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A dry spring
What a spring we’re having. Provisional Met Office reports suggest April was the warmest on record. It was also the 11th driest, based on average rainfall across the UK. Scotland’s rainfall has been 110% above normal levels, while the South-East has barely seen any rain at all.
In drier parts of the UK, plants are bursting into flower earlier, bees and butterflies are out earlier, and the ground, which should be warm and wet from April showers, is parched. All this and some areas are still getting frosts.
My garden in East London hasn’t seen rain since before Christmas. We’ve had snow, of course, and the promise of rain – dark clouds, even a thunder storm, but no water (we did have a two minute shower last Friday but it by the time I recognised the ‘strange sound outside’, it had gone, so doesn’t count). There was rain down the road, in Chelsea (I saw it on the news, on the football), but nothing here. If it weren’t for the huge amounts of grey water I was putting on the garden, I wouldn’t have one by now.
Grey water is recycled water from the bath, shower or washing up bowl. While no longer fit for drinking, it’s generally fine for using in the garden, as long as it’s not too contaminated. I avoid using water from washing up, as it can contain traces of grease, and only use eco-friendly, biodegradable products, which I hope are safe to use around my frogs. Special kits can be bought to divert water from the bath/shower or washing machine to a storage tank outside, but I find dunking the watering can in the bath works just as well.
Not all grey water is ideal for gardens. Soapy water from washing machines and dishwashers can contain nitrogen and phosphorous. This may sound great to some gardeners – free fertiliser! – but they can end up in local streams and rivers, promoting algae and upsetting fish, and too much can kill plants. Some detergents also contain sodium, which can inhibit plant growth. Almost all detergents contain surfactants, which help to break the water’s surface tension and enable the detergent to clean dishes/clothes. Surfactants, which are also present in some weedkillers, are very bad for amphibians.
As for the wildlife, the insects are doing very well, but for how long if it stays dry? Nectar levels in plants will be reduced, while caterpillar food plants could die through lack of water, taking the caterpillars (and therefore butterflies) with them. The dry, hard ground will make life hard for robins and blackbirds looking for worms to feed themselves and their young, while swallows and house martins will struggle to find mud to build their nests.
If it is still bone dry where you live, consider buying meal worms for nesting birds (rehydrate dried ones in water), and leave a dish of mud for house martins and swallows to build their homes or make them an artificial nest. Keep watering with grey water, and please, pray for rain.
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