Fall Garden Part 2: Irrigation

This has been a very dry summer and our garden has really suffered. In part this is because our main summer garden is on a slight hill and the soil isn’t very good so as much as we watered it, most of the water just drained away. Next year we will either work much harder on the quality of the soil or move most of the planting up to the kitchen garden by the house where the ground is flat and where we now have a simple irrigation system. Which leads us to next stage of putting in our fall garden…

Fall Garden Part 2: Irrigation

Like I said, we haven’t gotten a lot of rain this summer but when it has rained I’ve watched it come off the roof, down the gutters and down into the french drains and wished I could put all that water to good use. I happened upon an article in Mother Earth News talking about installing a rain water irrigation system using a water barrel and some tubing and after a quick run to the hardware store for supplies I had a nice little irrigation system set up.

Real rain barrels are surprisingly expensive so we got a plastic trashcan and installed a threaded spigot near the bottom and an overflow hose near the top and put the contraption under one of the gutter down spouts. There is a hole cut into the lid for the downspout. All of the holes cut into the trash can are tight fitting to prevent mosquitoes from getting in and laying eggs.

The overflow hose (the big one coming out the top) runs into the corrugated drainage hose that feeds into the french drain in the ground (a french drain is basically a trench lined in gravel that direct water away from your house so it doesn’t your foundation). Before the rain barrel was there (and after we move and remove the barrel) the drainage hose can be reattached to the gutter downspout.

The small black hose attached to the spigot near the bottom is the start of the irrigation system. The spigot is shut off when its raining (no need to water the garden during a rain storm!) and can then be opened up to water the plants once its dried out again. The irrigation hose goes under the wood walkway and into the square section of the garden. At this point I started to poke holes in the tubing to let the water out in strategic places. It then takes a loop around the tomato patch before running through the lettuce bed. You can see the black tubing in the pictures on the Covered Rows post.

This system is also connected to the tube that I use to drain all my extra water from the dye studio. The nice thing about dyeing wool is that it soaks up pretty much all the dye, leaving more or less clean water behind. Of course, this water isn’t really “clean”, it sometimes has a tint of color left in it along with a bit of oil from the yarn and a bit of residual acidity from the citric acid solution we soak the yarn in. Or if its from the rinse bucket a bit of non-toxic soap and essential oils. So the water can only be reused so many times in the studio before it just gets a bit icky. At that point I drain it right into the irrigation system. It enters the system in the tomato patch because it tends to be slightly acidic and tomatoes thrive in a slightly acidic environment. Because I re-use dye water as much as possible I don’t have a ton of water being discarded in this way but hey, waste not want not!

Because the system isn’t pressurized, the water gently dribbles out of the holes in the tube rather than spraying out and its important that the hose be in a gradual but continual descent so that gravity pulls the water along. And of course its not a ton of water- just a trash can full (about 32 gallons) every time it rains- but every little bit helps. We can also run the garden hose into the rain barrel if we have a dry spell between rain storms and water the whole garden that way. Because the hose is set up to target the areas with the plants this is more efficient than setting up a sprinkler to spray the whole area. There is a large wooden platform/sitting area in the middle that ends up collecting the most water if we use a sprinkler!

Now that the irrigation system is in place, the row covers are set up and the lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage have been planted the only thing left is to finish weeding one final bed so I can put in spinach. I love using spinach in quiches and lasagna and it freezes very well so I’m hoping to grow a bunch this fall and freeze it to use all year long. This bed will also get a row cover once its done. In this photo you can see some of the irrigation tubing, currently twisting out of control. Once I have the bed planted I’ll curve the tubing where I want it and secure it with stakes and rocks. I had hoped to get this final part of the fall garden finished this long-weekend but as I was weeding another rain storm blew in. I’m happy to wait till another day if it means more rain. Our gardens, our grass and our pasture all need as much rain as they can get! Speaking of grass, one of our next big projects is re-seeding the front yard. But I’ll save that adventure for another post!

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