Growing vegetables is getting easier every year – we have all sorts of garden gadgets to help us with the chores. Today, many gardeners no longer stand for hours with a hose or carry bulky buckets of water to water plants during droughts.
All the accessories for drip irrigation are available at almost every garden store, and collection systems are not that difficult to build.
In this article, I would like to share our experience with an automatic irrigation system that has watered beds without fail for about 10 years.
HOW DRIP IRRIGATION WORKS IN THE GARDEN
First of all, I would like to talk about the function of irrigation in the garden in two sentences, and then we will look in more detail at all the elements that make up this system.
In our case, water is fed into the beds with the help of a submersible pump, located in a shallow well near the garden, which serves as the central water supply for our gardening.
From the well, there is a tap, from where a plastic pipe is connected. A tap makes it easy to wash your hands under the tap or to send water to the automatic irrigation system.
A polypropylene pipe runs along with the garden at right angles to the flower beds. On the opposite side of each bed, there is a tee with a socket fitted with internal threads. It proved possible to match the size of the plastic pipe fittings with the fittings specific to the irrigation system.
Because of this, it was easy to find a connector with external threads, which could be easily connected to the plastic socket.
Next, place the drip irrigation tape on the top of the connector. Although the drip tape usually sits very firmly on the connector outlet, we used metal clips to hold the tape in place for reliability.
At the ends of the grip tape on the back of the bed, special plugs can be installed. However, we used regular tape and folded the end of the hose several times, and secured it.
There are several options on how to place the drip tape on the bed: one – strictly in the middle, two tapes – along each crop row, or one long tape in a snake shape.
We used all three options depending on the moisture requirements of the particular crop. In the latter case, the drip tape was held by hooks in selected positions so that it would not move during the care process.
Since we are working gardeners and most people only visit the garden on weekends, the system is automatically turned on and off by an electronic timer several times a week. When we visit Dasha, we only need to adjust the operating mode settings for the coming week based on the weather forecast.
NECESSARY COMPONENTS OF AN AUTOMATIC IRRIGATION SYSTEM
The so-called irrigation system frame, which will later be connected to the drip tape, is usually made of pipe and can be metal or plastic. Sometimes stronger hoses are also used for this purpose.
In our opinion, it is best to pay attention to plastic tubing when installing automatic irrigation systems because, as mentioned above, drip irrigation fittings are compatible with plastic fittings, which also often have a 1/2 inch (in.) cross-section.
However, be careful with the material of the plastic pipe, as PVC pipe can be adversely affected by sub-zero temperatures. In intermediate zones with frost in winter, it is best to use pipes made of polypropylene.
Previously, slotted drip tapes for car irrigation were often found in mass sales. This construction is based on an internal labyrinth, which slows down the flow of water. Liquid seeps into small holes (slots).
The main disadvantage of this type of tape – the need for good water filtration, because the outlet is easily clogged. In this regard, this type of tape is rarely used in home plots, and now another type of tape for drip irrigation – emitter tape – is most often found in garden stores.
In this type of tape, water flows from a special drip tip embedded inside the tape. The special design of the drip tube promotes turbulence and allows the drip tube to clean itself.
Of course, in the presence of large amounts of suspended matter in the irrigation water, such as sand, the dripper cannot cope with large particles and clogs regularly. However, these belts are still much more reliable than slotted belts, but they cost more.
Emitter belts may vary in the distance between drippers. 4-8inch (10-20 cm) steps are used for sandy soils, and it is also best suited for crops that grow close to each other (spicy herbs, lettuce, onions, peas, and others). It can also be used for water-loving plants (such as cabbage).
A 12inch (30cm) step is recommended for medium-sized vegetable crops (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, cucumbers, eggplants). Spacing between drippers of 16inch (40 cm) or greater is used for vegetables that form strong bushes and do not require heavy watering (watermelon, melon, squash, zucchini).
The diameter of drip tape can also be different, for suburban areas the most common type is 16mm – the total bus length of this tape should not exceed 0.15mile (250m).
However, for larger irrigation systems up to 0.3mile (450m) long, a tape diameter of 22mm is required. In addition, drip tapes may have different wall thicknesses. A common figure is 0.2mm. This tape is suitable for growing most crops with a long vegetation period and with careful handling it can last for several seasons.
The dense drip tape, designed mainly for stony soils, is more costly and there is no particular reason for Country house owners to buy it.
To connect a pipe or garden hose to drip irrigation tape, a special connector is required. There is always a wide selection of these fittings available in garden stores.
When choosing a connector for your irrigation system, look for the following features.
- Female or male threads. Its choice depends on what type of connector will be used to make the connection.
- There is a switch. Many connectors are made in the form of a faucet. This method is more expensive, but it is the most desirable for automatic irrigation systems. For example, when you harvest on one bed, the faucet can easily be turned off and the water stops flowing into that part of the garden right there, while the other beds continue to water in the same pattern. Also, such a faucet is useful if there are onions in the beds and watering is stopped before harvesting.
- no water stop. Aquastop (reliable water protection system) is very convenient for irrigation hoses, but in the case of automatic irrigation systems, this device is quite useless. Connectors with water stops are usually more expensive. However, if the stop plate is turned to the closed position, it can damage the system.
- For water-loving crops or wide beds planted in double rows, it is worth using a double connector so that two parallel strips can be laid in one bed at the same time.
