Monday, 7 April 2014

every little counts

Following recent weather events in the UK it can be difficult for us to prioritise water conservation in our daily lives, but what the freak weather shows us is that our climate is becoming more extreme and less predictable. This means that we could experience more extended periods of heavy rain, but we could also experience unusually long periods without rain as we did last summer. So if you are growing your own food or farming, water storage should be one of your highest priorities for now and the coming years. On a farming scale this can be technical, complex and expensive, though absolutely critical. On a domestic or smaller community scale it can be low-tech, low-cost or cost-free and wonderfully simple. Below are a few of the little things you can do right now to make the most of every drop.

One thing we can't reduce is the amount of water we drink, most of us are trying to drink more in fact. In the UK we famously drink vast quantities of the life-giving elixir known as tea. It is an essential resource for us Brits and we flick on the kettle several times a day. It is commonly understood that the electric kettle uses a huge amount of electricity, but still we idly boil it over and over again without hesitation. The humble vacuum flask which has existed for at least half a century can solve this wasteful habit, but is rarely used in the home, only occasionally dusted off for picnics. Changing our habits is always easier said than done, but boiling one full kettle in the morning can provide all of your cuppas for the day for a fraction of the electricity.

Back on topic, saving water that would otherwise disappear down the plug hole is also very simple. If you use a washing up bowl you'll notice that it fills up alarmingly quickly just from catching the water used to wash hands, rinse out dish cloths and fill water glasses (for some reason many of us have a strange habit of filling a glass, emptying it and then filling it again to drink....for no apparent reason!). This water, if free of toxic, non-degradable products can be saved for up to 24 hours and used on the garden or on house plants. It is not recommend to store grey water (water used to wash dishes, bodies,etc) because of the anaerobic bacterial blooms which grow from the organic particles floating about in it. On the same premise you could also save the baby's bathwater.....just remove the baby first.

In the garden the most obvious water-saving measure is to install water butts to capture rain water when it's falling to use when its not. The key is to capture as much as you think you'll need to get you through the longest potential dry spell. This generally translates to: as much as possible. Anywhere you have a roof you have the potential to put in a gutter and down pipe, and therefore one or more butts. Multiple butts can be joined in series using a joining pipe just below the rim of each butt so that as the first one fills to the top it overflows via the pipe to fill the next one and so on. It makes sense to store water as high as you can so that you have enough pressure to use a hose if you need to, or at least get a good sized can or container under the tap.

If you're watering on a large scale you can think about water-saving irrigation methods such as drip-lines (pictured below) or seep-hoses which deliver water directly to the soil at the base of the plant and reduce water wasted through spillage and evaporation. These systems do need pressure, so will need to be fed by either the mains or a large, high water tank.
Before thinking about how to get more water, we can look at how to minimise our need by using different gardening methods. Mulches are non-living ground covers used to reduce weed competition by covering the soil around plants, or covering the ground to clear a space you wish to grow crops on. However, mulching has other potential benefits - by covering soil we are creating a more natural and healthy soil environment which benefits micro-organisms, who in turn improve structure and fertility. Healthy soil with good structure and fertility is by nature more moisture retentive and having the soil covered also prevents water evaporation. You can use anything from black plastic to staw or bracken (pictured).

A method known as bi-cropping uses living ground cover plants around crops, like white clover growing between the kale plants pictured. The clover spreads to cover the bare soil between crops which provides the same benefits as using a mulch, but also fixes nitrogen and attracts beneficial insects.

These are just a few things that we do here at Tawny Oaks, but I am constantly cheered by hearning about other creative systems and methods that people are using. Please share your own ideas!

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