Garden hacks: how to save water (and time!) while growing food

Water, a renewable yet limited resource, is what we need most to sustain life on our planet. However, we haven’t used it with the kind respect and caution that it deserves. There is wide acceptance of the fact that water is becoming increasingly scarce. According to the United Nations, 663 million people across the world (approximately 22 times the population of Canada) still don’t have access to clean drinking water.

The water footprint of the average Canadian is 6,400 liters per day. Our water footprint is the amount of water we consume in our daily lives, including but not limited to the water used to produce the energy we use and the water needed to grow the food we eat. As responsible and aware gardeners we can do our bit to help curb this global crisis. Don’t forget: every drop counts! Here are six watering techniques that help conserve water.

1. Ollas 
Ollas (pronounced as “o-yas”) are a 4000-year-old irrigation technique that originated in Northern Africa. These clay pots buried in garden boxes seep water into the soil, and are still known as one of the most efficient forms of irrigation. With ollas, gardeners are able to eliminate surface evaporation and save up to 70% of water. Furthermore, users save time and effort as watering only needs to happen every 5 to 10 days. Looking to incorporate ollas in your garden? Visit GrowOya to buy your own!

Image from Zulily

2. Hugelkultur 
Pronounced “hoo-gul-culte,” this German word literally translates to “hill culture.” This is an ancient German and Eastern European technique where raised planting beds are constructed on top of decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass. The wood debris acts as a sponge and absorbs all the water, meaning the bed does not have to be watered often. To better understand how you can incorporate this technique into your garden take a look at this Permaculture article.

3. Mulching
As a widely-used technique, mulching both enhances the visual appeal of a garden and reduces the time spent watering and weeding. In this technique, the soil is covered with a material called mulch, which helps the soil retain its moisture and also stops any growth of weeds that competes with the plant for nutrition. Examples of organic mulches include compost, grass clippings, newspapers, and pebbles. To further your understanding of this technique, check out this article from

4. Drip Irrigation
Drip irrigation is a form of irrigation that saves water and fertilizer by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of many different plants, either onto the soil surface or directly onto the root zone through a network of valves, pipes, tubing, and emitters. It is done through narrow tubes that deliver water directly to the base of the plant. To learn how to install a drip irrigation system in your garden have a look at this tutorial.

5. Plant Nanny Watering Spikes
Using the same principle as the olla, these hollow terra cotta spikes are ideal for plants that need a consistent water supply. Simply fill a recycled bottle (wine bottles work perfectly!) with water, set the terra cotta spike in the soil next to the plant, and insert the bottle into the spike. Water seeps steadily through the semi-porous ceramic, slowly wicking into the soil below the surface. At a glance, a low water level in the bottle notifies when it’s time for a refill, saving water as well as time. For information on where to buy these spikes, visit Uncommon Goods.

Photo from Uncommon Goods

6. Self-watering Containers
Self-watering containers represent a relatively new gardening concept. Instead of drainage holes in the bottom, these containers have an overflow hole on one side. The growing medium sits on a perforated platform directly above a water reservoir. Plant roots grow through the medium and into the water. Self-watering containers help conserve water and nutrients and make it possible to ignore your containers for a few days. You can buy one of these containers at LifeSpace Gardens, a local favourite of ours!

A self-watering planter box from LifeSpace Gardens

We hope you found these tips to be useful! We encourage you to incorporate these easy and efficient watering techniques in your garden.


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