Category Archives: Gardening

The 2015 Irrigation Update

In the past, my irrigation articles have gotten a lot of interest, so I’m writing today to share some of my more recent developments on the topic.  Click Here and here to link back and check out the older ones again.

Originally, I was using JB Weld to make the pipe to barrel connection.  That really didn’t work because it was too brittle.  The joints were constantly breaking and then the water would leak out of the barrel.  And yes, I tried using even more JB Weld, gooping on a large amount and making a wide base.  It just never worked.  Below is a picture of my latest iteration:

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Drip Irrigating from a 55 gallon barrrel

Some plumbing supplies are required.  Below is an exploded view:

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Drip Irrigation Supply Line connection to 55 gallon barrel

The PVC fitting on the right is inserted through the 1″ hole from the inside of the barrel.  Its kinda tricky to do.  I use a long flexible wire that I feed in through the bung, and then out the 1″ drilled drain hole.  Then put that fitting on the wire and it slides down to the hole.  Insert your pinkie into the threaded fitting to pull it through the hole until enough thread is showing on the outside that you can put your gasket on and then thread on the second, longer PVC fitting.

The gasket is the second item from the right.  It is a section of tire inner tube that I cut down.  Use another of your fittings to trace a circle at the center of the inner tube and then carefully cut it out.  Don’t do a sloppy job on this part, if you do, you’ll end up with leaks.  The gasket needs to seal all the way around.

Next item in the picture is a hose washer.  Insert that into the female threads on the longer PVC fitting.  Then screw them together.

Once you’ve got it fairly tight, you’ll notice that the fitting on the inside of the barrel is spinning as you tighten.  You’ll never get it tight enough to prevent leaks unless you can hold that internal fitting still.  I solved that problem by duct taping a medium sized crescent wrench to the end of a hoe handle.  You can then lower the crescent wrench through the bung to reach the fitting from the inside.  The fitting has a hex flange on it which makes this possible.  Now you can tighten the two down.

Last,  I install a brass valve on each barrel.  This allows you to shut off the supply line in case you need to repair drip tapes, etc.  Or you could also do your irrigating, then fill the barrels again and shut of the valve.  When its time to irrigate tomorrow, the barrels are all full and ready to go.  This could help you out when you know you’ll be in a hurry the following day.

We’re currently running 11 barrels like this, each providing water to a 600 square foot area.  Here’s a picture of the completed setup on my squash patch:

Drip Irrigation

Drip Irrigation

Do any of you have a similar setup that works for you?  I’d love to hear about it and compare notes.

Thanks, Robert.

Starting the Fall Garden

Last winter I built a greenhouse out back.  By the time it was finished it was too late to be starting seeds for the summer garden because it was already getting warm outside.

A few days ago I whitewashed the greenhouse using some hydrated lime mixed with water and applied with a broom.  This provides some shade so that it doesn’t get too hot in there.  Each rainstorm will wash away a little bit of that whitewash and so as weather cools, the ‘greenhouse effect’ will be stronger.

Inside I prepared some beds and planted kale, spinach, mache, lettuce, arugula, beets, kohlrabi and radishes.  I moved in a few kale transplants that we started outside a month ago, too.  This way we have a succession planting of kale.  As we plan better in future years we will do more of this.

According to some of the Eliot Coleman books we’ve read, we are a little late in doing this planting.  Better late than never!  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Thanks,

Robert

The drip irrigation installation

Here’s more info on the drip irrigation.  I’m sharing this because of a comment (this is long overdue – sorry!) from the last drip irrigation post requesting more pictures.  That reminded me that I had a terrible time finding information myself on drip irrigation.  There is an excellent guide that a neighbor told me about at Toro.  It was way too detailed and technical for me, though.  I wasn’t going to be investing in tons of equipment, filters, pressure regulators, etc.  I just wanted to hook a few tapes to a barrel and call it a day.  Well, I just set out one afternoon and hooked it all up to see if it worked.  It did!

Here’s some more pictures and detailed descriptions on how I did it:

This is the 2″ threaded PVC nipple installed in the hole near the bottom of the barrel.  It is attached with JB Weld.  Then a brass shutoff valve in installed before finally connecting the hose.

I use garden hose as my supply lines.  Using a drill bit in my cordless drill, I placed holes where I want my drip tapes.  The above blue thingy has  a barb on one end that connects to the hose and a tape lock nut on the other end to grip the tape.  The brand is Netafim and I got them from Farmtek.  Each drip take has its own shutoff valve.

