Soak It, Drip It, Sprinkle It: Too Many Gardening Choices

Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Linda Croy waters her plot at the Payson Community Garden, which not only creates a community of high country gardeners but benefits the community food banks. A few low-cost plots are still available and the garden sponsors weekly classes.

Payson Community Garden asks one thing of me — create my own water system.

They provide the water; I just have to figure out how to deliver it to my plants.

I’m stumped, stuck and stressed.

Why?

Too many choices.

In comparison, the inhabitants of the Shoofly ruins 500 years ago had it much easier — plant next to the rivers and streams and let them do the work.

To help me out, Plant Fair Nursery’s owner, Glen McCombs gave a class in watering systems.

He started with the basics.

“The way everything grows is, water goes down to the roots that are able to then take up moisture,” he said. “So, the water has to go down to the root zone.”

But getting that water to the root zone in Payson soil is, to say it nicely, a challenge. The Community Garden sits on a pile of granite — not so porous.

The Shoofly folks used the sandy silt soil next to the river — much softer and easy to plant.

We Community Garden folk have created our own soil, bringing in manure and soil to lay down a layer for the water to percolate through to get to the roots of our plants.

The Community Garden also has a solar pumping system that will automatically turn on the water to plots three times a week to give plants a deep soak, the best way to water Rim Country gardens.

Now, McCombs told the class we may either use soaker hoses, or a drip system, microtubing and toss-in hand watering.

Each system has its drawbacks and benefits.

Soaker hoses provide a consistent amount of water with the most even coverage. Water seeps out at a rate of six to eight gallons of water per hour covering six inches of garden, three inches from either side.

The downside to the soaker hose lies in the minerals from the water that build up until they clog the hose. Glen said we might need to replace the hoses every year — potentially expensive. On the other hand, a nice soak in vinegar could save them.

Drip systems last much longer, according to McCombs. They provide about two gallons of water per hour to a specific area.

“Best for large plants, such as tomatoes or zucchini,” said McCombs.

On the downside, drip systems may not deliver enough water to lettuce, herbs, carrots, onions and ground plants.

Microtubing is a form of drip system that uses the sturdy tubes from a drip system, but they have tiny holes made down the tube to allow the water to drip out and give coverage similar to the soaker hoses.

That sounded appealing, but then how many rows of little tubes would I need to cover the 6 x 25 foot garden plot? How many spigots would I need at the top of my garden?

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Soaker hoses, pipes, wind chimes, bird houses -- the Payson community Garden has it all.

That’s the other challenge to creating the water system — creating the manifold that connects the type of water system to the water source.

The Community Garden provides a spigot. We gardeners have to figure out how to get that water from the spigot to our water system and the plants.

McCombs showed us a contraption built with 1/2 inch PVC pipe, PVC elbows and three and four corner pieces that will connect to hose threads.

“Use a hose thread, not a pipe thread,” said McCombs. “A pipe thread is course, a hose thread fine.”

Between the PVC pipe and the hose thread, we’ll have to use adaptors.

“The manifold is quite sturdy,” said McCombs. As I understand it, we’ll be able to use it year after year.

The Community Garden has a handout with a picture of the manifold and a description of the pieces to buy to make it work. McCombs estimated putting together a watering system would cost about $60.

“It really isn’t that technical,” said McCombs.

By this time, however, my head was spinning and I wished I lived during the time of the Shoofly Indians.

Maybe I’ll just hand water.

McCombs said hand watering works so long as I make sure my garden stayed wet, a challenge with our dry, hot, sunny weather.

But that’s what makes gardening a challenge.

Humph, wish I had a river running through it all. So much easier!

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