Thursday, July 3, 2014

Irrigating the side garden

When I started actually planning the side garden layout over a year ago, one of the things I thought about was how were we going to keep it watered. You see, the old garden, or as I've been calling it, the lower garden, is right beside the main 3" irrigation pipe going down to the middle and lower fields from our turnout. That makes it simple to run a hose off of the irrigation line and set up 2 sprinklers, one on each end of the garden. We don't have them on a timer, but every morning, or every other morning, I make sure to toggle the valve on the hose off the irrigation line to turn the irrigation water on to my garden for about an hour give or take.

I've wanted a more user friendly and automated set up, but the irrigation water is rather sediment-filled. In fact, chunks of various sized crayfish are common (and sometimes whole, live crayfish - the other day I had to flush 4 live ones out of the grass irrigation riser in sequence!)... The hose and simple sprinklers we have in the garden currently don't get clogged up often, but a timer with a screen on it would definitely need more unclogging maintenance, likely making the time savings actually nonexistent! What we really need is a screen/filtration system, but that would likely then necessitate a pump, so at the moment we aren't quite going there yet.

The side garden, though, is located much closer to the house, and further up the slope from the irrigation pipe, so in terms of water pressure off the irrigation system, we would likely have trouble getting even the low pressure sprinklers in the lower garden to work up there. So that means watering off the house well water. I don't have a problem with that, after all, we keep the small patch of grass near the house and orchard watered using well water. But it seemed like I could be more water efficient in the garden by using drip irrigation or some sort of smaller sprinklers directly on plants, and thus avoid watering the paths, thus saving all that water (and avoiding all that weed growth!).

Initially in the lower garden I had planned on using drip irrigation, but without a filtration system on our irrigation water, that just wouldn't work. I realized this after several summers ago we put drip irrigation off the irrigation pipe on the orchard, and not even a year later the drip line was so clogged up that it was basically useless. It makes sense, the drip tubes are 1/4, plus all the little drip holes are even smaller, so even fine sediment would build up and clog them, even without the chunks of crayfish!

The benefit of having tried the drip irrigation in the orchard is that I had a bunch of semi-functional parts on hand last spring when we were setting up the side garden irrigation. I used much of what we had on hand up while assembling a workable system to irrigate the (then smaller) side garden. Of course, I had to go bit by bit using house water and basically flush all the drip irrigation tubes out, but it worked alright for the raspberries, 2 rows of strawberries, and peas, plus a loop around the rhubarb and in the herb circles.

This spring I purchased additional drip lines, and some drip emitters, as with the doubled area, I was needing more areas irrigated. It was working alright, although the drip lines for the herb area was the dregs of the old orchard stuff, and was piecemealed together and most was not functioning at all, let alone enough to keep the area wet enough to really fill in. But it was working enough to keep the plants in there alive, and there were a couple extra spots to fill in marigolds and some other flowers and herbs.

But then the bottom row of tomatoes started getting pretty wilty, and I realized that we needed two runs, to operate at different times, so that there wasn't so many drips off of one hose. At the moment I've ordered another timer, with several outlets, so that I can have the main single timer on the house, and then split it down by the chicken coop and have several different systems going in sequence every morning. This way I hope to be able to add microsprinklers to the herb area, and have the tomatoes get enough water. I expect the irrigation system in the side garden will take me several years still to nail down the right components and such for each sort of plant/pot, especially as the garden expands over time to completely fill the fenced area, moving the pigs to another area yet to be determined, but I think we are on the right track now!

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