Help me water my square foot garden!
May 29, 2010 8:15 AM   Subscribe

I've built my first square foot garden, and I'm looking for tips on how I can automate (or at least make easier) the watering process.

I built three boxes. They're all right next to each other, and fairly close to a fence. Here's a picture. (I've since put garden fencing around each.)

I'm looking to make the watering process easier. Currently, I walk the hose out to the garden each day and water it manually. I'm thinking I should split the hose and run a length out along the fence, and then branch it out to each garden independently (like this birds-eye view), but I'm open to other suggestions. My biggest worry is we have someone cut our lawn, so I'd like to minimize the hassle of moving a more substantial system each week.

If I branch the hose out to each garden, what would be the best way to then deliver the water to the plants? Drip irrigation? An overhead nozzle? Is this entire idea stupid, or am I ignoring something more obvious?
posted by nitsuj to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Lifehacker did a great article on how to build an automated drip watering system I think might be helpful.

They also showed the geeky side of gardening. which doesn't necessarily pertain to your question but thought it might be helpful since this is your first garden.

If you don't mind building up your fence you could save some space by trying some vertical gardening.
posted by no bueno at 8:22 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

A useful term to search for is 'drip irrigation'. It involves using very small pipes with holes in them and letting the water flow out under gravity.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 8:34 AM on May 29, 2010

Drip irrigation is easy -- timer, filter, pressure regulator, tubing... done. It'll cost you well under $100, with the timer being the biggest chunk of that. My system is in its third year and doing very well.

This is the place I've ordered all my stuff from, except my battery-powered timer which I got on eBay. Memail me if you need help figuring out what to get.
posted by jon1270 at 8:54 AM on May 29, 2010

What did you plant that requires daily watering? You probably should only be waterings once or twice a week.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 9:40 AM on May 29, 2010

I don't care much for drip irrigation for vegetable beds. (I'm a professional gardener in summer-dry California, so that's a heretical statement around here.) Drip can be surprisingly high maintenance as far as equipment goes, even if the actual watering becomes an easy task. People leave it on the surface, and the poly starts to decompose (which generally means get hard and brittle), and then it cracks, and it gets thrown away. Seeing as how poly is not a renewable resource, this is something I like to avoid. Drip isn't actually the best watering regime either- plant roots will go out much further and have access to more nutrition with deep watering. Salts have been found to build up at the perimeter of drip water infiltration, because you're not putting enough water down to leach salts away.
Obviously when you're working very hard to save water, you need to weigh these issues against the water saving properties of a properly tuned and maintained drip system. However, I think for a simple set up like yours, some splitters and soaker hose are the way to save some time and water, without having to take a crash course in proper drip irrigation, calculating GPH, and laying out a bunch of poly and plugging it all in. Just uncoiling inline drip tubing is kind of missing the point- you don't get the water saving of well designed drip systems that are calibrated to each plants needs, but you have all the problems associated with shallow, undirected watering.
Soaker hose is a pretty good way to water vegetables, and will last longer than the average drip system in a veggie bed. Put under mulch, and then properly stored after the season, soaker hoses can last for many years without clogging or stiffening or fussing about. It is undirected, and doesn't save huge amounts of water, but at least it can be deep watering, which is much better for plants. An overhead nozzle is fine too (its a very natural way for plant to be watered, and washes off a lot of crap), but possible harder to set up in such a way as to water completely without a lot of waste or overspray.

To be completely honest, I think the best way to water vegetables is to stand out there with a hose in the early morning, spraying off bugs and spores and dust, breathing in the smell of wet tomato plants, and then allowing them to dry in the sun. This is the time when you assess the development of the plants, look for bugs to squish, tie up wayward branches, pull weeds, harvest the fruits of your labor, and just generally enjoy the garden. I realize that's not what you're asking about, though.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:41 AM on May 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

I agree about the benefits of manually watering your gardens. It is therapeutic! You can make it as rewarding as a yoga session.
posted by nogero at 10:55 AM on May 29, 2010

I also like manually watering. It gives me a chance to check out the garden and how things are growing, pull off any damaged leaves, remove any encroaching weeds, all that sort of thing. Also, the water falling on the leaves helps wash off dirt and dust that's fallen on them, which is better for the plant. (I can't find the reference for this, unfortunately, but it's one of the things they talked about in a class on biointensive gardening I took several years ago.)
posted by Lexica at 6:47 PM on May 30, 2010

Following up on what Lexi said, a watering can like a Haws with an up-facing rosette causes the water to arc upwards before falling on the leaves under the force of it's own weight and nothing more. This comes closer to the impact rainfall would have on the leaves.

This kind of hand watering gives you the benefits of washing off the leaves without hitting them too hard with something like a hose or a watering can downspout. And you can more closely monitor how much water is soaking into the ground.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:46 AM on June 11, 2010

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