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Buried bottles, clay pots and other tricks to keep the soil moist for long - Are they effective?

Discussion in 'General Gardening Discussion' started by Aldo, May 21, 2018.

  1. Aldo

    Aldo Gardener

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    Apologies if this is perhaps a silly question.

    My garden is detached and unfortunately we have no water supply in it. Because we rent, this is not something I can do anything about.
    I work from home, so most days carrying a few buckets of water to the garden is not a problem.
    But at some point I will need to go on holiday, so I am a bit concerned about the fate of my vegetables while away (my plants are all berries and vegetables).

    I am covering the soil in all pots, planters and beds with membrane mulch, to slow evaporation a bit while allowing rainwater in. Also, some of the new plants will go into self-watering pots, and I will shelter the baskets, sitting them on basins full of water.

    But some plants will have to go in soil and raised beds, and the planters will dry up too.

    I see that some people bury clay pots at deep roots level and fill them with water so that it slowly seeps to the soil.
    Also, I was toying with the idea of burying a few large soda bottles per plant, perhaps wrapped in capillary matting, with a few holes pierced with a needle.
    But perhaps it is a silly idea and I have no way to test reliably beforehand how it will work in open soil, beds and large containers.

    Of course, these are not meant as a substitute for proper irrigation, rather as a way to keep mortality down while away for up to two weeks.

    Could anyone give me some advice on the effectiveness of these or other tricks?

    Thanks :)
     
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    • martin-f

      martin-f Plant Hardiness Zone 8b

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      :blue thumb::biggrin:



      Ask a friend/family member to call round and water for you.
       
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      • Aldo

        Aldo Gardener

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        Thanks, your suggestion makes perfect sense, if I had someone I could ask to do that.
        But the only one would be my brother, who lives a good hour and half door to door to my place. If I insisted he would, but I do not feel like being such a pain.
        The few friends who are local enough will be away as well, so I am out of options.
         
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        • martin-f

          martin-f Plant Hardiness Zone 8b

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          • JWK

            JWK Gardener

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            Ollas! I do this at my allotment and at home for the last two years after @Dips mentioned the idea:

            Low Maintenance Vegetables?


            I didn't buy purpose made Ollas, just re-used some old big clay plant pots and silicone sealed in a wine bottle cork to stop the drainage hole. I am unsure how effective it is but nothing has died after leaving plants in mid summer for a couple of weeks. I've used it for pumpkins and my banana plants. It makes my water regime a bit simpler as I just top up the clay pots one by one. I think the bigger the better if you go down this route. If you don't have big clay pots start looking on Freecycle/Freegle - they do come up.

            Prior to that I used ordinary buckets with a bit of capillary material (actually old towels wrapped in plastic) over the bucket lip and into the soil. This is not fool proof and needs setting up a few weeks beforehand to ensure the water is getting into the soil.
             
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            • Aldo

              Aldo Gardener

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              Thanks John, that is just what I wished to know!
              I saw online an ugraded version of that approach
              Porous Clay Capsule Irrigation

              The method in the link above relies on a rainwater barrel, pipes and flow valves to keep the pots full all the time, making them the main irrigation method. I think it is used in Israel and other arid and semi-arid places.
              It is described as very effective, but I realized that if I wanted to mess with pipes and valves, I would probably go for a gutter pipe system, mainly because it seems quite failproof, so worth the work and expense involved.
              Intro to Rain Gutter Grow Systems - Small Scale Life

              But in my case, I think the silicone and cork approach you suggest is more appropriate.
              I think I will remove the bottom of some large pots I got for free and plant tomatoes and courgettes in those, sitting on the soil with the clay pots buried in the soil, and see how it goes.

              From another of your posts, I learned you tried with pastic bottles too?
              How well did that work? I would expect the water to leach into the soil perhaps too quickly to make for a useful fix over several days?

              By the way, I would have never thought one could grow bananas in the UK!
              At least, not without lots of expenses and work to set up a sheltered and heated system. I learn something new every day.

              Thanks so much!
               
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              • Aldo

                Aldo Gardener

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                Thanks for the links, very useful!
                As for the pots, I understand they are used by some, even for professional horticulture, but admittedly there are so many ways of achieving similar results, and what works in some settings might be less suitable in others.
                 
