Water Conservation Tips and Ideas

Article written by Saturday6TM blogger Eric Rochow from GardenFork

I've always been concerned about conserving water, be it in the yard or the house. And with the recent droughts in the West ' where a lot of our food is grown ' water conservation has gone mainstream.

I see many people water their gardens with sprinklers, which, in my mind, wastes quite a bit of water. A lot of it evaporates before it gets to the soil under the plants. Same goes for watering with a garden hose nozzle. This evaporation is even greater when watering with a sprinkler in the middle of the day.

Water needs to get to the roots in the soil, so why not put the water right there in first place?

In the vegetable garden, I've built a DIY automatic watering system using soaker hoses and some pipe. I've modified the design a few times now, and I'll share with you how I built mine and how you can build yours.

There are a couple of kinds of irrigation systems you can buy to water your vegetable garden. The drip irrigation systems are popular. These have drip emitters spaced along a hose, and you place these drip emitters next to the stem of each plant. I bought a drip emitter kit, but I don't think it works for a vegetable garden. Also, the model I bought was not frost proof. The emitters could freeze and break in winter, so you have to pull them up and store the system in winter.

Soaker hoses work fairly well, but they can be difficult to lay down exactly where you want them. The hoses tend to curl, and you can't bend the hose at a tight angle to go up and down rows. You can leave soaker hoses out through winter. They are rubber, so they flex with the freezing and thawing. I built a simple manifold using 1/2" copper pipe and T-connections that lies at one end of our raised beds. You could also build this out of PVC pipe. The soaker hoses connect to the T-connections and run straight down the bed. Most of my beds have four runs of soaker hose, along which I sow seeds.

Each soaker hose that runs in the raised bed is capped with a 1/2" cap you can buy at a hardware store. These caps and other pipe connectors are used for what I call black poly pipe ' the kind used for wells and water supplies on farms. The soaker hoses can be buried if using them for perennials like asparagus, but it won't be as easy to tell if you have a leak in a hose if it's under soil. To slide the manifold into the raised bed, I drilled two 1.5" holes next to each other.

A water supply is connected to the end of the manifold. I put in some elbows so the manifold runs down the side of the bed, and I trenched the supply hose just below the level of the grass. This is so I don't run over and cut it open with the mower.

The supply hose is a high-quality garden hose that can sit in the ground through winter. Because the hose is rubber, it will flex when the water in it freezes, instead of bursting like plastic would. To run the hose from the water spigot to the garden bed, I use a straight edge shovel to cut a slit in the grass and press the hose into it.

I've found that 5/8" garden hose will slide onto the 1/2" copper pipe manifold. If it's difficult to get the hose onto the pipe, carefully heat up the hose end with a propane torch. Use pipe clamps on all these connections.

From what I can tell there are two slightly different diameters of soaker hoses on the market. One of them is too narrow to slide onto 1/2" copper pipe. You may have to shop around to find the larger diameter hose. I have not built a manifold yet with PVC pipe, so you may have to do some dry fit tests at the hardware store as you buy the parts to assemble a PVC manifold.

The supply hose is connected to a water timer. I have been through several timers, many of them are quite difficult to program. Shop around and read reviews before buying one. The one I currently use has a manual setting that allows me to turn on the system for an additional watering cycle if it's really dry. My vegetable beds are watered in the early morning every three days for 1-1/2 hours. It's easy to overwater your garden; you want the soil to dry out between waterings. If we are going to have a rainy week, I turn off the soaker hose system.

Be sure to occasionally turn on the system and walk around the garden listening for rushing water. That means you have a leak. The soaker hose ages over time, and will have a few breaks. These are easily fixed. Cut out the leaking section of soaker hose, and splice together the hose with a piece of 1/2" pipe as a union with clamps.

With your timer-controlled DIY watering system, you'll be helping to conserve water and at the same time, keep the garden well-watered.