Gel With The Soil

To save on water on the plot, I plan to fork in water retaining crystals (the type you use

1 Build the base up from below ground level using concrete blocks. Level using short lengths of timber to raise up the lowest blocks

2 Lay sturdy planks between the blocks and set the base of the shed in position

3 Build/repair the sides and prop each one in position with lengths of timber then screw/nail to the base and each other

4 Check that the door opening is square and level

5 When all of the sides are in position put the roof on and fix with screws

6 Put the gutters into place ensuring a minimum slope of 13mm (y2 in) every metre towards the down-pipe leading to the gutter

7 Fix doors and windows in place

in hanging baskets) into the soil. I must admit, I've never used this trick with veg but have had great success with hostas in a dry border in the back garden. Chemically speaking the crystals (made of sodium polyacrylate) are a 'polymer' - basically meaning a stack of identical units, with micro-spaces in-between. These spaces fill with water causing the crystals to swell dramatically as they accommodate up to 300 times their weight in liquid. The only thing to remember is to soak the crystals in a bucket of water before forking into the soil as if they swell under ground your plants will pop like a slow-motion Jack-in-the-box out of the ground.


The lack of running water affects the look of my site, too. Rain catching sheds, lean-tos and water butts - every gardener has their own method for holding their precious water reserves. My neighbour Rob has a three water butt system, each connected by pipes drilled at their tops so as each one fills it spills over to top up the next. Then once they're full, he decants them into plastic milk containers leaving space in the butts for more.


While water butts abound, 'thirsty' polytunnels and greenhouses are owned by the lucky few who live within water-hauling distance of their plots. I live three miles away, too far to travel with a row of watering cans sloshing about on the back seat of the car. But that doesn't stop some people... Last summer while on holiday near Cognac in France I was inspired by the lengths the local smallholders went to give their flagging vegetables a drink. As well as seeing cars, vans and mopeds loaded with plastic water-filled bottles I befriended an elderly gentleman who had trained his dog to carry his watering can. Apparently 'Sasha' could manage four litres at a time and would happily run dozens of trips down to the plot every night.

Another innovative Frenchman had converted his rotovator into a mini tractor/trailer unit using timber planks and old motorcycle wheels. Every night he loaded it with tanks of water and trundled to quench his vegetables thirst. Sadly, I don't own a rotovator and wouldn't know where to begin teaching a dog the finer points of irrigation.


Another water-wise idea I noticed while abroad - this time in the land-locked and sun-baked city of Spanish Cordoba in Argentina- was in an old Moorish palace. Here, the gardeners laboriously dug out shallow trenches (in much the same way as we do for potatoes) and then planted their flowers and salads a third of the way up the sides. In this position the crowns were below the surrounding soil level and therefore into naturally damp earth. Meanwhile the ridges above protected their leaves from the desiccating wind, while the trenches trapped rain and channelled irrigation.

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