Published July 15, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Irrigate your garden: Setting up a drip system isn’t as complex or time-consuming as you might think, and your garden will thank you later.”
By Barb Gorges
A watched garden never grows, it seems. But go away for a week and the change is significant, thanks to our pet sitter’s help.
She must have a green thumb, and the new drip irrigation system made it easier for her to be successful.
Installing drip is easy enough. It only took two trips to the store—we forgot to buy an end cap—and two extra trips because the clerk accidently let us go home with underground sprinkler tubing, which does not work with drip emitters—it is too thick.
Actual installation, including 25 emitters at the ends of 25 spaghetti tubes, took about as long as driving round trip to the store four times—just over two hours.
It is best if the tubing and fittings are all from the same company, although you’ll use general plumbing materials to get from the typical ¾-inch-diameter home faucet to the recommended ½-inch-diameter drip tubing for home use.
To give you an idea of cost, here is my shopping list (in order of installation from the faucet):
$3 – Vacuum breaker (3/4-inch), a simple backflow preventer keeps water in the hose or drip tubing from getting sucked back into your household water supply.
$11 – Y-connector (3/4-inch), allows you to hook up the drip system and a hose at the same time and turn them on independently.
$5 – Water pressure regulator (3/4-inch), to prevent blowing up your drip tubing when you turn the water on.
$10 – Y-filter (3/4-inch). There are other types, but all keep sediment in the water from clogging emitters.
$6 – Length of PVC pipe, cement, converter to ½-inch tubing, etc. We had the PVC pipe extend to ground level and then attach to the drip tubing.
$0.80 – ½-inch elbow fitting. The tubing is so flexible we didn’t need more than one elbow. There are also T-fittings so that you can have the tubing branch off, down each row of vegetables or to each raised bed. The fittings are forced onto the ends of the tubing—no tool required.
$10 – ½-inch tubing, 100 feet, cuts easily with pruners
$1.50 – Bag of 10 ½-inch loop stakes to hold the tubing in place.
$10 – Punch gun, makes the right size holes in the ½-inch tubing to fit the emitters or barbed couplings attaching the ¼-inch tubing.
$2 – Bag of 25 ¼-inch barbed couplings to pop into the holes in the ½-inch tubing to connect the ¼-inch-diameter tubing. Each hole corresponds to a plant you want to water. These barbs are not needed if you run your ½-inch tubing right next to each plant and put an emitter in each hole.
$7 – ¼-inch tubing, 100 feet, cuts easily with pruners. I used plain tubing, but there’s also tubing with holes every so many inches, or tubing of a porous material—soaker tubing.
$4 – Bag of 10 emitters, either 1 gallon per hour or 2, to pop into the holes on the ½-inch tubing. Or, if you use plain ¼-inch tubing extensions, you pop them into the ends of those tubes. You can also install little sprinklers that spray instead of emitters which only drip, but that defeats the idea of saving water by keeping it from becoming airborne and evaporating. See box for gallons per hour calculations.
$2 – Bag of “goof plugs” in case you have punched a hole you don’t want and need to plug it.
$1.50 – Bag of 10 ¼-inch loop stakes for holding the ¼-inch tubing in place.
$1 – end cap, ½-inch. If you don’t have this on the far end of your ½-inch tubing, you just have a holey hose!
We already had some Teflon tape and a wrench for all the plumbing connections so I didn’t count them.
Because I set up my system for 25 plants, I had to buy multiple packages of emitters, barbs and loop stakes. My total was $90. But remember, I’m saving water.
Best estimates are that the plastic components could last as long as four years, especially if I keep the tubing covered in mulch, out of the sunlight that could deteriorate it.
Is it worth it? Yes. Our pet sitter was successful in keeping our vegetables alive during 90 to 100-degree days by just turning on and off the water. We could put a timer on if we had no pet sitter.
Drip in the perennial desert
While I was away, I did a spot of gardening at my mother’s in Albuquerque, in the New Mexico desert. In her neighborhood, migrant Midwesterners have planted a lot of trees and lawns, though there are a lot of natives such as agave and yucca.
Mom has no lawn. Instead, she has a huge perennial garden on drip irrigation. Because the plants aren’t in neat rows like vegetables, she uses ¼-inch soaker tubing attached to the main tubing and winds it around the plants.
Mom grows xeric (needing less water) varieties of some of our favorite perennial flowers from our Midwestern childhoods, including roses, though sometimes, she says, it seems like she’s growing annual roses.
Snails are a big problem. They come out after rain or watering and devour tender plants. They are over an inch in diameter. Maybe if you feed them expensive plants like roses, you could sell them to expensive restaurants as escargot.
July Garden report
I gave up on the nasturtium seeds I planted (yes, I soaked them 24 hours first) after three weeks and replaced the three inches of mulch, but when I came home I found they had popped through at last. Other than tree seedlings which I pull, and random sunflowers which I let grow, there are no weeds in the vegetable garden, thanks to the dried leaf mulch over-laid with grass clippings each week.
It’s now easy to see I’m growing two types of tomatoes, even though both are cherries. The red cherry tomatoes are indeterminate, never ending their growth. The clue was seed packet directions to plant them 3 feet apart. The plants were three feet tall by the end of June and needed tying to the trellis. They will continue to grow all season, producing tomatoes as they go. Wonder of wonders, I could see little green fruits June 25, one month after transplanting.
The yellow cherry tomatoes, “Gold Nugget” variety, didn’t say they were determinate, but the seed packet said to plant them one per square foot. They are only half as tall as the reds and apparently they will produce their crop all at once, even though they already had flowers developing by mid-June.
The cosmos I started from seed got their first blooms mid-June, however the strawflowers and heliotropes are still meditating.
Out among the perennials, the perennial bachelor buttons (Centaurea montana), painted daisies, and columbine are finished, the penstemons almost. Shasta daisy, black-eyed Susan, bee balm and gaillardia are filling in. The agastache planted late last summer should bloom for the hummingbirds which usually come through mid-July to early August.
The herbs: oregano, basil, lavender, rosemary, sage (culinary, that is—not sagebrush), thyme and lemon balm, don’t have showy flowers but the rubbed leaves smell good and sometimes Mark cooks with them.
It will be a little while yet before we can cook with the vegetables from the garden.
Note: I’m interested in hearing from more readers about how to deal with hail.
Gallons per hour calculations
Which emitters you chose, 1 or 2 gallons per hour, depends on how much water pressure you have, how quickly your ground soaks up water and how long you want to leave the system on during each watering. You can mix them in the same system if some plants need more water than others.
If your faucet flows at 100 gallons per hour, you could, theoretically, use up to 100 1-gallon or 50 2-gallon per hour emitters.
How much water does your faucet produce per hour? Figure out how long it takes for it to fill a 1-gallon container. Take that amount of time and divide it into the number of seconds in an hour. If it takes 10 seconds to fill, divide 10 into 3600 seconds in an hour and you have the rate of 360 gallons per hour.