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                • JWK

                  JWK Gardener

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                  Hi Aldo,

                  Those links are interesting, I like the idea of glueing two plant pots together and burying them - but it misses out on catching any rainfall. I leave my pots open - no lid. I've found mine keep going for a couple of weeks when in the shade (shaded by the surrounding plants so evaporation is at a minimum). I am unsure about setting up floats and the like, seems a lot of work and scope for things to go wrong.

                  For my main holiday watering system at home in my greenhouses I use a water butt linked to a Watermate dripper system (unfortunately this company is now defunct). Basically it's a series of small bore tubes and adjustable drippers - but they operate on low pressures (i.e. not mains). I also have a low pressure timer - this is the expensive bit - maybe was £30 a few years ago. It has paid for itself over the years. I just top up the water butt every couple of weeks and it comes on twice a day for 5 minutes. I couldn't use this at my allotment as the timer might get pinched.

                  That idea was not a success, they just don't hold enough and empty within a day or two.

                  Ornamental rather than edible :)
                  WHAT'S LOOKING EXOTIC IN 2018
                   
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                  • pete

                    pete Growing a bit of this and a bit of that....

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                    Personally I very rarely water veg or established plants, so if I was away for two weeks I'd just leave them to get on with it.
                    I do have lots of plants in pots, and they can be a problem, most need watering daily.

                    The answer is, as I also dont have anyone even vaguely interested enough to water things for me while I'm away, don't go. :biggrin:
                     
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                    • JWK

                      JWK Gardener

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                      I don't have any neighbours who I would trust to water mine properly. I asked my daughter to water once, she decided the hanging baskets would be OK as it had rained, they were completely dried out when we returned.

                      We should all go to each other's houses for a holiday so we don't have to worry about our plants. I fancy a holiday in Kent in an exotic garden.
                       
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                      • martin-f

                        martin-f Plant Hardiness Zone 8b

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                        • JWK

                          JWK Gardener

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                          They only hold 15 litres, maybe enough for a weekend away. How long did they last for you Martin?
                           
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                          • martin-f

                            martin-f Plant Hardiness Zone 8b

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                            The soil in the grow bag holds a fair bit of water as well John so once the reservoir is full and the soils wet theirs a few more litres, i had various plants in each one tomato plants was the thirstiest out of what i grew, mid summer when the plants was in fruit three plants one grow bag it lasted between 7/10 days i could have gone a little longer but i am a sucker for watering :wallbanging:.
                             
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                            • Aldo

                              Aldo Gardener

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                              The solution would probably be to glue three pots, with the top on sticking out of the soil, allowing for manually refilling and for catching rainwater too.
                              Just, I would need a boatload of pots for that :D

                              True. I find the idea fascinating, though, and comparing how well that would do compared to planting in soil sounds interesting (I am thinking of courgettes and cucumbers). Just, I was researching self-watering pots and it sounds like I would need to add perlite, vermiculite, epsom salt, lime and another long lists of things to my potting mix. I have got a bag of "premium" mix, retailed for hanging baskets, perhaps that has some perlite and vermiculite in already, and I could test with that.

                              It sounds like a very good setup, thanks for the details.


                              I thought that might be the case. I wonder if keeping the cap on and wrapping the bottle in capillary material would slow down the flow enough.

                              You know, an English friend of mine lives in Italy. Her Italian husband is very much into large scale gardening and she frequently jokes that Italian gardeners do not see any point in growing anything which is not edible.
                              That is not necessarily true, my dad liked decorative plants and never bothered with anything else.
                              But personally, I am probably that stereotype's embodiment.
                              So I was picturing you having breakfast in the garden with fresh bananas and pineapples :)
                               
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                              • Aldo

                                Aldo Gardener

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                                I have seen those on Amazon, when I was considering planting in grow bags, which admittedly is a very attractive solution in many respects.
                                But then, three of my tomatoes are supposedly deep rooted, needing 25 inches or more, so for this year I decided I should give soil and raised beds a try.
                                But it if does not work out as well as I hope, it might well be that next year I will try grow bags.
                                 
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