Increasingly, with climate change causing higher temperatures and droughts in multiple regions, many of us will experience weeks or even months in which sparse rainfall won’t keep pace with the sun’s hot rays. Even with regular rainfall, crops that require lots of water to thrive, such as beans and corn, will almost always need supplemental irrigation. Newly planted seeds, transplants of any kind and plants grown in containers also need supplemental water. And any plants in high, sunny spots always dry out faster than low, shaded ones.
Overhead sprinklers are popular, but they waste a lot of water and they aren’t good for watering tall or trellised plants. Hand-watering works well, but who has time for that? To keep your crops’ thirst quenched and enhance the flavor, nutrition and productivity of your garden, employ the simple, time-tested technology of soaker and drip hoses. Either will efficiently distribute water exactly where it’s supposed to go, with little or no waste. These methods work especially well for plants that occupy lots of time and space in the garden, such as beans, peppers, sweet corn and tomatoes.
Soaker Hoses and Drip Irrigation Systems
I have long been an advocate of the 25-foot soaker hose, which weeps water evenly along its length, as if it were sweating. Soaker hoses work especially well for closely spaced crops and intensively planted beds. You can make your own soaker hoses by collecting old or leaky garden hoses and drilling small holes into them every few inches. Just cap or clamp off the male end of the hose so that water will come out of the drilled holes, rather than the end.
Drip irrigation systems distribute water at regular intervals through a network of hoses or tapes with slits, pores, emitters or drippers. They work well for rows of crops spaced at varying intervals (you can set the emitters at wider spacing if you’re watering a crop planted farther apart), and perform best on relatively level ground, because pressure changes caused by sloping ground result in uneven watering. If you have a large garden, look for systems that use inexpensive drip tape (brands include Aqua-Traxx, Chapin and T-Tape). The tiny holes in some emitters and drippers can become clogged with soil particles easily, so at least one filter needs to be screwed into the water line between the faucet (or reservoir) and the distribution lines of most drip irrigation systems.
Typical soaker hoses require at least the level of pressure from a faucet, but some drip emitter systems can use gravity alone to gradually distribute water from high cisterns or raised rain barrels to thirsty plants. For example, growers at New Mexico State University had great success raising 50-gallon water barrels head-high on a frame or platform and attaching several drip lines that fed out to a large garden plot.
With either method, you can put a simple system together as you plant your garden, and change the location of the hoses or drip lines as crops come and go. For maximum versatility, limit the length of hoses to less than 50 feet, and install pop-in connectors to the female (incoming) ends of each hose.
To install your soaker or drip hoses, connect them to your water source, and adjust pressure to a steady but slow flow. Lay hoses straight an inch or two from plant stems, or weave them in and out among plants. If desired, you can hide soaker hoses under a couple of inches of mulch or soil.
To achieve deep watering from soaker hoses or drip systems, let the water run for several hours, turn off the water for an hour or so to allow the moisture to penetrate, and then water some more. Especially in clay soil, water from soaker hoses or drip irrigation can be slow to move to the subsoil, so these systems are best used often so the soil never dries out. I recommend using a timer to keep track of when to turn your soaker hoses on and off. Another memory aid: Put a rubber band around your wrist. If you’re getting ready for bed and you find the rubber band still there, it means you forgot to turn off the water.
For more smart water saving tips visit:
• 10 Ways to Save Water and Money