Thursday, May 30, 2013

Irrigation, Soaker Hoses, and Mulch (Oh My!)

In my last post, I talked about the advantages of drip irrigation and how to maintain it. It was some pretty exciting stuff. (Ha!) OK, so irrigation isn't the most interesting part of gardening, but it is important, particularly during our blistering Arizona summers.

Unless you're growing nothing but cactii in your Arizona garden, you're going to need to water your plants. Chances are, you don't want to be out in the heat doing it with a hose. I've already talked about using drip irrigation for permanent plants, like trees and shrubs, but what about your vegetable garden?

Sure they're low maintenance, but how do they taste on a sandwhich?

For me, using drip irrigation on my vegis just never seemed right. For one thing, changing out my irrigation lines and emitters every season when I planted a new batch of vegis just seemed daunting. Plus, I only have one drip irrigation system, which means I'd have to put the vegis on the same watering schedule as the shrubs. If I did that, I'd end up overwatering my shrubs or underwatering my vegis. Hmm. Since I never could figure out the magic formula for making my drip irrigation work for all my plants, I've been shlepping around with a hose for two years to water my vegis.

Recently, I finally figured out how to easily install a second irrigation system to my garden faucet. (It's about time!) This one is dedicated just to my vegis. Here's what I did:

Step 1: Connected a regular garden hose to my outside faucet.
I had to get a hose long enough to reach from faucet to my vegi beds. In my case, I needed a 100 foot hose. Hopefully, you planned better than me and put your vegi garden closer to your faucet.

Step 2: Connected some soaker hose to the garden hose.
I used connectors to attach the garden hose to some soaker hose. I used snip-n-drip, which was ridiculously quick and easy. If you're handier than me, you could probably figure out how to do this cheaper using parts from your local hardware store. 

Step 3: Placed the soaker hose where I needed it. 

I snaked the soaker hose (also called weeper hose) throughout the bed, making sure it reached each plant. Unless you're placing the soaker hose over caliche, you can easily secure it using landscape staples. It takes half a second to push a landscape staple in by hand.
    Snaking soaker hose around the plants
Step 4: Timed it.
After I put down all the soaker hose, I turned on the faucet and timed how long it takes to properly water the vegis. (Just push a finger down in the soil to figure out how deep the water is getting. When it reaches past the plants' roots, you have probably watered enough.) In my case, since my soil is pretty loose, it only took about 3 minutes to get enough water to the plants.

Step 5: Mulched it.
Once I had everything the way I wanted it, I threw a bunch of mulch on top to help hold in the moisture. Mulch is great because it allows you to water less. If you get the right mulch, it also improves your soil. Bonus! (In my case, I used alfalfa hay from Cactus Feeds.)

Cozy little setup for the plants

Next up, I need to put the whole thing on a timer. (I already have one, I just haven't hooked it up yet.) For now, this step isn't critical for me. I can easily go outside and turn on the hose for 3 minutes. But when the heat gets really bad, and me and the family decide to get out of Dodge for a week or so, I want to make sure my vegis don't die while we're away. Having a timer around will be great then.

I'm pretty excited about the system. Besides being really easy to install, it's also easy to customize from season to season. If I've got a garden bed that's tightly planted one season and sparse the next, I can easily just extend or shorten the length of soaker hose as needed. I've also heard that vegis much prefer being watered at the roots (as opposed to sprinkled from above, like I was doing before), so I have high hopes for a more productive garden now too!

12/1/13 Update: I recently "discovered" The Scientific Gardener, a blogger who operates out of Tucson. Man, this guy is awesome. Anyway, he also has a blog about irrigation that I think is really useful. I definitely recommend it:  Simple Watering Systems. Happy watering!

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