Wednesday, May 12, 2010


We don't have an irrigation system. This is a problem where we are, because even though our winters are famously wet, our summers are hot and very, very dry. Water restrictions for people on municipal water are the norm on Vancouver Island, and things get so crispy dry in the woods that the fire hazard is extreme for most of the summer. So we get caught between needing to water to keep our gardens going (we're happy to let the lawn go brown, but the trees and veggies and perennials need to be watered) and not wanting to use any more water than we need to.

We have been watering mostly by hand, which is a problem in two ways: it's very time consuming (although on a warm evening after supper, with the right frame of mind, it can turn into a Zen sort of experience) and it is not the most efficient way to get water to plants. Misters or drip systems are much better at delivering water to where a plant most needs it, in the most miserly way possible.

But irrigation systems are not cheap. On a couple of occasions we priced out all the hoses and connectors and misters we would need, and even assuming we would do all the labour ourselves it added up to a total that made us gulp.

Kim to the rescue. She found some soaker hoses on sale last year and, in typical Kim fashion, bought them in bulk. I think she came home with a dozen hoses. Throw in a few manifolds, some fancy connectors, and voila - a homemade irrigation system.

It is a bit complicated - mostly because there is only so long a soaker hose can be and still have enough water pressure to soak. This means lots of different hoses for different parts of the garden. So there is a 4-way manifold at the pumphouse, with one outlet going to the perennial beds, one going to the 4-way manifold in the veggie garden, one going to the 4-way manifold in the orchard, and one left free as a tap. The manifold in the veggie garden has one outlet for the artichoke bed, one for the raspberry bed, one for a blueberry bed and one connected to a wand for hand watering the rest of the vegetables. The manifold in the orchard has an outlet for another blueberry bed, one for the rhubarb, one for the blackberry, blueberry and gooseberry bed, and one for the greenhouse.

Are you still with me?

So, for example, if I want to water the raspberries, first I turn on the tap at the pump house, and then the outlet on the manifold that goes to the manifold in the veggie garden. Then I go to the manifold in the veggie garden and turn on the hose second from the right. The rhubarb? Go back to the pumphouse, turn off the outlet to the veggie garden and turn on the one to the orchard, go to the manifold in the orchard, find the right hose and turn it on.

It sounds worse than it is. It's all quite logical. And the nice thing is that the plants get watered well (I am notorious for waving a watering wand in the general vicinity of a plant for 3o seconds and considering the job done), we can do other work while the watering is happening, and with the soaker hoses we don't lose as much water to evaporation. The bad thing is we have to remember to turn the water off. I already anticipate I won't be good at this, so I have bought a couple of mechanical timers (no electricity required) that can be attached to the head of a manifold so that the water will automatically go off after the set amount of time.

Kim put a smaller version of this system in place last year, and it seemed to work quite well. Our well water here has lots and lots of iron in it, and we were worried that it would accumulate in the hoses, plugging all the little holes the water is supposed to soak out of. (This is why the expensive little misters and drippers won't work well for us - according to our neighbour they plug up in no time, and once plugged they are unfixable.) One older hose is indeed toast, but all the new ones Kim bought last year were fine: the iron piled up at the end of each hose, so we just unscrewed the end cap, blasted out all the iron gunge, and we were in business.


Paula said...

Suh-weeet! And timely; I just drew out my zones today and want to put together an irrigation system that doesn't require a lot of digging or money. And building a less-than-conventional irrigation system is what I've been ruminating on now for several days. Honestly, it seems Kim and I do have a lot in common- is she a 50-year-old Libran, by any chance?

Where did you guys get that cool manifold? It's exactly the kind of thing I need but didn't expect to exist. No, really- I need to find one too.

I imagine that at the end of the season before the winter temps set in all you have to do is unhook everything, drain the system, and put it all away. Brilliant!

Miriam said...

I can't believe it, but yes she is a 50-year-old Libran. Holy smokes.

We've bought the manifolds at a few regular stores like Home Depot or Walmart. We have metal ones and plastic ones, and Kim says the plastic are actually better, although I'm not sure why and she's not here to ask! And yes, it does have to be disconnected for the winter, but that's all quite simple. The harder part is finding a place to store all those hoses!

Toni aka irishlas said...

Oh-my-word! Why can't you two be MY neighbors!
That is a great irrigation system! This something I need to do, but, it may have to wait until next year. For the time being, I'll be moving the rain barrel and counting on gravity.

I love, love, love that gate!!!

Glad you received the book in good shape. Hope the two of you get some good berry growing tips from it.

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