IDEAL ACCESSORIES FOR AUTOMATIC IRRIGATION SYSTEMS
Timers for automatic irrigation are not just an invention of lazy gardeners. Often, city dwellers do not have the opportunity to live in a cottage for the whole season, in which case the controller is simply indispensable.
In systems where water is supplied by a pump, a universal timer installed directly on the socket supplying the pump will do. You can buy these timers at any hardware store.
However, for gravity flow systems (where the water comes from a separate tank) and when the irrigation system is connected to a faucet, use a special controller.
There are several types of timers for this type of automatic irrigation. The simplest and cheapest is the mechanical type (the valve is closed by a spring). This type of timer is opened manually and closed automatically. For large “weekend” estate owners, this option is not suitable.
Expensive electronic timers with software control are also not the best option because of the high cost and the complex programming required. This option is better suited for farmers or professional gardeners who take care of extensive family farms.
Electronic timers with manual controls are the best choice for family farms. These controllers allow you to program the watering pattern and duration during the week. Once the desired settings are set, the timer can turn the system on at a set time each day and turn it off after the set watering time has elapsed, with no intervention from you at all.
Warning. If your irrigation system will be receiving water from a separate container (tank), it is important when purchasing a timer to purchase a device that supplies/disconnects water through a built-in ball valve. Timers other types of the solenoid (solenoid valve) may not work in this case, because there is not enough pressure in the gravity system, which is present in the central water supply.
Usually in suburban settlements, the water in the water supply leaves a lot to be desired. The presence of mechanically suspended matter (sand, clay, etc.) can clog the drip tape and reduce the life of all equipment. To prolong the life of the irrigation system, it is recommended to install a filter at the beginning of the system (between the tap and the main pipe).
There are several types of filters available, but for home farms, the mesh and disc types are ideal. The first type filters water by allowing it to pass through a mesh unit, while the second type is a porous structure similar to a sponge.
The degree of water purification is characterized by the size of the mesh. For drip irrigation systems, an adequate mesh frequency is equal to 100-150 units.
There are filters on the market in different price categories, the cost of the equipment depends on the quality of the components, the availability of self-cleaning mechanisms, the availability of reducers to regulate the system pressure, etc.
For suburban use, quite suitable inexpensive models or mesh disc filters, but quite cheap filters (usually made in China) are better abandoned (as you know, “cheap people pay twice”).
Rain sensors can be used as a complement to programmable controllers as well as manually controlled electronic timers. During rainfall, if the humidity level is too high, the rain sensor will stop automatic irrigation or prevent the system from turning on again.
Then, depending on the humidity and temperature, the rain sensor will “decide” on its own to resume operation of the automatic irrigation system in the previously set pattern. The sensitivity level of the sensor can be manually adjusted according to the requirements of the crops grown.
Typically, such devices have a wide range of precipitation: 3-25 mm. The use of rain sensors not only saves water but also protects plants from overfilling, which is crucial for certain crops.
DISADVANTAGES OF USING AUTOMATIC IRRIGATION SYSTEMS BASED ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I would like to start with the most important minus – financial costs. The very beginning of the installation of the system will require investment funds. Fortunately, of course, sprinkler systems do not equal the “cost of the plane”, nevertheless, we had to spend money on equipment.
And in the future, the drip tape will need to be replaced regularly and, if necessary, some parts (we, for example, burned out the submersible pump after three years). And, in the case of the pump, the electricity bill should not be forgotten.
In addition, moths and slugs are more likely to breed in moist seedbeds, while beetles prefer moist places.
Another difficulty is that the weekly target is not always optimized. After all, the weather can change dramatically and it may start to rain, and we are in the city and cannot change the timer settings.
Despite the presence of humidity, the system will turn on correctly and continue to water the beds. But, of course, if you have a rain sensor, this problem disappears.
Another important disadvantage is the possibility of technical problems. Once, an electronic timer malfunctioned for some reason and our garden was watered around the clock, day after day.
Fortunately, the neighbors noticed the malfunction and we had to rush to the cottage to set the correct settings.
Also, since in our case the water in the system was injected from a well, it was very cold, and watering with ice water was not the best option for the plants.
With this, in addition, and the fact that during fertilization, fertilization is still necessary to water the garden from a bucket.
But farmers who irrigate with multi-cube tanks are much more fortunate in this regard, because the water has time to warm up and, if necessary, the fertilizer can be dissolved directly in the tank.
And the last small disadvantage is the need for maintenance. With buckets and watering cans, everything becomes much easier. Roughly speaking, they can’t even be cleaned, but with an automatic irrigation system, this will not work.
If you don’t have a filter, the drip tape will get clogged from time to time, which will greatly reduce its lifespan. If you have a filter, you will have to clean the filter itself.
In some cases, such an activity must be done during the season, but at the end of the season, the entire irrigation system must be flushed and dried.
ADVANTAGES OF THE AUTOMATIC GARDEN IRRIGATION SYSTEM
Despite some drawbacks, we are still very satisfied with the drip irrigation system installed in our villa. It has undeniable advantages.
- Significant time savings.
- Relief from physical labor.
- The ability to grow most vegetable crops safely, coming to the cottage only on weekends, even in the driest periods.
- Water going directly to the roots of the plants so that we do not waste water by occasionally watering trails and other nearby areas, causing weeds to flourish there.
- No crusts formed on the surface because the soil soaked in very slowly.