Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Drip Irrigation on the Cheap

Drip irrigation is supposed to be one of the most efficient ways to water your plants. And with the drought and heat this summer, I've finally gotten motivated to get my little rear end in gear and make the drip irrigation system that I've been planning.

I hate to admit this, but I've been planning this little project for... umm... errrr... well, over 10 years now. And, full disclosure here, I haven't actually finished the thing to the glorious extent that I had originally planned, but I did manage to get something set up for the biggest of my garden plots.

I basically just took an old leaking garden hose, put a cap on the end of it, laid it out around the garden and poked holes at the base of each plant.

Yes, I know I could use more mulch, but it is what it is...
From what I read online, you basically want a steady but small stream of water.... enough so that it flows nicely, but not so much that the water pools. You want it all to absorb nicely into the ground where it's needed.

Ideally you want the hole on the under side of the hose, but you can see it better this way.
My basic conclusion was that bigger holes with less water pressure work the best. You can get some flow with small holes, but you end up having to turn up the water pressure and then you get little jets that erode the soil.

It took a bit of futzing to get it right. At first I tried pin holes... complete no go... couldn't get any meaningful drips. Then I tried screws or nails... um... very hard to get those little suckers jammed into the hose. Finally I used a drill bit chucked into a hand drill. I didn't actually use the handle to turn the thing (would have needed an extra hand or two for that approach) but the drill essentially gave me something more substantial to hold onto so I could get the leverage to jam the drill bit into the hose.

Only problem was that the drill got wet in the process of poking holes, and I was too lazy to clean it all up afterwards, so the thing rusted and froze. But a bit of WD40, as well as some cursing and banging managed to get it back in working condition.

This isn't a precision system, and I've had to keep enlarging the holes because when it gets really hot the rubber (or plastic or whatever the hose is made from) tends to swell and close up the holes. So I think I may want to enlarge the holes even bigger if I can find a better tool. I'm thinking some sort of ice pick or something pointy with a good handle. Any suggestions?

But even though it sorta looks like something you'd see on the Red Green show (any other Red Green fans out there?) it seems to be working quite well.

I've been leaving it on for several hours a day and the plants seem to be doing much better. There are finally green tomatoes starting to form, a few summer squash have come in, and there are small peppers and cucumbers set on.

I've got a few more dead hoses in the garage, so maybe I'll get my act together to make something for the rest of the plots sometime in the next 10 years or so... but I'm not gonna hold my breath on that one!

So how about you? Anybody else have any creative ideas for keeping your garden alive in this hot dry weather?


  1. I wish I had a suggestion! We are currently putting in a drip system, and it's taking forever! We've had a couple plants die on us already (planted in March/April). Thankfully, we're planting drought-tolerant plants, so hopefully it will save us water and money down the road! The hardest part of it all is the waiting...The Hubs is doing ALL the work himself, so it's taking forever. Right now we are just the house with the big dirt yard :/

    1. I'm impressed that he's installing a real drip system by himself. Sounds like a LOT of work to me! But I'm sure it will be worth it in the long run.

  2. Not nearly as much fun if you like puttering, but since it's getting near the end of the season for summer merchandise, maybe you could find some clearance deals on drip hoses. That's what we did and they work well.

    1. Harumph! What fun is that? Actually, it's not a bad idea. I'm generally WAY too cheap to actually buy something, but maybe it would be worth it.

  3. Why didn't you just drill holes into the hose instead of just poking them in? Not judging here, just wondering if the hose got jammed up in the drill bit? That's what I would try - actually drilling holes.

    I'd like to put in drip irrigation but that would require me to run a hose across my driveway. So, I've been saving as much gray water as I can and using that on the perennials and using water from the outside faucet to keep my vegetable garden alive. My water bill wasn't too bad, probably because every possible drop of gray water has been saved and used, even though it requires me to schlep many, many 5 gallon pails of water up and down stairs. My arm muscles are lookin' pretty spanky! Mulching has also helped.

    It's funny, because as I write this, I am watching the first decent rainfall we've had in months. It's been raining steady for an hour now....hallelujah! You grow, cukes!

    1. I wanted to actually use the drill, but I don't have a cordless power drill, and I was sorta scared to run the extension cord with all of the water hanging around. And the hand drill is a crank model which takes two hands just to crank it... so if I'd had another person to help me I could have done it, but I couldn't both hold the hose in the right position and work the drill.

      It dawned on me that perhaps I should try an old screwdriver now that the holes are there and just need to be enlarged.

      I'm quite impressed with your gray water reclamation project! I'm WAY too lazy to schlep things that heavy, plus it's actually illegal here in Denver to re-use gray water, so if they catch you it's like a $200 fine.

      I'm seething with jealousy about the rain. I think I can count on one hand the number of rainy days we've had this year!

    2. Why is it illegal to reuse gray water?

    3. Water laws out here in the west are sorta crazy. I'm not sure of the exact logic behind this particular law, but basically the laws are meant to ensure that the folks downstream get their fair share of the water. Collecting rain water is also illegal.

    4. I understand the rainwater law. If you collect it before it has a chance to soak into the aquifer, there could be less water to draw from. However, I don't get the gray water thing.

    5. Yea! Arm muscles!

      I'm not good with the grey water, though I will occasionally think to catch the shower-warming-up water in a gallon water jug. We just go out with a hose (and maybe the water jug) on our allowed watering days (when we remember) for our new plants that are still getting established and, during a drought, our trees.

      But then I plant only native and other drought-tolerant stuff. My boyfriend occasionally plants tomatoes (and peppers and marigolds), and then he goes outside every single morning with the hose.

    6. Well... Denver's anti-graywater law does seem a tad bit crazy to me, but here's what Denver Water's website says about it:

      Colorado water law allows each customer just one use of water before it goes down the drain, through a wastewater treatment plant and back into the river for others to use. By law, Denver Water customers are not allowed to use bath or laundry water (commonly referred to as graywater) for other purposes. After this water is used once by Denver Water customers, it must return to the South Platte River where it will be used seven or eight times before it gets to Nebraska. Denver Water does not endorse graywater systems.

      Welcome to the Wild, Wild West!

  4. I like your irrigation system, you may find another benefit to using a hose. Around here the old timers put cut up pieces of hose around plants to resemble snakes. Bunnies and other animals are afraid of snakes and won't go near the plants.

    1. Now there's a benefit I hadn't thought of! I don't know that we get many rabbits in these parts, but squirrels have been known to decimate many a garden. I wonder if it works on them too... I sorta doubt it, as I think the squirrels are pretty familiar with urban things like hoses.


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