Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gardening: Drip/Soaker Hoses...Totally Worthwhile

As I mentioned previously, we've had a heat wave in New England over the past few weeks.  It's earlier than normal this year (and longer) and it's been causing my first-year garden to take a real beating.  Since I work days, I can't always get out there to water early in the morning.  I'm not really one of those get up at 5am kind of people--I'm more one of those get out of bed at the last minute just in time to shower, dress, and be at work as the clock ticks to 9:01.  But anyway, I digress...

To help with my watering problem, I decided to try "drip irrigation," available to the common consumer in the form of a "soaker hose."  Soaker hoses come in two main varieties.  One is a hard rubberized product that looks like a black garden hose except that it has microscopic holes in it.  The other is a nylon flat hose and water seeps through the tightly-woven nylon fabric.

 In both cases, they output something like 1/4 of a gallon per hour (or something small like that), allowing you to set them in the flower beds, turn on the water and walk away for awhile.  No standing there with the hose.  No moving a sprinkler around to get to different areas of the garden.  They're kind of like portable versions of a built-in sprinkler system.

After using one, I have to say that I'm sold.  At $9.99 or less for a 50-foot run (price found at Home Depot and Big Lots), they're a worthy investment for any home gardener.  Just make sure you get two or three so you can cover your whole garden.  I particularly like the nylon ones because they roll-up flat for storage, taking-up very little space.  The downside is that then tend to kink easier when you turn corners.  You can even purchase timers for them for as little as $15.

Some tips from my (so-far) limited experience with them:
  • When deciding how many feet of hose to buy, allow for quite a bit of waste to turn corners--especially if using the nylon ones.  If you turn the corners too sharply, the hose kinks and stops working.
  • If you're planting on top of soil mounds, it's best if you can build the mounds with flat or slightly concave tops and position the hoses before the plants get too big to maneuver around under them.  If you simply drape the hoses over the mounds after the fact, you basically get water dripping down the sides and puddling in your walkways and low spots.
  • Some hoses are designed to be buried under a light layer of soil or mulch.  That helps with the drippage problem (above).
  • Mulch or straw in the walkways, under the plants, or in low-lying spots can help to soak-up the water and prevent the leaves from dragging in the mud.
  • A soil that's been amended well with organic matter (compost, peat moss, etc.) works best because it soaks-up the water like a sponge rather than becoming hard and acting more like a slip-n-slide.  I wish I had had the time to work on my soil more before planting this season.
  • A Y-splitter for your faucet is a must for this system because it allows you to have both your soaker and the regular hose connected at the same time and to switch between them.
  • If you have a private well, be careful with the soaker hoses.  If you accidentally leave it on and head out for the day, your well pump will run all day and place a lot of wear and tear on it.  For this reason, it may make sense to get one of the timers.  $15-30 is a lot cheaper than a new well pump.
  • I haven't tried it, but the soakers should work with a rain barrel, provided you have enough gravity pressure.  You might find that longer runs of hose don't work quite as well.  Splitters at the source may help or they supposedly make pumps that you can hook-up to a rain barrel to get faucet-like pressure to run sprinklers and whatnot.

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