Friday, June 26, 2009

Soaker Hoses Save Water

Risa, blogger at Stony Run Farm, posted her friend's Homage to Lizards poem in comments for the House Lizards post below - I like the imagery of her "lizard paparazzi". Chris left a tip on catching lizards - unfortunately, it involves shading them when they're lying in the sun, which wouldn't work for catching house lizards. Albert, the cat, must have heard my admonishments though, because the very next day he kept a lizard entranced in the bedroom until I could trap it. All the outside doors were closed, so this was one already in the house (hmmm - wonder how that happened). I used the empty bathroom wastebasket and got that one relocated outside too.

Melynda, over at Mom's Sunday Cafe, has noticed the soaker hoses in my yard and garden. She wants to conserve water in her garden, so asked for more information about using them. Since I manage to grow a pretty good garden in an area that averages 7" precipitation annually (and most of that comes as snow in winter), plus have a weak well (needs 35-40 minutes recharge time to fill 50 gallon tank), I probably have some tips and methods for others that need to make every drop count in their own gardens.

Spraying and sprinklers are extremely ineffective watering methods, especially with our hot, dry winds. Half the water ends up blowing away from the area you're trying to water, and a lot of the rest of it evaporates before getting to the roots of the plants. Soaker hoses keep the water where it's needed, at a rate the ground and the plants can absorb. By clustering plants with similar water needs, closely spacing vegetable plants to shade their own roots, and infrequent deep watering we manage to get by.

Using different lengths of soaker hoses gives me flexibility in how and where I put my plants. In my vegetable garden, I use free-form raised waffle beds. I saw no need for the expense of building structures for the beds - I just groom them into shape with a rake each Spring, after digging in the compost and before planting. The beds are in the same place year after year, and I walk only in the pathways, so the soil never gets compacted in the growing area. For ease of cultivating, the beds are a bit more than two rake-widths wide, with a single rake-width for the interior paths. I pull the edges up a bit above the planting area, dishing out the center, to help hold water when getting my seeds to germinate (the only time I use a hand-held nozzle). I then run a single 50' hose down the center of each bed (although this year, I'm experimenting with a double-hose set-up on my early bed to lessen heat stress and perhaps stretch the harvest out a bit longer).

The soil here is called DG - decomposed granite. What that really means is coarse sand with very little plant nutrient value. My garden beds get at least an inch of compost dug into them each Spring, providing nutrients plus helping to retain water. Light, frequent watering makes plants form shallow, spread-out root systems. I want my plants to make deep roots so they're better able to withstand the heat during July and August. So after the vegetable plants are up and growing, they only get watered every third or fourth day, for 8-10 hours at a time. The top inch of the soil may look dry, but checking a bit deeper shows plenty of moisture. I don't water straight from the house faucet - I can't take the chance of running the well dry and burning out the pump (it's 212' feet down - a bit hard to repair). Instead, I use a gravity-fed system run from a couple of tanks that are filled from the house faucet using a very low-flow restrictor (more on that in another post).

My system can easily handle 100' feet of soaker hose at a time. I don't like the restrictors included in new soaker hoses - I pull them out and use new rubber washers instead. Besides, using a gravity-fed system means my water pressure is quite low to begin with. If I were using water straight out of a city-house faucet, opening the faucet only 1/8 turn would provide sufficient pressure for a system like mine. The seeping moisture of soakers attracts birds and other wild creatures, so I water the vegetables, two beds at a time, all night long, and then switch over to hoses in the landscaping during the day (no use inviting trouble). Using a series of y-valves and a few 4-way manifolds, it's easy to change where the water goes.

By taking up my hoses in late fall and storing them out of the weather, they last for years. In the Spring, it's easier to get them placed where I want them if I first stretch them out in the sun to soften up a bit (a smaller 25' hose coils round and round in the square strawberry bed above). Just about all the gardens and landscaping (except the fruit trees) are on soakers. I'll write about watering the orchard in a later post.


Anonymous said...

We too will be using the soaker hoses once we get out garden going. Like you we are in an area that can get very dry, they make perfect sense. I'm planning on covering mine with a foot or so of straw so they can be left out all year round.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, this is really interesting to learn about. My patch of growing area is too small to really need a big watering system like this (and its been raining every day here, sigh)... but it is good to hear how those with more land keep up with it.

Melynda said...

Thanks so much, great information and ideas. I appreciate your link to Mom's Sunday Cafe. Since today is cafe day, I have been cooking since 5:00 am. I love these days!

Thanks again Sadge.


Nancy M. said...

I've been wondering if this would be good for my area. The soil here is so sandy and we are having a hard time getting everything watered right.

risa said...

We have almost the same setup. Our soakers are actually flat sprinkler hoses turned upside down, under the mulch; they run down the middle of the beds with plants snugged up to either side of them; six fifty foot beds get watered on days days and the other six on even. But there are nine other beds ... Aiieeeeee!


pressure washer hose said...

Nice garden! I like it. I also plan to use soaker hose like you. Thanks for sharing this post. I've got an idea.