my plot ie. digging the whole lot and then treading all over it!
So, with the watering l have moved on with technology, and last year l invested in a micro-irrigation system connected to a timer. Mr Middleton would have loved this! I place the piping around the beds, in particular, the beans and peas, salad beds, courgettes, squash and pumpkins. The rest have to take their chance. I still like to use the watering can, however. There is something very ‘hands on’ using a can and you can be more selective. What system of watering do you use?