Another view.  I have noticed better performance where I set the barrel to be higher than the beds.  Gotta love gravity!  Using a few cement blocks or some scrap 2×4 shims will do the trick.

We are using uniform bed sizes everywhere, measuring 30″ wide and 20′ long.  Another benefit to that decision is that the feeder lines and drip tapes can be gathered up and reused next season as long as we make the beds the same size again.

After using it for several months, there are a few things I’d like to point out.  First, the epoxy breaks very easily.  At one point, I had a shovel or hoe leaning on the barrel and I bumped it.  The tool fell right on the pipe that is sticking out of the barrel, broke the seal, and the water began leaking.  Another time, I bumped the pipe with my foot and broke the weld.  Applying a second, heavier layer of epoxy does help strengthen, but I’d be interested in researching a new idea, such as putting a nut on the inside and outside with rubber washers sandwiched in between.  That would be much stronger.  That’ll go on the list of projects for the winter.

Another concern has to do with the potatoes.  When I hilled them up, I buried the driptapes.  Shouldn’t be a problem, I speculated, since this tape is designed to be buried up to eight inches in soil in commercial applications.  Those same commercial application, however use an irrigation pump to achieve the optimum amount of water pressure in the lines.  Using my gravity based system the pressure is much lower.  The lines in the potato beds are buried under several inches of our clayey soil and are pinched.  Some of the beds don’t have water going to the ends and the potato plants are drying out.  I’m resorting to hand watering for those spots and it’s getting old.

A follow up article was posted in June 2015.

Thanks, Robert

We’re still here!

Its been quite a while since we’ve posted anything, but here’s a sampling of what we’ve been up to lately:

Here’s the wide view.  The 30×100 foot garden is along the left, pathway for the truck in the center, and then a 30×30 foot squash/watermelon/pumpkin patch on the right.  A few chicken pens are visible way in the back.

Zucchini in the front, cucumber trellis in the middle row with Armenian, pickling and lemon cucumbers.  The lemon cucumbers are by far our favorite.  Behind the cucumbers are runner beans that aren’t climbing, and then two beds of kale, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and cauliflower.

Two rows of sweet corn, 100 row feet of potatoes and then one row of artichokes.

Here are our leeks and onions.  Looking a little thirsty, but also tasty!  The rest of the three or four beds were failed direct seedings of beets, parsnips and carrots.  Not pictured is our four Belgian endive plants that we’re very excited about.

In the foreground are two large tomatillo plants.  Further back are several rows of tomato plants.  They are struggling terribly.  It’s due to a mixture of a late start, transplant shock and overall bad tomato growing conditions in our area.  We’ve been told that tomato blossoms shatter when the temps are beyond mid nineties.  We do have at least one tomato, despite all this.  Not pictured are two rows of direct seeded herbs that never came up (except for the cilantro) and we think it is that we didn’t water them enough.

Courtney grew a row of Hopi Red Dye Amaranth in front of the sunflowers.  Outside the fence you can see our 15 plants of rhubarb that we transplanted from our friend earlier this spring.  We did not harvest these at all this year so that they could focus on putting down roots.

And now on to the animals.  Well, you missed the broilers – they’re already in the freezer.

Here are our Buff Orpington laying hens.  We have 13 of them, along with 7 Americauna hens.  The Buff Orpingtons are a dual purpose breed that are great for eggs and meat.  We plan on breeding our own and never needing to buy chicks again.  Courtney has an article planned for the future describing in full detail how we chose this breed.

We started the season with four Broad Breasted Bronze turkey poults, which are all now dead.  Three died of supposed genetic disorder where they go lame.   The fourth was lost to a fox… another story for another day… still not over it.  Above you can see a beautiful heritage Bourbon Red turkey that is 20 weeks old that we bought this past weekend along with the three Blue Slate chicks.  The blue slates will breed, so hopefully we’ve got a male and a female in the bunch.

Originally I had planned on buying two pigs for the year.  Courtney convinced me that we needed to tell everyone we have the “Three Little Pigs” so I had to get one more.  I love piggies, so it was an easy decision.  They love their mudhole and eat anything we throw in to them.

And of course how could we forget Cowboy and Wolfey!?  They absolutely love the wide open spaces we have out here in the country.  And how about that lawn?  We have a dirt lawn, and don’t really care.  Grass requires water, a lawnmower and wouldn’t grow anyways with the dog and kid traffic.  We’d rather spend our time on stuff we can eat.

All in all, life is great.  We’re very busy, but doing things we love.

Thanks, Robert.

