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GARDENING When drought grips your veg patch

Outdoor Living
Garden droughts big and small


Growing your own

Chris Brown

Drought is the continuous absence of rain, which affects the earth and the growth of plants. Us humans, in places as opulent in resources as Mhaigh Eo anyway, can obtain rain (usually referred to as drinking water) through a series of pipes with a tap on the end, but plants don’t normally have this luxury. The vegetable gardener needs to be skilled in the art of water management, and give a helping hand to the crops in dry weather.
This spring and early summer has been the driest I can ever recall, with week upon week producing no rain which has left the top soil like powder. These conditions are unsuitable for seeds or small emerging plants, whose roots don’t yet go deep enough to be able to draw up moisture.
Successful germination relies on water to soften the seed coat (that’s the tough skin that covers and protects the seed) and once this has happened, the seed will swell and burst open allowing the water free passage to enter, and the plant’s life is started. July is not too late to sow seeds. Beetroots, chard, lettuce, parsley, peas and scallions can all go in where the early spuds have come out from.
Having prepared soil in readiness to sow some seeds, by weeding it and raking it down to a fine crumb, the addition of water is the next step to consider, because if you don’t the seeds will do a ‘Boris Yeltsin at Shannon Airport’ – they wont appear!
Good practise is to make a groove in the soil (and in other areas of your life), the depth of which should be relevant to the size of the seed – a shallow one for small seeds like carrots and lettuce and deeper one for beans and peas. Then flood the channel you have made with water using a watering can.
As you wait for this water to soak into the soil it is a good time to think about your defences against foes, such as slugs, birds, cats and dogs, and have them ready to put in place.
The drenching will ensure a good contact between soil and seed. Once they are sprinkled in, the seeds need covering – but take care that they aren’t buried to deeply. I like to use sand from a bucket for this, as it marks where the line of seeds is and you can tell if something has disturbed the sowing if the sand gets moved.

Continue watering
Once the process of germination has started, it is of great importance that the emerging plants don’t dry out – it will kill them. I have noticed that people have a tendency to think that because we live in an area with a reputation for high rainfall there’s little need to water, but this is not the case if you want good results. A drought is a drought, and if the ground is dry and the day held no rain, a walk through the vegetable garden with a watering can or a hose pipe with a fine spray will be needed.
One positive step to take against drought is to catch the rainwater that falls on the roof in a water butt (a barrel-like tank that can collect rainwater from your roof’s drainpipes after rain). In my mind all new houses should have rainwater barrels fitted as standard; it makes so much more sense to see rain as a valuable resource, collected effortlessly when there is a shower, than to run it straight down a system of drains. But do the decision makers consider waters importance at all?
Anybody who saw the river in Castlebar on Monday, July 12, as I did, would despair at finding a mechanical digger in the river, needlessly dragging the river bed, turning the water to a filthy soup and all the fish downstream dying in their hundreds from what I saw. A very upsetting sight and despicable way to treat water and the creatures that rely on it!

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