Water conservation is a big issue at the moment, with talk of global warming, droughts lasting longer in places like Australia and the northern European climate becoming drier.
It is also big business. Go to any garden or home show and you will see companies selling irrigation systems, water collection systems, timed watering system, mist units and seep hoses.
But beware, many of these systems use a lot of energy in their pumps and timing mechanisms, they need regular checking and maintenance and some, like seep hoses, are easily damaged.
They do have their place but, for the ordinary house holder there are other ways to conserve water. Water collection units are fine but you need to filter the water and often it cannot be used for drinking.
There are many ways you can save water yourself without the need to invest in expensive collection, filtration and pumping systems.
In the home, placing a brick in the cistern of the toilet will save half a gallon of water per flush. Showers use far less water than baths and , while a bath is enjoyable and luxurious, a shower will actually get you cleaner.
Switching to a quick wash program on the washer will still get most clothes clean and you can cut the rinse cycle by half if you use a wash ball instead of washing powder. These clean clothes by electrostatic means in the water, lifting dirt and making clothes clean without the need for chemicals. Cheaper and effective, they are good for washes where you do not have heavy staining. Chemicals still have their place for persistent stains but a quick wash will usually get rid of most every day dirt.
Using a bowl to wash vegetables instead of doing them under the tap saves gallons of water and using a bucket and sponge to clean windows and cars will also cut down on the water you use dramatically.
The garden is a place where water can be used carefully. Plants will not thrive if you use water heavily polluted with chemicals but once established, you can use 'gray' water which is water left after washing up, washing vegetables and from the bath or shower. You can channel this water into butts or into a soak away in the lawn to keep the plants irrigated. For newly planted seedlings, gray water is not suitable and it is wise to avoid it on fleshy fruit like tomatoes but most established plants will grow well using this water as they naturally do not take in substances other than minerals and nutrients they need.
Water butts to catch water draining from roofs, sheds and other buildings in the garden will mean you have a ready supply of water in the garden. Use ones with a tap towards the bottom so you can easily collect the water in a can for watering. Or, attach a hose to the tap and water that way. Rain water is better for plants in any case so you will benefit not only from water conservation but your plants will benefit too.
Use a mulch in the garden- from home made compost, leaf mold or a proprietary mulch. Organic mulches will last a year or so and will improve the soil structure by attracting beneficial organisms to take the materials down into the soil for slow release fertilization too. Inorganic mulches like gravel, stones or vermiculite will not provide any nutrients but last longer and still conserve water as well as perhaps having a decorative finish.
All mulches benefit plants because they keep roots cool in summer and warmer in winter and reduce the growth of weeds.
Ground cover plants will conserve water and you can plant these as companion plantings for those plants whose roots tend to dry out like clematis and vines.
A hose gives the garden water but you will be watering parts which do not need it, lots of water will evaporate and it is far better to give plants water directly to the area of soil they are in and close to the roots so using a can will conserve a lot of water. You can also place water conserving gel granules in pots, these swell with water and release it over time,thus saving the need to water quite so often.
Ponds make lovely additions to the garden and increase the scope for plants and attract animals but be careful when using fountains. Switch them off at night and use them only when the water needs aeration. Fountains cause evaporation of a lot of water as they increase the surface area for heat and sun to work on so use them wisely. Solar fountains work only when the sun is strong enough to power them so keeping water aerated during the hotter times, when it is necessary but they will stop when it is cloudy so they are good for water conservation.
Choose plants which prefer dry conditions. There are many beautiful and architectural plants which make good use of any water available, have adaptations to conserve water and can form part of a wonderful planting scheme. Plants like grasses, perennials like verbascum, eryngium and others are all good at using very little water, meaning you do not have to worry about them if you go away for a short time and also save water.
Water is a precious commodity and for too long we have taken it for granted but there are places in the world where they have always used water carefully due to the dry climate so we should take a leaf out of their books. Water recycling is carried out by using irrigation ditches to collect any water which falls and this is directed at plants. We can do the same in our gardens and homes and begin to think about water as a precious commodity, essential for life and by conserving it, we benefit not only our homes and gardens abut also our pockets.