Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Watering System




 There are some things in life you just don't know you desperately need even though they are looking you square in the face. For me, a watering system was one of those kind of things. It is sort of odd that although I knew spending an hour and a half watering my garden was an excessive use of time better spent on other things and although I knew such things as watering systems existed, I never considered that I could have such a thing in my life. “No, that's okay, keep your delicious steaks. I will just be contented with my runny gruel.”
I guess in part I thought that installing a watering system would be both difficult in application and expensive. That is true in many situations. It can be extremely expensive if you have someone else install a system. It can also be expensive depending on the type of system you choose. However, an inexpensive and relatively easy to install system can be created for almost any gardening situation.
When I became convinced that I could no longer live without some sort of automated way to water my garden I began to research my options. My husband was a big proponent of getting water to where we needed it without using garden hoses. He and gardening hoses do not get along. Not only does he dislike the way they are either always in the way or alternately hard to reach, the hoses seem to have it out for him as well. They like to trip him up. They like to slide into a patch of puppy poo so he gets and inelegant surprise when coiling the hose. They like to kink and twist and grab hold of various rocks or projections along pathways in order to make him backtrack when trying to move them from one place to another.   

They only look like this when you first bring them home...

And this just brushes the surface of what manner of evil garden hoses can create when you consider the sprayer nozzle. Every year we in desperation purchase yet another sprayer nozzle hoping for just one thing – that the blasted thing will spray outward versus what always happens which is they dribble water down your wrist. Incontinent spray nozzles are one of the banes of my existence. It isn't just that having water dribble down your wrist is such a horrible thing in itself, but rather this makes it nearly impossible to be wearing gloves while you water. If I water the plants my glove will get soppy which makes it rather useless as a glove. So there I would be with my glove/sponge which makes my hand filthy which pretty much defeats one of the main reasons I wear the glove. What is that you say? I could take the glove off. Well yes, and that is what I do, but as I have mentioned in another post, I am a mosquito magnet. Nothing quite pisses me off as much as having mosquito bites on my hands and wrists. To get past the mosquitoes I try to move quickly and wave my hands around as much as possible which I am sure makes me look like some sort of deranged puppet dancing to invisible strings, and much more importantly makes it very difficult to provide water strategically. The whole benefit of hand watering is that you provide water specifically to each plant instead of to a large surrounding area.

The dribbler...


Before the drought days in our garden we would water the entire garden with a oscillating sprinkler. This is a great thing if you are not trying to conserve water. Your plants love it, the neighborhood birds love it and so do the weeds. It is like you are creating rain whenever you want to. This unfortunately is the least effective and most costly way to water your garden. It also involves dealing with oscillating sprinklers which are near cousins of spray nozzles. Now an oscillating sprinkler does not dribble water down your arm – oh no, it wouldn't stoop to that. Not when it can blast your entire body as you rush out trying to time its spray just so you can modify its oscillations. These type of fan sprinklers also like to flop over so they will be pointing directly into the ground and sort of drilling the water into the earth. When you rush out to upright them chances are you will end up with an exhilarating blast of water up your nose. Ah how I miss the oscillating sprinkler days.

They look so peaceful when they are sleeping...

 Now considering the following: 1) garden hoses that need to be replaced every couple of years or so; 2) spray nozzles that need to be replaced every year (sometimes they take an unfortunate header into a rock or hammer); 3) oscillating sprinklers which have to be replaced every year because the break when you trip over them or hit them with the mower because they were buried in the tall grass; 4) a large water bill because you are using more water than you need due to over-spray and evaporation; The conclusion we reached was that minus these expenses we could well afford a reasonable automatic watering system.
My husband had already brought water to the entire perimeter of our yard via pvc pipe in order to allow us easier access to water spigots and allow for shorter lengths of water hose to reach the entire yard. Our first idea was to simply put in several upright risers with sprinkler heads attached to them. We found the sprinkler heads very affordable at the big box hardware/lumber store at around $2.50 each. We also found this thing called a sprinkler head converter that would allow us to change the system to a drip irrigation system. The isle the sprinkler heads were on was filled with various gadgets for sprinkler systems and drip irrigation. Bin after bin of little things that served various purposes, all of which became overwhelming.
We left the big box with a couple of things and set home with a basic idea in mind. We would put two sprinkler heads into each of the ceder fence beds. One head would be at the south end and one head at the north end. The sprinklers were adjustable so they would not exceed the 3 foot width and between the two of them we would have full coverage. Excited with our plan we began to put it into effect. One of our goals was to make this system as attractive as possible, so we endeavored to bury the pvc pipe. No worries here. I just dug a trench along the long edge of one bed and then inward from the north and south ends of the bed to their center. The idea was to run a common pipe between two beds which would branch to each bed at the north and south ends. This way we would have a system master control for every two beds. The problem was placing the pipe at the north and south ends. Having already established beds with wooden walls, it was hard to get the lengths of pvc under the bed walls. We managed and would have attached everything but we were chased out of the garden by several days of hard rain (yes, I did consider it ironic that rain was stalling our endeavors to bring water to our garden).
During our rain delay I perused the internet and became more interested in drip irrigation systems. This method was the gold standard of water systems. First of all, this type of watering does not get the leaves of plants wet. Wet leaves is one of the key reasons some of our plants wither and die due to opportunistic molds, fungus and mildew. It is bad enough we have nearly 80% humidity most of the year. The last thing those plants need is further wetting. The second wonderful thing about this type of watering system is that it is hidden. No risers or sprinkler heads visible and lush non mildewy plants? Sign me up! The third and most wonderful thing about drip irrigation systems is that they are nearly impervious to water loss through evaporation and you can specifically water an area by the way you align the drip lines.
Of course all this wonderfulness about drip irrigation systems was hampered by the fact they are expensive on the magnitude of about $20 extra per bed. With over a dozen beds we wanted them for the price was prohibitive. It turns out you can't just put in a drip line hooked to your regular water line - oh no – you have to have a filter to keep all the crud out of the little drip lines so they don't clog. You have to have a water pressure reducer to bring your water pressure down to the delicate level of those drip lines so they don't explode – and you must have a return preventer so the lowered water pressure does not backwash nasty things into the water for your house. It is probably one of the most OCD type of watering systems there could be.