Drip irrigation

We love our arid climate, but realize that it can make gardening a challenge.  On average, we get less than fifteen inches of rain per year, which is almost 1/3 of what I am used to growing up in Pennsylvania.  In an attempt to provide more consistent and conservation-minded water to our garden we’re installing a drip irrigation system utilizing 5/8″ drip tape gravity fed from 55 gallon plastic barrels.

In the above picture, you’ll first see that I have elevated the barrel on a few cinder blocks in order to create slightly more water pressure from gravity.  The barrel was originally a white color and I painted it black so that a.) sunlight penetration is reduced which will prevent algae growth and b.) the water will heat up in the barrels.  Using warmer water will reduce shock that the plants might have if the water was colder.  A threaded PVC nipple was JB Welded to the side of the barrel one inch up from the bottom.  It is one inch above the bottom because I don’t want to draw any sedimentation into the lines that may collect at the bottom.  Between that and the hose I have a brass shutoff coupling.  The supply line running between the beds is the cheapest garden hose I could find.  I cut pieces to fit each row of beds.

Each bed has two driplines running down the length of the bed.  Beds, by the way are 30″ wide and 20 feet long.   Everything is uniform, which will allow interchangeability.  We plan on getting several years usage out of the tapes and this way we can easily install them next year, not needing to worry about where each tape goes.  Each tape line begins at the supply line, coming through another shutoff valve.  That shutoff valve has a barb on one side that you push into the hose (I used a cordless drill to make the appropriate size holes in the supply hose first) and the other side connects via a coupler to the 5/8″ drip tape.  The tape and the shutoff valves are from Farmtek.  At the other end of the tape, fold it over on itself twice to crimp closed and then fold lengthwise.  Then slide a 1″ section of drip tape over the fold to hold it together.

Having every line on a valve gives you maximum control of water.  Some beds contain a crop that is harvested early in the season, and once done you could turn that bed off to save water.

To calculate how much water you’ll need, we estimate that each bed will need 1″ of water per week.  A bed if fifty square feet.  That translates to ( 50 / 12 x 7.48 ) 31.16 gallons per bed per week.  Said differently, I’m dividing fifty by twelve to find the cubic feet of water that 1 inch of rain on that bed would represent.  One inch of rain would be 1/12th of a cubic foot of rain.  One cubic foot of rain water on a 50 sq ft bed is 50 cubic feet and that would be twelve inches of rain.  Then convert to gallons by multiplying by 7.48.  Most of our lines are set up to water seven beds at once and I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that each bed is getting an even amount of water.  So, you could fill your barrel to the 30 gallon mark every day of the week and know that all seven beds are getting 1″ of water over the course of seven days.

Click here for follow up posts in August 2012 and June 2015.

Thanks, Robert.

Experimentation in Compost Tea

In Steve Solomon’s book “Gardening When it Counts” he shows a very simple recipe for compost tea.  Take a shovel of compost, throw into a bucket and then fill with water.  Stir daily and then apply to the garden after one week.

We’re giving it a go here on our homestead.

Compost tea is a great, natural fertilizer.  Ben Franklin once said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  That applies in this case because compost tea is a superfood for plants.  Healthy plants grow strong and provide more nutritious food for us humans to eat.  Healthy plants are also better resistant to drought, insects and other problems.

This reminds me of an interesting story my boss at work told me.  The 2011 growing season was a bad one for apricots at the farm where I work.  A lot of preventative work had been done using organically certified fertilizers, fungicides and pest controls.  About the time the crop should have been ready to harvest (the trees were almost bare) my boss looked across the fence.  A neighbor had a few acres of apricots and they had been badly neglected for years.  No pruning, fertilization, or even watering was done.  Those trees were absolutely loaded with fruit!  It was as if mother nature was saying “you can’t outsmart me!”  Needless to say, we made drastic changes for the 2012 growing season.  We’re not doing anything but applying compost tea (a much more technical recipe and process to brew that what I’ve described above, however) through the foliar sprayer.  Guess what?  Now our trees are loaded with fruit!

Here’s to a successful 2012 growing season!

Thanks, Robert.

More on compost

Here’s a picture of our pile.  We’re following the layering approach to incorporate all kitchen scraps between layers of straw, soil, garden waste and aged compost or soil.

The white bucket has a tight fitting lid and sits beneath our kitchen sink.  Each time I empty it on the pile I add a layer of straw on top in an attempt to trap some of the moisture.  The fencing panels are in place to keep out the neighborhood dogs that visit during the night for a snack.

Thanks, Robert.