One of the most important tasks to keep your vegetable garden alive and well is regular watering. Before installing a garden, always make sure a water source is nearby and easily accessible. In this post, we will learn about simple vegetable garden irrigation.
What is irrigation?
Irrigation is the method of watering crops and landscapes using man-made systems instead of relying only on rainfall. Regions with little rain are in greater need of irrigation systems to maintain their agriculture.
What are the types of irrigation to consider?
In a typical home garden setting, people rely on hand watering using either and watering can or a hose. This method, however common, is not the most efficient with today’s lifestyle. Fortunately, more sustainable and reliable methods are available to home gardeners.
Sprinkler system-connected irrigation
In this option, the homeowner already has a sprinkler system installed in the yard. The system is usually divided into zones to provide the right amount of water for each area. One zone is then dedicated to the vegetable garden or flower beds.
Spigot- attached systems
Visiting the irrigation aisle in the hardware store, you will notice parts and kits that covert your garden spigot into a drip system. A pressure adapter and filter are connected to the spigot, then different size tubings are added. These kits are very useful for DIY gardeners since they come with all the parts you need in one package.
Why use irrigation systems?
Irrigation systems have many advantages over hand watering.
- Overhead watering may harm your plants spreading fungal diseases.
- Using irrigation is more efficient as the water in put right where it needs to go.
- Irrigation can be set on a timed program, saving you from the hassle of watering after work or when you are away.
Different irrigation methods for the vegetable garden
For the home garden, there are three main methods of irrigation to choose from: drip, micro-sprinkler, or soaker.
This is the most efficient way to water the vegetable garden. It uses 1/4 inch tubing with pre-set drip holes. The holes are either 18 inches or 12 inches apart. Each tube runs along one planted row. Then they are connected to the mainline/ tube that is attached to the pressure adapter. The latter is either linked to a spigot or a sprinkler zone.
Using drip tubing saves you the hassle of piercing holes and plugging emitters. The spacing of the holes works with most conventional home gardening spacing methods, including Squarefoot gardening.
This is another common irrigation method used for vegetable gardens. It uses emitters that spray water, just like the sprinkler, but on a smaller scale. The water sprayed covers more surface area than the drip. The downside is that it encourages weeds, and water may not reach all the plants. There are two ways to set this system.
- Run a 1/4 inch tubing along each planted row and plug in an emitter at the distance you wish.
- Set the tubing along with the parameters of the planting bed, then place emitters at the corners.
The setting of this system is similar to the previous ones; the difference is in the tubing. A soaker tube is made of porous material that allows water to seep through it, soaking the soil around the plant.
How long to run the watering system?
There is no definite answer to this question. It will depend on the soil texture and its ability to retain moisture. The rule of thumb, though, is to experiment and test until you find the sweet spot.
Keep the system running for ten minutes for a start, then check soil moisture. Insert your thumb close to the plant and see how deep the water got. Increase the minutes until you reach 2.5 inches on moist soil. Keep in mind long deep watering is better than shallow watering.
How frequent to run the irrigation?
Watering frequency depends on soil ability to retain moisture and the season we are in. Sandy soil will need more frequent watering than heavy clay soil. Vegetable garden soil should be balanced and rich in organic matter. The latter helps retain moisture evenly, so there will be no need for extra watering.
Seasonal water requirements also have a role in the frequency. During the hot summer days, you may need to water daily, while in the winter season, that may drop to once a week. Watering frequency is also reduced by deep watering.
Irrigation system essentials for a vegetable garden
If you are not using a kit to set an irrigation system here some essential parts you will have to get.
This is the most important piece you will need. No matter what you are getting your water from a spigot or a sprinkler head, you will need a water pressure reducer. Household water comes in a high pressure to flow properly throughout the property. Using the same pressure for irrigation will damage the system. These adapters come in different forms. Some attach to the spigot, others to the sprinkler head.
Water filter and backflow preventer
This is another piece you need to attach to the pressure regulator. It filters the water from debris and prevents it from flowing back into your house. The good news is that most pressure regulators come with a built-in filter and backflow preventer.
Timers help a lot with programming your watering schedule, especially when you are away. There are different timers in the market, from battery-operated, sun-powered, one schedule, to multi-schedule systems. They can also be set to sense moisture and stop watering after rain.
This is the a 1/2 inch tubing with no holes in it. It is the mainline that will transfer the water from the spigot/sprinkler head to the drip tubing.
This is the tubing that will have built-in drip holes.
Connectors come in L, T, and straight shapes. Some are made for the tube to be inserted in them, others are inserted in the tubing.
If you decide to use micro-sprinklers or drip emitters, pay attention to the flow of water. Each emitter is designed to emit a certain amount of water during a certain amount of time.
This is the skinniest of the tubing. It is very useful to get an emitter closer to a plant. They are commonly used to water potted plants.
Troubleshooting your irrigation system
1) Water does not reach all the beds
Sometimes you notice that the farther plants are not getting enough water. This is mostly due to the decreasing water pressure as we get farther away from the water source.
If you are using a spigot, try to use the micro tubing near the plants to increase pressure. If using a sprinkler zone, make sure all the heads connected to this zone are closed. You may also create a looping design to have the water flowing from all directions.
2) Micro-sprinkler caps breaking
Micro-sprinkler caps may get brittle and fall apart due to weathering or rodents biting on them. Use good quality material and always have extra for replacement. As a side note, micro-sprinklers with back heads seem to last longer than the red ones.
3) No water coming out from the holes
This is most like due to mineral build-up or debris. If the system in question is connected to the sprinkler system, get the help of a professional. Otherwise, try to locate the clogged hole and use a thin needle to unclog it. You can also flush the system by opening the end side, then turn it on to let the water wash it off.