Over the years I’ve trailed and tested a whole raft of garden gadgets and equipment; there are literally hundreds of tools and accessories for every garden task.
Take watering for example. The first tool for garden watering is a good watering can. I’m a big fan of watering cans because they make you think about how much water you are using on your garden. When you have to carry every can you soon water more carefully. Many plants, including the lawn, don’t need watering unless they are newly planted freshly sown or in pots. The rain will water them and the soil will hold the moisture, up to a point.
In the greenhouse it’s a different story, as the plants are not exposed to the rain, so additional watering is required.
If you grow your greenhouse crops in soil borders then the roots can and do reach down to the moisture held below. Even so this will still dry out and the plants will need nurturing and watering.
Many of the containers are self-watering, and the rest are arranged on large trays that can hold water, so that any excess drains through and can be used by the plants as the compost that they are growing in start to dry out.
Sometimes August is hot, but invariably it’s THE month when us Brits decide to head off on holiday and leave our greenhouses to the tender care of a neighbour or some new watering gadgets to do the job in our absence.
I’ve tried countless times to install automatic watering systems in my greenhouse. Don’t get me wrong they do work, but I’ve also had various problems with them. First of all the operator needs to be fully competent and I am the first to admit to once leaving it all to the last minute, setting up the system and the timer and then forgetting to switch the tap on before I left on my hols. Definitely not the best approach. What was interesting was that very little died that summer, partly because it wasn’t that hot and partly because the precious plants were already in self-watering planters. That wasn’t the only test-run of micro-irrigation, but though it does work, I do find all the pipes and tubes rather fiddly, slightly treacherous and a little unsightly.
It’s a little bit of a misnomer calling these devices self-watering, as self-watering containers don’t really water themselves. Generally they have a water reservoir that feeds the plants with water over several days and up to a fortnight. They can be anything from a self-watering tray with a raised platform covered in capillary matting that you fill with water, to one of the much more advanced, high tech planters available from a range of companies. Here are a few outlined in my recent feature in the Telegraph.
Self-watering containers don’t need to be ugly. Lechuza has a great range of planters in some really funky colours and attractive designs. The Cascadino is great for growing strawberries and the window box shaped Balconera are ideal for a range of plants.
The great thing about these devices is that it’s hard to overwater them; most have an overflow valve to vent excess water. The main drawback is when the plants aren’t yet established and the compost stays quite wet, then it can become susceptible to fungus flies. So if you’ve time to water your plants normally and allow them to dry out a little between watering then that’s a good way to stop fungus flies from taking hold. I tend to check on my plants every other day or so and water when required, but if I’m going to be away for a few days, I top all the reservoirs up with water and leave them to it. My greenhouse is then sealed (locked) and left to its own devices and I’ve lost very few plants in the process.
To be honest most plants, especially the exotics that we like to grow in the warm greenhouse environs, like a bit of heat and dry compost from time to time. It’s only the heavy feeders and drinkers like tomatoes that really need regular watering when they are at their peak, and even they may only split a few fruit if you neglect them for a few days. And hey what are a few split tomatoes between gardeners; after all you can always add them to the cooking?
I’ve built up a collection of watering gadgets and self watering pots and planters over the years and now I need to worry less and less about long winded watering sessions in the greenhouse. To be honest the very best watering gadget you can have in or very near to your greenhouse is a tap connected to the mains. I don’t water all my plants with tap water, but for seedlings and plants with a delicate disposition they get tap water until established and then rain water there after. Connected to my greenhouse tap is a small neat Hozelock Seasons Pico Reel. It’s purple but also available in pink and lime and is very compact. Surprisingly it houses ten metres of narrow hose, so I can reach all my planters, pots and self-watering reservoirs easily and if necessary water the containers outside the greenhouse too.