Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Leak You Don't Want To Fix

Now that summer heat seems to be creeping up on Tuscaloosa, bringing also the sun and its unforgiving though necessary glare, it's more important than ever to ensure that the plants in our garden receive an adequate amount of water. Natural rainfall, while our favorite method of watering with no outside inputs of water and human labor, can only carry our plants so far as days of rain can be quite sporadic, sometimes raining for days in a row and then not for weeks.

We must then bring water into the garden ourselves! Up until only a matter of days ago, we had been using a hose situated a few meters from the garden fence to water the plants, either directly or by first filling up a watering can and using that. This method of soil "flooding" can be very time consuming, as we would need to walk around through the beds watering each plant individually.

So in order to ensure maximum time and water efficiency, we have now installed a drip irrigation system in the garden! A drip irrigation system involves laying plastic tubing call "drip tape" along the length of the beds in a garden. This tubing has tiny holes in it, allowing the water that runs through to slowly "drip" out and apply water directly to plants at ground level. The tubing can be arranged to fit the layout of any garden; you should cut it to fit the length of the bed, and then connect the tapes in the beds together via drip tape "connectors." In this way, one end of the tape system can be attached to the water source, and when the water is turned on, every length of the tape will receive flow.

In selecting the drip method of irrigation, we were taking into account which watering method would result in the least amount of wasted water, or which method would be most water efficient. Andrew Kimbrell, in The Fatal Harvest Reader, reinforces what I have heard elsewhere that "Farmers have achieved the best efficiency with drip irrigation systems...(using) from 30 to 70 oercent less water than flooding and has been shown to increase crop yields by 20 to 90 percent over that typical for fields irrigated in other ways."

I first encountered drip tape irrigation at Jean and Carol's farm in Coker, Alabama. They have used it for years, as the ease of operation and efficiency of application are hard matched by another system. Some issues that have been encountered there are occasional holes in the tape, often caused by a stray garden tool. These holes can be mended fairly easily, but we will make a great effort to be mindful not to accidentally strike the tape when using garden tools.

No comments: