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  • Zahrah Nasir

Water Your Garden Wisely


Zahrah Nasir

Of the numerous problems a gardener, in the city or otherwise, has to deal with is that of sourcing a regular supply of increasingly precious water needed to keep their plants alive and thriving during hot, dry weather and this, naturally coming second to everyday household requirements can be a major headache indeed.

Possibly, you count yourself amongst the very few who obtain plenty of water through pipelines; being not so lucky you may be at the mercy of tankers guys who charge what they like for water of questionable quality. You may even have your own tube well though the odds are that the water table in your locality is further down every year and the water pumped up either saline or brackish.

Whatever your water source though, each single drop you use, whether in the house or in the garden, should be monitored with care otherwise we will all end up regretting past wastage of this essential liquid. It is all too easy to get carried away when watering the garden and, admittedly, I have done this myself in the past as there is something beautifully hypnotic about watching water spray out from a full pressure hose pipe to wash dust off leaves and raise the scent of wet earth to your waiting nostrils, but, not any more. These days, in my large garden, the invigorating perfume of wet earth comes only after it has rained!

More to the point: an average garden hosepipe uses approximately 1,200 liters of water an hour and, depending on the size of your garden, this could be the time it takes to get the job done. The ‘malis’ tend to perform this easy chore for far longer than you would yourself so just imagine how much water and money they are actually wasting in the process!

For hosepipe lovers though there are a number of water saving devices of which the best, in my opinion, is a nozzle attachment which can be set to spray, mist, drip, gush or even switch off right there and then instead of racing all the way back to the garden tap to which the other end of the hose is attached with water flooding out in the process. This handy thing also means that, if you are conscientious enough, you can switch off in-between moving from one patch of garden to the next or even from plant pot to plant pot if you like. This device saves both time and liters and liters of water, which would be otherwise wasted.

Garden hosepipes are generally available from half an inch up to three quarters of an inch in diameter. The half inch one, adequate in most cases, uses approximately 20 liters of water per minute if left unchecked and one of three quarters of an inch approximately 35 – 40 liters per minute with both being far more if water pressure is extremely high: up to 100 liters per minute therefore 6,000 liters per hour for the large diameter pipe. Bearing in mind that the majority of plant problems stem from over watering this is really something to think about and then take the appropriate action. Soil does not need watering unless you stick your index finger in up to the second joint and find it still dry unless, that is, plants are still very small in which case only to the first finger joint only.

Sprinkler systems, extremely inefficient at the best of times, waste an astronomical amount of water, a regular garden one uses in the region of 800 litres per hour, which all goes within its immediate radius with the outer and inner areas not getting enough and the central belt being drastically soaked. Although uses less water than a hosepipe, sprinklers, unless you install more than one, need to be moved around from spot to spot which absorbs lots of time and, speaking frankly, they should be totally banned.

Then there are the much touted drip irrigation systems, relatively expensive to install and maintenance is a nightmare as, number one the drip holes often clog up with soil and/or impurities such as calcium in the water and, number two, you do not know if there is a blocked drip or not until selected plants suddenly start wilting. Even though drip irrigation does make maximum use of far less water than other methods, it tends to cause more problems than it solves.

Watering cans, carrying two at a time for ease of balance, are considered an old-fashioned way of watering the garden and, although labor intensive, can be the best environmentally speaking. The reason for this is that they can be filled with something called ‘grey water’ which is recycled household waste water and, before your turn up your collective noses at the very thought, but if you are sensible about it and garden in an area where water shortages are endemic, particularly at hot times when the plants need watering most, then you should grit your teeth and get on with it.

Grey water is water from household washing up, clothes washing, hand washing, showering/bathing etc. and Not ‘black water’ which is sewage water even though this too, when correctly treated, is viable for garden use.

Grey water for garden use should contain the very minimum of grease, food particles, detergent etc., and you can remove most of these by simply straining the water through a very fine meshed sieve or muslin cloth both of which should be regularly cleaned. Grey water, used in the garden and in plant pots, recycles the nutrients it contains, feeds the plants in the process and encourages biological soil activity, which purifies it further.

Before using grey water for your plants though, you must thoroughly check the labels on soap powders and detergents as some contain ingredients harmful to the soil and your plants if used on regular basis.

For your own sake do not leave grey water standing around in buckets waiting to be used as it will become a health hazard by attracting flies and mosquitoes which will breed in it plus, it will begin to smell. It is best used as fast as possible and any faint unpleasant aroma in the garden will quickly disperse and no, it will not lead to an increase of flies/mosquitoes in the soil as it is absorbed fast. Commercial methods of treating grey water are utilized in some countries but are not really applicable on a home-based scale. Grey water can safely be used on all plants except root vegetables as these tend to store up any impurities in their edible parts.

Being water conscious always, in the garden and otherwise, helps preserve this precious resource for future generations, and assists the health of our fragile planet all round.

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