The most obvious place to start is water conservation. In the UK we have huge potential for collecting rainwater, usually from a roof area or pond, and in other less common ways such as creating swayles. So how much water do you need to collect? You need as much water as you would need to cover you through the longest potential dry spell....which in an increasingly unpredictable climate is very hard to estimate.....so I would say when it comes to rainwater harvesting - collect as much as you can!
|Two 200l water butts connected in series, intercepting a down pipe.|
|Many water butts in series on an allotment site in Bristol.|
|A beautiful and useful pond in Paul & Hopi's polytunnel at Lammas is fed by a nearby spring.|
|A water reservoir at Martin Crawford's forest garden nursery in Devon. Netting helps to keep out leaf litter and other detritus which will clog filters. It may also reduce evaporation.|
Often confused with ditches, they are in fact the complete opposite! Ditches are used to direct unwanted water away, therefore they are dug on a Small gradient and flow. Swayles are dug on the contour in order to capture surface runoff and allow it to percolate into the soil. These are most commonly used in parts of the world where they have a wet season followed by a dry season, and increases the water levels in the ground to help get through the dry periods. They are not often used in the UK as we tend to have.....a wet season! But in drier places such as East Anglia they could be of benefit, especially if planting woodland or orchards. Of course, you would first need to find a slope, which in Norfolk or Cambridge may be a challenge!
Another way to conserve moisture in the soil is the use maintenance mulches to reduce evaporation and weed competition. We have been using old hay bales we have left over from our wedding - they made good seats and climbing towers for the kids! Now I know what you're thinking - grass seed!! Yes, generally it is risky using hay as a mulch because of all of the grass seed in it. However, these bale have been stored in our biggest glass house for 18 months and believe me, they have been well baked! We weren't planning to mulch this year because we sowed white clover in the vegetable beds (see prev. post) as a green manure/living ground cover around our crops. We had some success with this last year around our pumpkins and courgettes, so decided to use it in two more beds this year. Sadly the clover didn't germinate, despite repeated sowings, so come the heat wave we did some last minute mulching to save our soil. This is especially important for us as we're still trying to build up the humus in the very poor soil in the raised beds, so it needs all the help it can get. Having high humus content in your soil is probably the best way to retain moisture and can be achieved by simply adding lots of good organic matter each year in the form of compost, animal manure and green manure.
|One of our wwoofers mulching with hay in a raised bed here at Tawny Oaks. The odd small patch of clover is visible amongst the hay.|