The News From 2Dits Farm: Drip, Drip

I wish it would stop raining. I have to put in the drip irrigation.

I am not unaware of the irony, believe me. Unfortunately, climate change (yeah, the one that isn’t happening) is creating conditions in my mid-coast Maine garden I never thought I’d see. Thirty-seven years ago, when my mother and I planted our first vegetable crops, we could rely on rainfall to water our tomatoes and beans except perhaps for a few days in August. In fact, with fog rolling in off the ocean on many nights, the problem was often too much water, rather than not enough.

We haven’t had that kind of summer in years. With conditions getting both hotter and drier, I’ve been fighting a losing battle to keep my plants happy with an inch of water a week, and I’ve never been able to give the tomatoes the two inches they’d prefer. Despite having improved my soil’s fertility, I’ve seen harvests steadily decrease, the limiting factor being water. No matter how much I stand out there with the hose, I’m not able to do much more than dampen the soil. (Besides which, every mosquito and black fly in the state gets a text alert that dinner’s being served every time I hook up the hose.) Sprinklers haven’t worked well for me, either, their spray pattern tending to drown anything within three feet of the sprinkler head while leaving everything on the outer edge to subsist on droplets.

So this past January as I was studying seed catalogues and making out orders, I decided to install drip irrigation in the vegetable garden. I studied various diagrams, looked at products from several companies, and spent a lovely week playing with some free software which let me design the garden of my dreams, with neat rows of carrots and peppers and purple broccoli (not that I’ve ever actually grown purple broccoli, but it did make a pretty contrast with the orange carrots and the red and yellow peppers). Then I opened a new screen, an overlay on which I could design the irrigation system, complete with all the emitters, end caps, in-line couplers, digital timers and tape-loc barbs my greedy little heart could desire. Finally I hit the button to have the software calculate the total price of the system.

I believe I may have gasped, “No freaking way!” or words to that effect. Several times.

After sulking for a few days, I decided to make do with something smaller. Instead of irrigating all seven raised beds, I could design a system to water four of them, enough for tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, cukes, and squashes, all crops which are greedy for water and do best when the moisture gets deep into the ground, as it does with the slow, steady drip of irrigation. Other veggies like beets, lettuces, spinach, peas, carrots, and onions generally do well enough with watering from the hose. I can brave the mosquitos and black flies long enough to attend to them.

Eventually I ordered a basic drip irrigation starter kit from one of my favorite local sources for organic seeds, fruit trees, soil amendments, and everything else a farmer or gardener could possibly need, Fedco Seeds. A few days later, a big box of components arrived. It’s been sitting on the floor in the craft room since February. I hope to catch a sunny day sometime in the next two weeks to put it all together out in the garden.

The process seems straightforward enough. (Remind me I said this a couple of weeks from now when I’m ranting because Part A does not fit into Part B, wasn’t ever going to fit into Part B, and the whole damn thing is a hunka junk.) First, I’m to attach a vacuum breaker to the spigot, followed by the drip filter and pressure regulator. The garden hose attaches to the end of the regulator to lead to the garden. There, I hook up a straight run of 1/2″ mainline tubing, which will run along the “heads” of the four raised beds. The end of that mainline is sealed with an end cap. Next, I install three row connectors for each bed. These row connectors have a plastic barb at one end that plugs into the mainline, a short length of thin tubing to bring the water up over the side of the raised bed, and a fitting at the other end to which I’ll attach a section of the drip tape, perforated with tiny holes every eight inches, which will run the full length of the bed. At the end of each drip tape goes an end plug. I opted for removable ones so I can flush the lines should they become clogged with soil.

As I say, it seems simple enough, but I’ve done enough plumbing projects in the house to know that getting water to drip only where I want it to do (ie., at my plants) as opposed to everywhere else it could possibly leak (ie., everywhere else) is probably a fantasy. Fortunately I have plenty of duct tape.

And if worst comes to worst, I can always go back to hand-watering with the hose. One way or another, I’m going to have my purple broccoli this year.

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The News From 2Dits Farm: Drip, Drip — 3 Comments

  1. Our new house has a big garden plot, and we have even bigger ideas for planting! As with most novices, we are pretty clueless and have no idea what to plant or where to to plant what. This year, we will throw things in and watch. I’ll let you know what happens…..better yet, come see us and offer your sage advice! (Pardon the garden-referenced pun…..)

  2. We ended up building a system for our beds out of pvc pipe. We made a rectangle with two crosspieces with a quicklatch plug for the hose on one end (that makes it so I can just slide the house in and out and not deal with having to screw it on). Then we drilled little holes around the inside so they’d aim low at the roots of the plants, and put them in the garden. Works like a charm, and oh so much cheaper than other irrigating systems. And I make sure all the plants in the beds get sufficient water. What’s super nice is that it just lifts out really easy for tilling, and then goes back in, no fuss.