In case you missed it, July is Smart Irrigation Month which promotes using water efficiently and making every drop count. I made an effort to be more sustainable in my garden this year by installing a drip irrigation system. My goal was to maintain a vegetable garden in our hot and dry zone 9B, while saving water and keeping the plants well hydrated. To do this, I retrofitted my wasteful spray sprinklers with a Jain Irrigation drip kit. Not only are my raised planters thriving, converting to drip has actually reduced my monthly water usage. It couldn't have been easier to do, and it should pay for itself by the end of the 2021 growing season. Sustainable and smart irrigation at its best! Want to know how I did it? Keep reading for all the details and ideas to introduce smart irrigation in your garden.
Making the Switch to Drip
Converting my garden to a drip system is something I've wanted to do for quite a few years. What always prevented me from getting the job done was figuring out all the parts I needed. How much of this and how many of those...I just never had time to map it all out and make a list. Then one afternoon I was recording a podcast on drip irrigation and Michael Derewenko of Jain Irrigation, who was sharing the details about their drip irrigation kits. It sounded like everything I needed in one easy solution.
A Look at Irrigation Drip Kits
The kits are designed to connect to the regular hose bib, but I since I already had an irrigation system in place, I decided to remove the sprinkler heads and add riser to connect the drip irrigation line. That enabled me to use the smart controller to schedule the watering times and days to water. I'd call that even smarter irrigation! It did require a trip to the hardware store for a couple adapter pieces but those were easy to find and install.
I capped off all but two of the sprinkler heads and retrofitted those with a 1/2 in - 3/4 adapter, then added a 3/4 in riser. This is what I attached the pressure regulator to. It's an important piece for any drip irrigation system so your fittings and emitters don't go flying when the water flow is turned on! If you don't have sprinkler lines to retrofit, the kit comes with everything you need to hook it up to a standard garden hose bib.
From there, attach the main drip line to the connector, then to the pressure regulator. At this point, you can start running the main drip line to reach the center of your raised beds. There are many different configuration options you can use for maximum efficiency. One major bonus that there are no tools required except something to cut the drip line to the correct length. Corona snips to the rescue! Then connect the tubing to the elbow or T connectors and screw to tighten. Super easy, fast, and no leaks. It's a genius connector system!
A couple things to note on installing these lines. The tubing is fairly rigid and wants to coil up to its original state. The kits include stakes to hold the line in place but if you have loose, friable soil, the tubing tends to want to coil up and pulls out the stakes. I found if you let the main line sit in the warm sun before installing, it will be more pliable and the stakes were able to hold it in place.
One of the other surprises about the kits were the clips that closed off the water flow at the end of the line. They basically hold a kink at the end of the line which I was sure would leak if I tried to use them. But to my surprise, no leaks, no wasted water. Simple yet effective (and smart) irrigation!
After getting the main lines installed, the next step was to run the emitter lines or drip tubing off the main and around the plants. There are a couple of different types of tubing provided in the kit. A drip line with an emitter or a reinforced line with evenly spaced holes that allows the water to drip out slowly around the plant roots. This is a more efficient way to deliver water, slowly and directly to the roots. It's also important to note, if you put a line in a spot and decide to move it later, the kit is complete with goof plugs to plug up any holes in the main drip line! Especially helpful when your just getting the hang of things.
I initially used the emitters that deliver a controlled spray of water to a larger section of the planter. I chose this method as I had planted seeds in rows, and wasn't exactly certain where the rows were. It kept the soil moist, and once the plants started coming up, I could go back, put in the drip lines with the holes near the roots. Then cover them with some organic mulch to keep the soil moist, even on hot days.
How Much Water Does it Take?
After getting the drip lines in place, I needed to set the smart controller water them. I started with 2 days a week, Wednesdays and Sundays. On those days each station waters 3 times in 5 minute intervals, with 30 minutes in between. I set the timer to begin watering at 5AM, giving the water time to seep, deep into the soil before the heat of the day. It seemed to be sufficient during the cooler spring weather, however when the summer temperatures hit, the plants were wilting in the heat.
Having plants in full sun with days in 100F+ the soil was drying out, so I decided to give set the controller to come on the other 5 days at 5AM for just 2 minutes. Even in these hot, dry conditions, the plants are thriving and producing plenty of fresh food. The best part is, everything is automatic and has still decreased my water usage. As the weather gets cooler, I can start cutting back on these extra watering days.
Everything You Need and Then Some
What a great way to celebrate Smart Irrigation month, with a garden that is more water efficient and can survive in hot weather like Corona, CA! These drip kits were just what I needed to finally have a nice garden that can take the heat, without driving up my water bill. I also appreciated that there was leftover of tubing and extra emitters that came with the kit.
I was able to install drip lines in all my potted containers that are difficult to keep hydrated. I gave my lemon tree some citrus fertilizer and a fresh layer of mulch. Since then it's put on tons of new growth and fruit. I'll also be retrofitting a rose bed on the other side of the house with drip irrigation and much of what I need is leftover from the drip kit.
Investing in a drip irrigation kit was a great way to stop procrastinating, giving me everything I needed and then some. While being more sustainable in the garden and landscape. Add in controlled watering times and not only is it smart irrigation, you don't have to spend time watering. However you celebrate Smart Irrigation Month, just remember that every drop you save helps the environment and your wallet!