The real ticket is an irrigation system. Technically this is any system by which you provide an outside water source to your garden. For many people the irrigation system consists of hoses, splitters, sprinklers, and maybe a timer. This will get the job done, but you waste 75% of the water that you send through the hoses.
Sprinklers And Soakers
Using sprinklers can also lead to inconsistent watering. I have learned the hard way that overwatering will lead to fungus and root rot. Also the plants that survive will be huge but will produce little fruit. Of course plants that get too little water will typically shrivel up and die before ever producing anything.
Soaker hoses are another option you might consider. To cover all your plants with soaker hoses can be quite expensive and there are some drawbacks. The hoses clog easily and cannot be used on a slope. They are limited to 200 feet and cannot be repaired if broken. You would not think hoses would break easily, but soakers sitting in the sun will become brittle and break easily.
Drip Irrigation Overview
If you want to DIY your irrigation the right way, drip irrigation is the way to go. This is a system using flexible piping with tiny holes at the bottom. You can inexpensively run this system for a garden that is 15ft by 15ft, or a larger 30ft by 90ft like ours. Here are some advantages:
- Can be easily repaired
- Parts are not hard to find
- Uses 25% the water of soaker hoses
- Evenly distributes water to all plants
- Set it up and forget about it
- Flexible hoses do not break often
- Rarely clogs
- The most inexpensive option in most cases
- Can be installed in one day
There are four types of drip irrigation we will cover in this article: standard PVC drip irrigation, small gravity-fed drip irrigation, rain drip irrigation, and self-watering containers.
Standard PVC Drip Irrigation
This project will cost less than $50 for a 15ft by 15ft garden and take about five hours.
¾ Inch PVC pipe
Fittings for your pipe
Step 1) Attach threaded PVC attachment to your hose and then attach a T connector.
Step 2) You need to glue all of your seams on your T connector to handle the pressure.
Step 3) Dry fit pipes running both directions away from your T connector to then ends of your garden.
Step 4) Cut pipes to length for the width of your garden, one for each row of plants.
Step 5) For row plants drill a 1/16th Inch hole every six inches. For spaced plants drill one hole for every plant.
Step 6) Lay out all your drilled pipes with one end capped and the holes facing down.
Step 7) Cut your perimeter pipe and use T connectors to dry fit your drilled pipes running right along the base of your plants.
Step 8) Turn on your water and let it go.
Small Gravity-Fed Drip Irrigation
This system is designed to water one plant or one container when you are away and cannot water daily. The supplies should cost less than $20, and this is a project that should take less than an hour to complete.
5 Gallon bucket with lid
Brass garden hose fitting with O-ring
Brass garden hose taper
2 In-Line shutoff valves
Step 1) Drill hole in the bottom of the bucket near the edge.
Step 2) Place the garden hose fitting with O-ring in the inside of the bucket and through the hole.
Step 3) Screw the brass taper onto the garden hose fitting until tight. Test with water to make sure it does not leak.
Step 4) Twist irrigation tubing onto the taper fitting with the shutoff valve on the other end.
Step 5) Arrange your bucket so that it is somehow suspended above your plant and within a few feet.
Step 6) Add more tubing and install your dripper at the appropriate place so water drips at the base of the plant. Stake the tube in place.
Step 7) Add another shutoff valve at the end so that you can plug the end and flush the system if needed.
Step 8) Fill the bucket with water, put the lid in place, and open the first shutoff valve.
Optional – You can add a garden hose timer if you want more control over when you water.
Rain Drip Irrigation System
Like the PVC system, this one is designed to water every plant in your garden. The primary difference is that it is intended to use water from a rain catchment system. Installation is super easy and inexpensive. It also can be expanded for more plants with very little effort or cost.
½ Inch flexible plastic tubing
¼ Inch flexible plastic tubing
1 Gallon per hour drippers and 1 gallon per half hour drippers
Fittings for your tubing
Water filter attachment
Step 1) Run ½ inch tubing from water catch barrel through the garden to the furthest point. Please note that your barrel must be elevated for this to work.
Step 2) Attach the backflow device and the filter.
Step 3) Cap the end and cut the tubing at each row. Use a T connector to run a ¼ inch line from the main line to each plant. For dense rows of plants put one ¼ inch tube every two feet.
Step 4) Add a dripper to the end of each ¼ inch tube. Select the one that best fits the needs of the plant.
The filter will keep your tubes from getting clogged and the backflow device will keep water moving in the right direction. Any time to want to expand your system to new plants, just cut your main line and use a T connector to add another drip line. A pump can be added if your system gets large enough that plants at the end are suffering.
Self-Watering Container System
This irrigation system is great for people that have container vegetables sitting on decks or patios. It completely eliminates the loss of water due to evaporation, so it is very efficient.
3 inch black drainage tubing slotted with mesh for filter
½ inch flexible tubing
Drill with 5/8 inch bit
¾ inch Tubing elbow
¾ inch female to female connector
Step 1) Stretch out your drainage tubing and fit as much as you can in the bottom of your container. Fold back and forth to create one layer of tubing. Mark and cut.
Step 2) Drill a hole a few inches from then end and on the opposite side from the slots.
Step 3) Put the tubing back in the container and find a spot that touches the edge of the container. Drill a hole through the side of the container and into the side of the tubing.
Step 4) Stretch the mesh filter over the entire length of the tube and tie it off at both ends cutting off any excess.
Step 5) Measure from the base of the container to the top and cut ½ inch tubing to that length. Push the end of the tube through the hole you drilled towards the end of the drainage tubing.
Step 6) Cut a two foot length of ½ inch tubing and punch it through the hole you drilled in the container and the drainage tubing. This will serve as a drain for excess water.
Step 7) Dry fit the elbow onto the end of the vertical ½ inch tube so that it faces outward over the lip of the container. Use the female to female connector to connect the tubing and your garden hose.
Step 8) Fill with soil and plant your seeds or plants. Turn on the hose as needed to water plants.
Check out this youtube video for more:
I hope this article has given you some ideas about how you can implement a better irrigation system in your garden. Irrigation has been used for centuries to help water sensitive plants thrive. It was around long before indoor plumbing was invented and will continue to be important.
A good irrigation system not only produces more food for your family, but it preserves water. Right now that means that you save money on your water bill and help the environment. However, in a SHTF situation you may have limited fresh water. When every drop is vital, proper irrigation is a must.