The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Giving away plants and watering

Photo: Broad Beans 2009

Photo: Broad Beans 2009

“I gave him some purple sprouting broccoli plants and told him to net them. A week later he rang me to say that the pigeons had eaten the lot.”
John Coe peered at me, eyebrows raised over his coffee cup.
“And then he had the nerve to ask for replacements! No chance. I’d cared for those small plants for months.”

If you give away plants you have to let go of them there and then, and not get upset if you see dried out husks still in their pots a couple of months later. This only happens occasionally. It’s generally with new gardeners who are fuelled with ebullient enthusiasm and still trying to match their space and time with their dreams.

When we dug the first two borders in our kitchen garden one autumn, I had bought 26 packs of seeds by Christmas. Finally I succumbed to a bout of flu and lay in bed under a large pile of vegetable gardening books and the seed packets. Within a day I twigged that I just didn’t have enough space to plant the seeds that I had bought. Even if we had the borders that we have now, I couldn’t accommodate 26 packets of seeds. But those seed packets gave me hours of pleasure that winter. Planning and dreaming. And the bursting borders that I imagined were better than any ‘real’ borders that I have ever seen at the cottage since then.

We give away quite a few plants from the kitchen garden each year. It’s fun to see friends’ faces light up when we deliver them. But generally now I double check whether people really want them and also give a few simple pointers to get the best out of the plants. Never assume that a friend knows how to care for the plants.

Last weekend Seraphina adopted runner beans and tomato plants. Tonight she popped in to collect some sturdy strawberry plants that I had discovered on the plant stand at the church fete. She is planning to raise some fruit and veg in large black rubber ‘tree pots’ at the end of her garden.

She’s got the pots, the compost and the plants. But I know that the watering could be her Waterloo. So I’m going to fix some guttering on her shed to feed the water butt in the new vegetable area. Otherwise she has to walk back and forth with watering cans filled from the kitchen tap –a good fifty yards there and back. I’ve also suggested investing in a hose – even if it’s just to fill the water butt during dry spells.

Apparently ,the palaver of watering crops is the main reason why people give up on raising fruit and vegetables. I’d love to fix up a water butt watering system for Seraphina but at the moment she’ll have none of this. A drip feed system conserves water and is a version of the systems used in Indonesia, Africa and India.

Mains sprinklers can waste gallons of water as a lot evaporates before it sinks in to the earth. You can use mains water directly into your drip feed watering system. All you need to buy is a diffuser to knock back the force of water before it enters the drip feed pipes.

We run the water butt drip feed system in our kitchen garden and hopefully I’ll set it up in the greenhouse this weekend – it’s crazy not to if you want to conserve water. Even if you fill your butts with mains water, the drip feed system optimises the effect of every drop. Plants watered by this method  develop strong roots and have a better chance of surviving dry conditions. By autumn, Seraphina could be coming home from work and opening the tap on the water butt for half an hour. Easy, lazy watering for busy people who want to conserve water and give their crops the best possible chance to thrive.

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  1. Katyvic

    I bought the ‘Minipop’ sweetcorn seeds yesterday. Packet content said 50 seeds, but I sowed 5x 12-hole plastic trays, and still had 9 left over to sow in a pot in order to fill in gaps! The sowing season goes right to the end of May/mid June, so I’m still fine. Seed isn’t cheap, but it still only cost 50p per tray.

    I decided the chillis were too late to sow (Feb/Mar ideally) but the Wvevale Garden Centre I went to yesterday was selling off ALL vegetable pre-grown bedding trays and single pots for 50% original price (even including beans, some pretty fancy squash, cucs, tomatoes and peppers), so I snapped up some chilli peppers for 75p each. I reckon that, with a month’s growth still to go, I can pot these on, bush them up, and sell for more, plus they will be a good attraction for the stall.

    Thanks for the suggestions.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Joanna

    That sounds like a bit of a nightmare!

    Can you collect water from the roof of a garage or a shed?

    Years ago I watered a garden with an enormous hose attached to my bath tap om the second floor of a block of flats. It was very cumbersome.

    My mother’s family used a water tank on wheels to water their garden. I suppose hosepipes hadn’t been invented in the 1920’s.

    Hi Sylvie

    Could you attach a large water butt to a down pipe? Or try a hose from your flat?

    Hi Katyvic

    Your ideas sound great. Particularly the sprouting broc and the herbs. Dwarf French beans are sown gradually over the summer so they’d be fine. And lettuce plugs are always popular.

    I love Mandi’s ideas of the baby vegetables and chilli plants too. Everyone can give a home to a chilli plant even if it’s just on a kitchen windowsill.

    Hi Moonroot

    Loved your comment. Thanks for dropping by.

    Hi Mandi

    Wow, that’s a real bargain. Fabulous answer.

    I invested heavily in water butt drip pipe, water butts and guttering. Over the years it has paid off big time – free water, good strong plants and few human hours wasted watering the crops.

    We do have a big garden and our many butts can store up to 4500 litres of free rainwater. I reckon that it probably cost me about £500.00 to set up the system. But it has reaped dividends over the years and probably now, after four years we are cashing in on the saving of water bills. But the reason why I initially set it up was to save time. Working full time with a lot of weekend commitments we can water our vegetables automatically and use the saved time to tend them.

    And now I’ve become a skinflint I’m delighted with the system :o)

    Hi Casalba

    I’m always wary of giving people unrequested plants. If they are keen gardeners they generally know what they want and my choice might not hit the spot.

    However I have been given exquisite surprise plants that I didn’t know existed and they have given me enormous pleasure over the years.

    Roses, on the other hand are very personal. The choice is almost emotional. I’d never buy a rose for anyone else.

    Hi Katyvic and Mandi!

    Great ideas. Thank you

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