• Mathilde Burlion

Watering your veg garden using the permaculture principles

Watering is an art, and there are a number of techniques that vary from “relying on rain” (my favorite technique for the lawn) to setting up much more elaborate systems. In this article, I'm talking about micro-irrigation in the vegetable garden, and more specifically about the installation of a drip system.

When it comes to watering, the key words are "control" and "economy": control and economy of the water supply, our time and our physical energy for this recurring task. A drip system meets these criteria perfectly.

Micro-irrigation brings together all the methods that aim to reduce water use as much as possible by limiting losses.

For example, in antiquity, several peoples used jar irrigation which consists of burying a terracotta jar up to the neck to supply water to the plants planted around it. Once filled with water, the jar empties little by little through the terracotta walls which are porous, irrigating the plants.


Today, porous pipes or drip systems are available on the market.

A porous pipe releases water through tiny holes. It takes quite a high water pressure for it to work and these holes can easily get clogged.

In the modern drip irrigation systems, the pipes are watertight with outlets either placed regularly along the pipe in the case of "drip-tape" or defined by the designer of the system. It was in a Kibbutz in 1959 that this system was designed. Very efficient, it is used all over the world now.


The permaculture corner

By choosing micro-irrigation, we apply 2 principles of permaculture:

  • Fifth principle: use and enhance renewable resources and services

  • Sixth principle: do not produce waste (do not waste)

I don't live in an arid environment, I would even say that it rains a lot at home. I still choose the drip because today I use tap water to irrigate my vegetable garden and I do not want to waste this precious water knowing all the treatments it takes to get it drinkable. Ultimately, I would like to collect rainwater or dig a source to water the vegetable garden.

Why install a drip?

  1. All the water gets to the roots as well

  2. The water resource is better used: no loss by evaporation

  3. You can water whenever you want since you don't wet the leaves of the plants.

  4. You can water easily while insulating the soil with fabric, plastic or cardboard to prevent weeds from growing or to keep the soil warm or to prevent your plant leaves from coming into direct contact with the soil ( especially useful for tomatoes which like warm soil and are prone to a disease called septoria). Many plant diseases arise from soil / leaf contact.

  5. You spend less time watering and more time ... the choice is yours.

  6. You control the quantity of water dispensed.

Where can I find a drip system?

Internet! Personally I use a company called Drip Depot. I like that they offer complete kits (for example for the irrigation of a vegetable patch) that we can customize according to our needs.


How much does the drip cost?

For example, with $ 50 you can have an irrigation kit for 30 potted plants that can be used for a number of years.


Is it easy to install?

Yes, although fitting all the small parts together can end up hurting your fingers. But it is quite possible to build and use the system little by little.

It is like the electricity network or even the motorway network: the large pipe is used to connect the main power supply to the different "subsystems", for example a raised bed, pots, or a row of plants.



For a row where all the plants are aligned, use "drip tape" on the left. This is a regularly drilled pipe that distributes water along the row.

For a vegetable patch, or any other shape, we use the right pieces: it is a thin pipe that we cut and connect as we go to connect the plants to water regardless of their arrangement.

For example, here is how I connect this baby tree to my system. (This is a paw paw, a fruit tree native to North America whose fruits resemble mangoes and taste between banana and mango. The fruits ripen in the fall. You can find some at Rutgers garden in the vegetable garden.)


Left to right: the baby paw-paw tree; the main alimentation of my watering system: on the left and on the right are departures to drip systems with pressure reducers. Center left is a connected to a basic water hose and center right is still free. Picture on the left: connection of the main drip hose to the subsystem that will irrigate the paw-paw tree.


Cut & connect the small-pipe to feed the baby tree. At this stage, we can put a stopper or continue the system. I continue it to feed a rose bush.


Feeding the rose bush. In this image we see the "highways" and the " rural roadway" that feeds the paw-paw and the rose bush in series.

The water flows at the foot of the paw paw ... drop by drop.

Connection of the rows with the "drip tape". The row feeders can be fitted with a small tap to control which rows are watered and which rows are not. For example, if you have a row of garlic, one of tomatoes and one of cucumbers, you should not water the garlic when they reach maturity (end of June, beginning of July), and water the tomatoes less than the cucumbers.

How close to the drip irrigation should my plants be to be properly irrigated?

I would say ... it depends. By letting the system drip for a while (let's say 3 hours - for my part, I prefer to water for a long time and less often) and by plunging your hand into the soil, you can see the volume of wet soil. The plants in this volume will be well irrigated anyway. For plants outside this volume, it will depend on the depth of their roots. For example, turf has small, shallow roots, a poor ability to seek water deeper than just where it is planted. The plants native to North America, on the contrary, have developed deep root systems and are able to collect water further. With all this I am not talking about the vegetables ... The photo above shows how I did at home and the plants did well. But as I wrote, it rains a lot too ...


Conclusion

I hope that this article has been useful to you and that if you embark on the adventure of micro-irrigation, that it will be an opportunity to enjoy your garden more. Personally, I spend less time watering and more time monitoring my plants. Sometimes I forget to stop the drip. This may be the biggest risk, but there are timers.


I had the opportunity to practice. If you need help with the design and installation of a drip system for your vegetable garden feel free to contact me.



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