Getting Started

How to collect water on an allotment

A blue open-topped barrel positioned within a garden to collect ambient rainfall

Looking for ways to maximise the fulfilment of your plants’ needs while also cutting down on your water usage? There are two ways you can go about this. Firstly, you can increase the amount of water you’re collecting so as to reduce the amount of ‘new’ water you need to get from the tap, and secondly, you can alter the conditions of your garden or allotment plot to get the most out of the water you have. Keep reading to learn more about this topic.

How to collect water for gardening

Before we look at the different methods you can use to save water, it’s important to consider the reasons why you might want to do so. From an environmentally conscious viewpoint, collecting rainwater and other commonly wasted water sources helps to make the water in our reservoirs go further and avoid shortages. Collecting rainwater can also facilitate complying with hosepipe bans in drought periods. 

On top of that, many allotments across the UK don’t have a mains water supply, so you are restricted to what you can collect onsite, or what you can transport to the allotment. The following tips can help with both aspects, as well as being applicable to anyone wanting to collect water in their own garden rather than at an allotment site.

Water butts

Water butts are most commonly used where they can be attached to guttering or drainpipes, meaning some sort of shed or building is required. However, if you don’t have access to handy guttering, does that mean you can’t use a water butt?

No! You just have to think outside the box a little bit. Think of your water butt as a storage facility and nothing else. You don’t need to direct rainwater into it automatically if that’s tricky on your plot. Instead, you could collect water in buckets and other receptacles, and simply transfer that water into the butt when you visit your allotment. The more often you can do this the better, as water can be very heavy in large quantities. 

Outdoor drip trays

Another option to consider is using outdoor drip trays underneath your pots and seed starter trays. Most outdoor-friendly pots have drainage holes at the bottom to avoid waterlogged soil around your plants’ roots - but that water is often then lost as it soaks into the ground. 

By placing drip trays underneath your pots, you can collect that water and use it again. In the summer months, drip trays can even help to automatically water your plants as the water wicks upward through the soil. In colder, rainier spells, however, it’s best to stand your pots on feet or similar structures to keep the base of the pot out of the water, otherwise you could find your plants staying too moist. It’s also a good idea to regularly empty the drip trays to help avoid this problem.

Grey water

Have you ever wondered how much water is lost through washing dishes or having a bath? The good news is that this water can be used in your garden. Known as ‘grey’ water, this applies to water containing household soaps, shampoos and conditioners, which aren’t harmful to plants. Steer clear of water that has been through the dishwasher or washing machine, and don’t use anything that’s had bleach or vinegar in it. 

This grey water can’t be stored as it will go bad, but it can supplement your daily water supply to help out. It’s recommended to avoid spreading grey water on plants that you wish to eat raw, such as salad leaves. This is because soaps can leave a strange taste behind if the plants aren’t cooked before you eat them. 

For the best results, alternate your usage of rainwater and grey water to maximise hydration and growth.

Weeding and mulching 

Finally, there are ways you can change your allotment in order to need less water overall. Of course, some varieties and types of plants require less watering than others, so that could be a consideration for when you plan your next round of crops, but there are other ways that don’t require you to alter what you grow. The most effective are weeding and mulching.

For instance, take the time to make sure that you are only watering plants you wish to be in your allotment. Removing weeds can be a painstaking process if they’ve gotten out of control, but it means that your desired crops will have less competition for nutrients and moisture within the soil. Therefore, they should have a better chance of getting all the water they need. 

Mulching is also a very beneficial process if you find you’re having to water more often than you’d like. This garden task helps to trap water within the soil rather than letting it evaporate into the air, which means more water in the soil and therefore more water for your plants. Plants that have large leaves, such as rhubarb or swiss chard, can have a similar, if lesser, effect, but mulching can be more time efficient. 

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Getting StartedAn allotment plot consisting of rectangular raised beds and gravel paths.