Wall-O-Waters and Weather

– Posted in: Garden chores, Vegetables, Weather

As I’ve said before, this is my first year trying wall-o-waters. But, before I get to my experience, I noticed that some guy name John Delaney had a few words on Wall O Waters. Too expensive? Yes, most certainly. Almost everyone I’ve asked about wall-o-waters has said “I’ve never tried them, they’re too expensive. Overrated and unhelpful? Too early for me to say yet. But the line that really got to me was “They might semi protect plants put in the ground too early but compost volunteers will be bigger by early June.” Ahem. How shall I put this? Without wall-o-waters, it is impossible around here for any tomato, volunteer or otherwise, to be outdoors in early June without protection. They will be killed in short order by cold weather. Isn’t the whole point of wall-o-waters to put your plants out “too early”? I suppose if you count keeping tomato seedlings alive in 20 degree weather as only “semi-protecting”, then you are right about that one. (Furthermore, if I had a compost pile that could be used for growing things in, instead of being constantly raided in hopes of amending my horrible clay soil, I would be very much happier indeed.)

That said, I’ve a few disapproving things to say about Wall-O-Water’s myself.

Mostly I think we have a problem with false advertisement, or at least the part that says “Easy to Use.” Maybe “Easy to Use under Ideal Conditions.” Some people said “They really work!”, but I think maybe that should be changed to “They’re really work!” Let’s read the directions:

“On clear, level ground place your Wallo’ Water around a five gallon bucket.”

Hahahahahah!! Ah. . .anyone else have level ground? I’ve yet to see square inch around here that didn’t have a downhill. And water goes downhill. I only skimmed the directions the first time around (how hard could it be, anyway?). The nagging, brilliant voice in my head attempted to tell me that it wasn’t going to sit nicely like a tepee when I pulled the five gallon bucket out, but I ignored the advice. Needless to say, my whole Wallo’ Water nearly went downhill as soon as I removed the bucket. So for every one of my nine wall o waters, I had to first level the ground.

“Fill each tube two-thirds full of water, allowing the protector to come together at the top forming a ‘tepee’.” And they have a picture showing you using a hose to fill the tubes all up to the exact right level. (You’d think that, for the price, they could at least have a line marking where two-thirds is. When I take mine down this year, I’m going to mark them all at the same place, so I can get “even” tepees, instead of lop-sided ones.)

The hysterical part of this sentence is the “fill each tube with water” part. I suppose if you actually set them up within hose distance, maybe this part would be easier. I’m setting my wall o’ waters up about 200 feet away from my hose. 200 feet uphill. (It’s one of the more sort of a little bit flatter places on our land.) The only way you get water to the garden is by hauling it, either in the two gallon watering can or in five gallon buckets. That’s why it’s sooo much more preferable to mulch rather than water. Now, I am five feet tall, and only five feet tall. The distance from my clenched hand to the bumpy and uneven ground is very, very close to height of 5 gallon bucket. I have about 2 inches clearance from the ground. Did I mention the ground is bumpy and uneven? If I’m hauling any serious amount of water, I generally wind up wet from the mid-thighs down. It helps if I carry a five gallon bucket of water in one hand and the two gallon watering can in the other–it helps keep me balanced out, so I can lean away from the five gallon bucket and get a bit more clearance. Carrying two five gallon buckets is usually a disaster–it’s twice as easy to get wet, and I basically have to keep my shoulders in a “shrugging” postition just to keep the buckets off the ground. I’ll do it in a pinch, if I’m really short on time and patience, but I usually do one bucket a time.

Perhaps you’re wondering how I get the water from five gallon bucket to inside these inconvenient tubes. Obviously I need a funnel of some sort. That part is easy–I cut the top off of a milk carton. Then you get down on your knees, and hold the funnel in place with one hand. Next, you lift the two gallon watering can with your other hand, and proceed with filling the tubes. When your watering can is empty, you have to stop and pour water from the five gallon buckets into the watering can. Repeat as needed.

