Keep Your Veggies Hydrated Drop by Drop
For the past few weeks I’ve been enjoying fresh lettuce, spinach and kale from my garden. The tender freshness of backyard greens is unparallelled. While my lettuce and spinach are almost done—it’s getting too hot for them—I’m looking forward to having fresh kale, chard and collards well into the fall.
I grew up with gardens. From an early age, I remember eating fresh cherry tomatoes right off the vine, still warm from the sun. For a number of years my family had a fairly large garden space, complete with green beans, fresh peas, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and our favorite—sweet white corn. I have to say that in the decades since I moved west, I’ve never had corn quite as succulent as the stuff we grew in Indiana.
When I bought my house in Salt Lake City in 1987, I was thrilled that the previous owners had already plowed the back yard so that it was ready for veggies. But Utah gardening is different from back home in Indiana. High desert gardens need a whole lot more water than Midwestern ones do, and sprinkling is pretty wasteful and inefficient.
Watering the Desert
I first heard about drip irrigation more than 20 years ago, from a friend who was then the executive director of Wasatch Community Gardens. In the early ’90s I installed a drip system in my back yard from components I bought at Home Depot. It was a rather crude attempt, but it lasted 12 years before I changed the configuration of my garden space and brought in an expert, The Gardening Coach, to help me set up a customized system.
Tried and True Technology
Crude versions of drip irrigation have been around since ancient times. In ancient China, unglazed clay pots filled with water were buried next to plants so that the water seeped out into the soil. The progenitor of modern systems was recorded in Germany in 1860—clay pipes buried below the surface of the ground. In the 1920s, perforated pipes helped create better flow. Now systems are made of plastic and consist of a pump, hose and drip tape with evenly spaced perforations or plastic emitters.
The first thing I noticed when I started using a drip system was a significant reduction in my water bills compared with using a sprinkler. When you drip water at the root of each plant there’s far less water waste from evaporation. Another notable benefit was that my garden had far fewer weeds since I was only watering the plants I wanted to water and not the entire plot. A few years ago, I added mulch cloth to the mix, which holds the water in and reduces weeds even further.
Drip systems are an easy, worthwhile DIY project. If you Google “set up drip irrigation” you’ll find a wealth of information, including videos. Here’s one short video that will give you an idea.
There are also gardening specialists that can help you set up a system if your gardens are not completely straightforward. I enlisted a drip specialist to help me set up my system because my back yard is a bit of a puzzle, with raised veggie beds, planter boxes, fruit trees and perennial beds. Once she set up the skeleton for me, it was easy for me to add drip tape wherever I needed it. I do have to replace sections of drip tape periodically due to normal wear, including hungry mice. It takes no more than five minutes to replace a hose.
The benefits of drip irrigation are many, especially if you live in a dry climate. Try it out. The savings in water and weeding are well worth it.