It is miserable to see your plot sitting waterlogged after periods of heavy rain. This is something we are faced with now after a prolonged period of wet weather, but there are ways to successfully manage a plot with such drainage issues.
The weather so far this year has been cold and wintry, with the UK Met Office saying January 2021 was the coldest January on record for a decade. In Worcestershire we experienced a hell of a lot of rain and wintry conditions over many weeks, making it a rather unpleasant month for outdoor activity.
As a result of the weather, I have been unable to really do any work on the allotment for what feels like an age. After long stretches of rain I knew the ground was going to be sodden, but wasn’t really prepared for the true reality of the conditions I would see when I finally set eyes on the plot.
Instead of beds, the allotment looked more like a series of ponds. Every bed was sitting under a few centimeters of water and there were large puddles where there used to be paths. It was demoralizing to see and, having visited a couple of times, the situation kept getting worse rather than better.
There are garlic and onions that were planted in Autumn that had been growing well, and also spring-flowering bulbs that were planned for cut flowers. However, all of these are now poking their heads through a layer of water and ultimately, I really fear they are likely to rot as a result.
When waterlogging occurs, it means that the ground is saturated and all the air pockets within the soil are now filled with water. Roots are unable to get oxygen and plants are unable to respire, they essentially drown. If waterlogging is only short-term, like after a quick flash flood, plants are likely to survive. The problem for us here is how long these plants have been underwater.
This is the first real winter we have had the allotment. We took it over in January 2020 when it was just a weedy section of a field (read about the start of our allotment life here) and the winter last year was relatively mild compared to what we have experienced this time around.
Apparently, the site as a whole was originally flood plain so it shouldn’t be surprising that such conditions can occur. Certainly, if you look at the allotment site as a whole it is the plots in the end near to us that are suffering from waterlogging, so the topography clearly isn’t on our side. The soil is also very clay and obviously going to be prone to poor drainage.
All-in-all there is a triple-threat of factors that are contributing to the waterlogging we are experiencing now. So, what can we do to mitigate such problems in the future?
One way to improve the drainage of clay soil is to work in a lot of organic matter in order to improve the structure. By mixing in compost, well-rotted manure or other organic matter that will result in soil that drains better, has larger air holes, is easier to work, and is looser so roots find their way easier.
Another tactic will be to mound up the beds we have in place and create a ditch around the perimeter of them. This will allow excess water to drain away from sitting and puddling in the middle of the beds and be dispersed to the moat. Looking around there is at least one other plot-holder who uses this tactic and we would be silly not to consider a system used by someone who has had an allotment here for many years (and probably seen all weather and its results).
Those two options of adding organic matter and mounding the beds are the first tactics we will try. However, there are of course other options that allotmenteers could consider.
One is digging drains to help catch and disperse water. By digging ditches at the highest and lowest points of the plot you can both stop excess water from running down the plot, and also distribute any water standing at the lowest section.
Another popular one would be making raised beds to grow in. This has many advantages, including raising the crops off the ground and being able to fill the bed with a lovely mix of soil that plants will thrive in.
With climate change resulting in more changeable weather than ever, it seems that gardeners are going to have to get more and more used to extremes. Whether is it extreme heat, cold, or wet, we will all have to adapt our growing methods and styles as a result.
But where there is a will, there is a way. The waterlogging we have experienced on the allotment isn’t ideal, but it is not the end of the world. It just means a re-think, a bit of graft, and a slight change in planning going forward. Every plot has its intricacies and obstacles and learning to adjust and cope is just part of the life of a gardener or allotmenteer.
Have you had to deal with waterlogging? What strategies did you use and did it work? I would love to hear any suggestions or advice for how to deal with a waterlogged allotment.