Let’s just say that my pouring shoulder was sore for a couple of days, and it took me about two and a half hours to set up my nine wall o’ waters. It wasn’t a picnic.

Here’s another easier-said-than-done line in the instructions:

“Plant transplants 6 to 8 weeks before the last normal frost date in your area.” And they have a picture of someone wearing gardening gloves holding a seedling in their hands and a trowel on the ground.

Well, yes. Very simple. How do you dig the hole to put your transplant in? You’re not supposed to move the wall o’ water. Are you supposed to have such a tiny transplant you only need a hole the size of a teacup? My transplants were big transplants. Healthy transplants. Transplants that need a HOLE! The tomato seedlings were growing in gallon milk jugs, for crying out loud, not teacups. That part wasn’t a picnic either. (I’ve only put out three seedlings, all about 4 days ago.) Also, did I mention that I have a problem with clay soil? And that I try to amend it with compost? And isn’t the reason why you set the wall o’ waters up a week in advance is so that it can warm the soil? So which is worse. . .not amending your clay soil, or amending your tomato soil with compost that has ice crystals in it? I amended the soil.

Then there is the fickle weather. I think it was only a couple of weeks ago that it was down to -20F. At any rate, I know I had already set up the wall o’ waters, but not planted anything out, and it got cold enough to freeze them all solid. Eeek. The night after I stuck them in the ground, it got down to 25 degrees. The packaging said they were good down to 16 degrees, but I was doubtful. But the plants were still alive. So the next night it got even COLDER. When I woke up, it was 20 degrees! They’re still alive, but for all I know it might get too cold for them yet. Do you remember how I was saying a week could make all the difference? Today it got up to 72 degrees. And it hailed. March, April and May are roller-coaster months. You never know what’s going to happen, but it usually winds up being nasty. Warm weather coaxes blooms out, and then as soon as everything is at it’s peak–wham, cold weather!! One of the most obnoxious, drastic, extreme examples of this that I’ve seen was about two years ago. We had 90 degree weather in April, and then a hard freeze in late May—or was it even in the first week of June?

Anyway, I never had any ideas of gardening being easy or predictable, and I’m not afraid of a bit of hard work. I just don’t think Wall o’ Waters make life any easier–they might let you get tomatoes out sooner, but they don’t make life any easier.

About the Author

Talitha spent the last few years doing an absurd combination of work and school, and found it wasn’t very pleasant. Now she’s doing work, school and a garden, and life is a little better! She also enjoys photography and hand feeding her ducks. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 AHS Heat Zone: 3 Location: rural; Southern Tier of NY Geographic type: foothills of Appalachian Mountains Soil Type: acid clay Experience level: advanced beginner Particular interests: herbs, vegetables, cutting garden, cottage gardening

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Jim OK May 2, 2004, 7:17 pm

Yes, I planted into the regular soil temperature. I don’t believe WoWs can raise the soil temperature. They work too gradually and moist soil is a good thermal conductor. If the tops are closed they can heat up the air inside. But a note of caution: I’ve killed plants with that heat. I guess I used them extensively but without doing side-by-side experiments. I assumed they worked w/o giving it too much thought. After a while things happen – I don’t get around to setting them all up or I didn’t have enough for all my tomato plants – and I’ve accumulated some side-by-side anecdotal experience to base a hunch on. I would say WoWs for frost protection, row covers for earlier fruit. If you needed both I don’t see any reason you couldn’t use both. I’m moving away from WoWs because I realize that by the time I get tomatos in the ground I don’t really need frost protection.

Talitha (a.k.a Titi) April 28, 2004, 4:27 pm

I do have my WoW around a five-gallon bucket when I’m filling them up–but according to the directions on the package you’re supposed to set them up at least a week before you plant anything in order to warm the soil. Do you just plant yours out into cold soil?

