Watering Your Garden

Last year when we decided to expand into a new section of our property to plant crops the question came up as to what would be the most efficient way to deliver water.  Plants need water; especially those thirsty and heavy feeders like peppers and tomatoes.  And South Carolina summers are brutal with heat drying soil quickly.  Since we decided to do semi-raised beds in this area, and it is our focal point on our farm, we knew a typical lawn sprinkler would not work.  After much searching on the Internet and lots of e-mails, we decided to go with an inexpensive irrigation system–Rain Bird.  The Rain Bird system can be used in both commercial outlets as well as residential homes, so there is something for everyone.  Also, a couple of the big box stores in the area carry similar supplies, so in a pinch the products are easily accessible.  We have an irrigation supply company, Florida Irrigation Supply, that carries all of the Rain Bird components needed and a lot of great technical help.  We also needed the system to be removable in late fall to extend the life of the system, which worked great last year and when installed this spring we had no issues with the line or sprinklers.
Garden A early 2015
We have listed just a few of the supplies that would be needed to give you an idea:
Heavy duty garden hose
Two-way splitter (so you can still have access to your spigot)
1/2-inch irrigation tubing (250 or 500 foot rolls)
Couplers, splitters, etc.
Black spaghetti string tubing (connects the sprinklers to the tubing)
Sprinkler heads
Wire ties (to close off the ends
Punch for tubing
Four-way splitter (to create your zones)
hose joint
We decided to go with 1/2 in tubing in a 500 foot roll, and we used every inch.  Also, 4-inch-high sprinklers would be used instead of emitters (crop rotation would make it hard to use emitters as these are really to be placed next to each plant growing.  Since we would rotate what we grow each year, it just made more sense to use the sprinklers.)  The sprinklers shoot out a nice circular coverage area of about 3 feet.  We also wanted to place the tubing under each box for aesthetics.  
Roma box irrigation
Unrolling the tubing was a challenge as it would twist, turn, crimp, etc., so I suggest doing this on a more than usual warm day before your crops are in, if doing raised beds, and let the tubing sit out in the sun for an hour or so.  This will allow you to get a straighter line and will make the tubing easier to work with.  You will need to anchor the tubing in places, so small metal “U” shape stakes will be needed.  We found out that old hangers work great by using wire cutters and make your own.  Bend the wire into a skinny “U” shape and there you have cheap stakes to tamp down your tubing being careful not to push down too tight as you need to let full water flow into the tubing.  
sprinkler closeup
The biggest consideration at this point is whether you want to run one long line or split up your growing area into zones.  If you run one long line, be ready to have to manually turn down your sprinklers in certain areas as most typical residential spigots will not give the pressure needed to run 500 feet of tubing and sprinklers.  You can buy booster systems to increase the spigot pressure, but this is an added cost we did not want to incur. We learned this somewhat the hard way as we did 250 feet on one line, but had to manually turn down one side each time we watered.  The first time we turned the line on with all sprinklers open, it looked like little bubbles of water coming out the top of each sprinkler.  As we turned down each sprinkler on an adjacent row, the pressure built up and that is how we learned we could only do about 100 feet or so at a time.  This year, using the same tubing, and buying additional, I cut each line, tied off the ends (simple really as you bend down the end about four inches and wire tie it), and added any sprinkler heads that may be needed.  We did this for 9 total rows averaging 12 sprinklers per line.  By doing this, we save time and each line gets the maximum pressure to send water to the plants.
hose joint 2
Also, since we created one line per row, we needed to split the lines.  This would mean buying additional four-way hose splitters.  Three watering lines run off of each four-way and the last hose ties into the next four-way.  The four-ways are tied using the same tubing and applying the necessary attachments, also purchased at the irrigation supply, to fit into the top of each.  Now all we have to do is go down each line and turn the valve on.  Each four-way splitter has a black control that regulates the amount of water flow to each line. 
Of course it is ideal to do what you can to keep from needing to water, such as using a good mulch to keep your soil moist, but in the South a gardener is bound to need to water at some point. This system is very efficient, inexpensive, easy to install, and easy to use.

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