Summer is upon us and the weather is quite strange here in New South Wales where I am based. The first day of summer had a high in the low teens and was cold. By the ninth day of summer the temperature was in the very high 30’s and we were all sweltering. Fires are raging across our country and many areas are drought declared with many more being on the cusp of drought. Water restrictions are in force in many locations and if you do not have water restrictions in place you should still be very careful with your use of water.
In many Social Media gardening groups, discussion centres around how to keep your plants alive with strict water restrictions and how difficult this can be. When hoses are not allowed, we need to go back to the way our ancestors watered their precious food crops -saving every drop of water that is not used in the house and bucketing it onto the plants. Saving shower warm up water, having a container to pour left over water from drinks and cooking water from vegetables are some of the ways to be waterwise. Place a bucket under the condensation outlet of split system air conditioners to catch the water, it is surprising how much water can be saved this way. Grey water systems attached to washing machines make use of the rinse water. Always keep a bucket under every outdoor tap that you are using so if there are drips you catch them. It doesn’t matter how you do it, bucketing water onto gardens makes us more mindful of our water use as it is much harder work than simply turning on a tap and moving a hose around. We do not have a sewer system available where we live, therefore we have a recycling waste system that treats all wastewater (using bacteria) and the water is then released onto the garden. The water is not potable and there are regulations about using it on food plants, ours goes on to a large rose garden, and it can be used on lawns and other decorative gardens. We are still very careful about water use, but I feel better knowing that any water we use in the house goes back onto the garden.
It is also important in the heat of summer to remember not only do our pets require access to fresh drinking water, but the wildlife around us also need water too. Birdbaths can be very decorative but also serve a purpose in a garden. Birds will flock to them for a drink and a bath. It is important to keep them clean so keep a scrubbing brush for the purpose and give it a scrub weekly and rinse out debris. Water needs to be changed daily if possible. Birdbaths are also best placed in an area that provides some shade to decrease evaporation. Minimise access to cats and other predators by ensuring there is no cover for them to hide in and hunt from. Alternatively provide shelter for birds in the form of a thorny bush nearby.
Insects need access to drinking water as well. Providing a shallow dish with some rocks for insects to perch on safely is ideal. Insects are attracted to colours in the yellow and blue spectrum so a narrow dish in these colours is great, but really any shallow dish will do. If you don’t want to, or can’t keep a variety of water sources clean and fresh, place a rock in your birdbath and it will become a multi-purpose waterer.
Creating a variety of insect and bird water sources can be a fun school holiday activity. Tip shops and Op shops often have shallow ceramic or glass dishes that can be purchased for very little. Kids can gather the required rocks, and these can be painted with non-toxic paint to add colour. A small watering can that a child can manage can be used to add water each day. Just remember that insect water vessels also need to be kept clean and topped up regularly.
There is always other wildlife around that is not visible during the day. I live in on a rural property so some of the species we may have would include possums, kangaroos, flying foxes and hopefully squirrel gliders and others. Even in urban areas there is wildlife about that you may not be aware of. A ceramic dog water bowl left under bushes and trees will provide a drink to many animals. Remember to clean it and refill it regularly. One bucket of water will fill a number of water vessels in a garden on a daily basis.
As the year draws to a close and summer heats up please be mindful of your water use but also remember to provide drinks for the birds and insects that surround us.