Also, this whole row cover v. WoW thing has me confused. If it was Row Cover v. Wow, wouldn’t you either use one or the other? I suppose you could use both–but if you don’t think that WoW are as good as row covers, why have you used them so extensively? Or were you saying that you don’t use WoWs any more?

Even if what you say is true–that WoWs won’t get me any earlier tomatoes, I would probably still use them. If I can spread out my planting instead of needing to put half a million seedlings in the ground in the same week, that’s a plus. I’d rather plant some needlessly early, if my only other choice is planting needlessly late.

Amending the soil when I level the ground is a good idea. I felt kind of stupid I hadn’t thought if that myself, but it’s my first year with WoWs, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

Another thing I didn’t quite get. Alice, do your WoWs close themselves when you fill them all the way up? The package said to fill them 2/3s of the way so that they would “teepee”. I still had to coax some of mine to do that, even filling them 2/3s. If I could fill all mine up the first time, I’d rather do that (instead of having to go through the hassle of adding water twice). But I don’t understand how they would close if they were filled all the way up.

Jim OK April 27, 2004, 5:18 pm

Titi- Plant first, put the 5gal bucket over the plant, then fill the wallo’ waters (WoWs), finally remove the bucket. I have used them extensively over a number of years. I don’t think you will get earlier tomatoes. I agree with Ro, even if she is my sister, that row covers will get you earlier tomatoes. WoWs will protect from frost, but the tomatoes won’t really make any progress in that weather anyway, so leave them under the lights in the warm house. Once they’re in the ground get them as hot as you can in june and that’s where row covers shine. WoWs always moderate the temperature, and once it’s warm that’s not what you want.

Alice Nelson April 21, 2004, 6:06 pm

Further comment: row cover will not work as well since you don’t have the additional effect of water freezing and giving off calories of heat. I agree that some plants make up for lost time if planted later. Brocolli, etc. will bolt if hit by cold weather early on, though later in the year it can go through hard frosts fine. Up here in the UP we don’t plant annuals before June 1st. By the way, we still have snow pile sitting around.

Alice Nelson April 21, 2004, 6:00 pm

I’ve used walls-o-water with good results, but then I have flat ground and sandy loam. I fill mine all the way up, but I can reach with a hose.
One of the reasons they work is that as the water freezes in the tubes, calories of heat are released, which warms the center. I prop the tops open with lengths of lathe when planting, and then remove the lathe until the plants grow bigger. I prop the plants as they grow with stakes leaving the walls up the entire season, since nights are sometimes cold in summer and days can be very warm (the walls also keep thngs at a decent temp in hot weather.) When I water the plants, the walls help keep the moisture at the root of the plant, and they can be fed the same way. So the benefit is not just starting the plants early, though that is true too. Can you add your compost and improve your soil, and level your planting area at the same time? Berms on the downside of each place would help, too. Goo d luck!

Talitha April 20, 2004, 7:07 am

Oh, I’m certainly not putting all of my tomatoes in the ground at once! The three I put out last week were the earliest ones, but I have about eight more under the light stand, and if I was up on things I’d have a few more started as well. I figured I’d plant them in shifts to see which ones grew the best, because, like you were saying, I know that there’s a difference between growing and thriving. I guessing that the tomaotes that will do the best are the ones planted out mid-May; I think that even with wall-o-waters it gets too chilly for tomatoes to like it in April. But I’ll still be impressed if tomatoes I planted in early April stay alive!

ro April 18, 2004, 8:59 pm

From what I have read on the subject, at least with peppers and eggplants, is that they just hate cold weather, and will sulk, and never recover. It is not about freezing and dying, it is about sulking and pouting. I have even read that about eggplants grown from seed outgrowing transplants that were started 10 weeks earlier.

I bought that white cloth stuff whose name eludes me, you know, row cover stuff, both for soil warming and insect protection, but I can’t find it now, but that might be a better approach.

Why not experiment and start a tomato plant now, and one in the ground later on and see what the difference is?

We are blessed with a giant wall of water called Lake Ontario. I generally use May 21 as a last frost date.