2011-08-11 / News

Irrigating Your Garden

The Island Garden
BY ROGER MARSHALL

Sunday’s rain may have spoiled your weekend but it sure did a lot for the garden. Everything is growing again and fruits like figs seem to have grown an inch almost overnight. This highlights the fact that a garden needs water – lots of it.

Some say an inch of water a week is not enough. So how do you get water to your garden? There are a lot of ways other than standing around each night holding a spray hose.

One of the simplest and least expensive methods is to use a rain barrel and either a water pump or a watering can. I have a 55-gallon rain barrel and find that it will last about three days when I water every day. Hopefully, it will rain every three days to keep the rain barrel filled. The only problem with a rain barrel is that mosquitoes love it, but if it is emptied every three days, the problem tends to disappear. If it isn’t emptied then a mosquito donut or pellets containing an insecticide will kill the larvae. You can also put a few drops of oil on the surface and the mosquito larvae cannot breathe.

To water your garden with a rain barrel you must tote a watering can all over the garden, and for those with weak backs this might be a problem. Another way is to use a pond-filter motor attached to a length of plastic tubing. Simply water where you need by dragging the tubing to where water is required.

Another simple method of watering is to use a hose attached to your home water supply. If you do this regularly you should put a nonreturn valve on your home fitting to ensure that any fertilizers that you might be spraying cannot get back into your home’s water system.

However, this method of watering is relatively inefficient. A lot of the water tends to run off the plants and evaporate, especially on hot days, plus it will raise your water bill. An additional knock against this method is that home water contains chlorine and plants do not like chlorine.

I find that the most efficient watering system is to use a drip irrigation system. You simply turn on the spigot and three hours later turn it off. Water is emitted one drip at a time to each plant. There is no runoff, no wastage, and no standing around spraying. A drip irrigation system can cost under a hundred dollars for a modest system or you can get fancy and install a system that does everything for a thousand dollars or more. The best part of such a system is that the hose can be buried (no more dragging a garden hose around). It can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. It can send fertilizer to your plants and there is very little water wastage.

When talking about watering plants, the age-old question that comes up is: When should you water? There is no best time. Watering in the morning, especially with a garden hose, can lose a lot of water to evaporation, as can watering in the midday. Midday watering with a garden hose also has a problem in that drips can sit on the leaves, form a tiny magnifying glass when the sun shines on them and burn holes in the plant’s leaves. If you water at night, you run the risk of the plants getting fungal infections that can kill them before morning. To my mind the best method of watering is one that doesn’t get the leaves wet. The best way to do this? A drip irrigation system.

So how does one install a drip irrigation system?

Installation is relatively simple. You first lead a half-inch diameter plastic hose through your garden so that you can reach the most plants with a single hose. On one end is the hose connection and the other end is crimped off. Next you take oneeighth inch tubing, and using a special tool, insert a connector into the half-inch tubing. Put a drip emitter on one end the tubing and the other end on the connector. Lead the tubing to your plant and push it into the ground with the plastic spike provided with your kit. That’s it – done.

Of course, you’ll need to install an emitter at each plant and that can get tedious, but once it’s done, the hose can be covered with mulch and you are relieved of ever watering the garden again. All you need to do is turn the water on and off, or you can get a timer that does the job automatically.

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