Just imagine dollar signs above each of the descriptions...

 My husband rescued us from our dilemma by proposing we could use regular soaker hoses. Now the difference between a soaker hose and a drip irrigation system is one of size of hose mostly. A drip irrigation system is tiny little lines, sort of like a Barbie funhouse sort of thing. Soaker hoses are 5/8 inch regular garden hoses except they are porous. Hooking them up would be as complicated as hooking up a garden hose – no need for a fancy emitter. I was not entirely convinced we would not need some sort of pressure regulator to reduce the pressure in the lines. I kept reading reports of people getting busted soaker hoses because the pressure was too high. Mostly I was reading these reports from places that wanted to sell me pressure regulators. Then bless the internet and humanities willingness to share, I ran across a gardening forum where someone said, “Just turn the spigot on a quarter turn to keep the pressure low enough for the soaker hose.” Tada! Pressure problem solved.
We went back to the big box store with renewed purpose. Now our goal was to have a single spigot for each garden bed upon which we would attach a 25 foot soaker hose. The hose would be more than enough to wind through the 3 ft by 6 ft bed and give every plant and every configuration of plants a water supply. We gathered together our needed things:
spigots called hose bibbs for each bed, 

spigots called garden valves for high risers every three beds, 


½ inch pvc pipe (it comes in 10 foot lengths), 


smooth slip T heads for each spigot riser, 


90 degree elbows with one end smooth and the other a female threaded end to attach the spigots to the riser (every three beds we had a high riser leading to a regular garden valve. We decided to use that riser for the hose bibb as well and this required a T head with two ends smooth and the third end a female thread),


connectors to attach the long lengths of pipe,


and pvc cement to put it all together.


Here is our basic plan:



 The PVC pipe coming from the left brings the water supply.  The pipe is cut and a T-head is inserted allowing for a short riser of cut PVC to be inserted.  The riser is topped by a threaded 90 degree elbow which allows a Hose bibb to be attached.  This will be turned to face into the garden bed.  The PVC pipe continues to the next bed where this scenario is again repeated.  At the third bed, a short riser is topped with a threaded T-head, the threads allowing a Hose bibb to be attached.  Above this is another short piece of PVC which is topped with a threaded end cap and a Garden valve is attached.  This allows us to use a garden hose without disconnecting the soaker hose system.  Below is a graphic showing the various configurations of the soaker hose.



An actual photo of the system shows how the short risers and hose bibbs are angled into the garden bed:



The whole system runs the back of our garden beds and so far we have brought the system into 10 of our beds.  The four remaining systems will be added when I finally have enough energy to create the four remaining beds.  



 The PVC pipe is continued to the back of the property and turns the corner continuing to another couple of tall risers with garden valves which we use in the back compost area and the center garden beds.  I am really upbeat and excited about what we have accomplished.  It did not take us very long to get this far with it and once we can verify the pipes are not leaking we will bury the PVC and create a smooth walkway in the back of the garden.  
Probably one of the reasons I am the happiest right now is because we have yet to turn on the water to the thing.  I find I am the most content with my virtual reality.  Once we add the actual water I may be posting how awful it all is, but for now I am ridiculously happy.  Better living through ignorance.

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