Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Watering Again

I received the low-pressure soaker hose I mentioned earlier. You can find it here. First, I tested it at home and it seemed to be working fine. So I built a platform 2 ft. high from 4x4's and 2x4's to hold a rain barrel up off the ground. This gives a slight amount of water pressure via gravity to feed the water through a hose to the soaker hose which I lay along a row.

I fill this distribution barrel from another barrel in my pick-up truck (hidden behind the cab in the picture). The transfer of 50 gallons only takes about 10 minutes with a nifty 12-volt water pump I got for $30 at Harbor Freight.

I attached about 100 ft. of light duty garden hose to the barrel. That'll reach anywhere in my garden. The soaker hose drains the barrel in about 2 hours. Voila! The garden gets watered and I don't have to carry water or wait around for the hoses to do it. By concentrating the water at the base of this row of bush beans, I am putting the water right in thr root zone.

We'll see how well this works. The forecast is for a continued hot, dry dummer and fall, so this system could be very important for us.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Carol has lots of heirloom melons in her plot. They look pretty healthy. She started the plants at home and set them out in late June, under a cover of thin vinyl plastic. In mid July, she removed the protection and mulched the plants with straw to conserve moisture. Let's hope she gets lots of exotic melons.

Scarlet Runner Beans

We planted some scarlet runner beans as a decoration this year. Does anyone know if they actually produce beans?

Tyler's Watering System

Tyler is bringing water to his garden in his truck. He got 2 50 gal. plastic water barrels at the Cenex Co-op and a water pump at Harbor Freight. Power for the pump comes from the small generator to on the left side of the picture. He gets enough water pressure to throw a stream about 40 ft., more than enough to water his garden. Hauling water this way is the best sure way to get water to the gardens, though I am still tempted to put in a shallow driven well just to see what it could produce.

Tyler brings water via a hose to his tomato plants. Beside each plant is a bucket with a small hole in the bottom. He puts a dollop of fish fertilizer in the bucket and then fills it with water. He has the healthiest tomato plants at the farm.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Getting water

Starbird Farm lies in the flood plane of the Snohomish river. In the winter the water table is right at the surface. This summer, however, has been quite dry (1/4 in of rain in the last 6 weeks). Our shallow pit wells (2-3 feet deep) which we used in May for irrigation water have all dried up. Other gardeners in the area are still getting water at about 5 feet down. One way we could get water would be with a driven well.

We would need a well point, a couple of special couplers, drive cap and a hand operated pitcher pump. Total cost $130 + shipping if you can't find it locally. This is heavy stuff so shipping mught add up to $70, so figure on $200.

That'll get us maybe 5 gal/min which is pretty slow, so we'd want a storage tank. We could use rain barrels at $30 each. They hold about 30 gal so we would pump for min and then water for a while.

Ordinary soaker hose requires a water pressure of 10 lbs/ We would have to set the water barrel 23 feet above ground to get that pressure. So I'd go for special rain barrel soaker hose which is designed to work at lower pressure. $22/100 ft.

So if we did 2 100 ft beds for shallow root plants and 2 soaker hoses per bed, our capital investment for a watering system would be about $385.

Alternatively, we could use 2 rain barrels -- one at the garden and one in our pickup, bring water from home and a 12v transfer pump to move water from the pickup to the garden tank for a capital investment of $110.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Our crops that are planted at nominal ground level seem to be doing alright without watering. Now in early July without much of any rain in the month of June, the soil is moist down about 2 inches and the water table is down at about 2 feet.

It's a different story for those plants we set on top of raised beds. In the early spring we had thought it wold be necessary to put most of our planting on raised beds or mounds to get the roots up out of the water table. It is very low here on Ebey Island. How wrong we were. We didn't know that the water table would drop as far as it has. So we have had to carry in water and we have not been able to carry enough to feed our thirsty vegetables.

Some of us have dug shallow wells for water, and the deeper of those are working OK. However after we've drawn a few buckets from them, they run dry and it takes a while for them to refill.

So here's my idea: Mount a plastic rain barrel on a short tower -- say 4 to 6 feet off the ground. Fill it with water and connect a soaker hose to it. Lay the soaker hose along the tops of the raised beds and let gravity bring the water to the plants a drip at a time.

But how to fill the rain barrel. Obviously not rain. Then I thought about my boat. It has a 12volt bilge pump with a switch that operates it when the level of water in the bilge gets too high. (All boats that have engines inside the hull leak a little around where the propeller shaft(s) exit the hull.)

I could mount a bilge pump and switch on a board and sink the board into the well, the pump can raise the water 10 ft or more easily to fill the barrel. I could put another float switch in the barrel to prevent the pump from running when the barrel is full. Voila!

Oops, where could I get 12 volts DC to power the system? I could use a 12-volt battery and a solar or wind charger. A 360 gph (gallons per hour) pump draws 2.1 amps. So filling a 50-gallon rain barrel would take about 8 minutes. That would take almost 16 amp-hours of power from my battery or about 20 percent of an 80 amp-hour battery. Not too bad.

Let's say that when the system stabilizes it pumps with a 10 percent duty cycle so it would draw .2 amps/hour. That 80 am-hour battery would last 410 hours (17 days). I suppose I wouldn't mind taking it home to be re-charged every 2 weeks. Or I could bring my small generator to the garden to re-charge it.

But I have a better idea. I'm looking for a small solar charger so that my watering system can virtually forever. The sunnier (and hence dryer) the weather, the better it will work.

Stay tuned to hear more about how this works.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Peas ready for pickin'

The sugar snap peas are ready to pick. I put up a fence 4 feet high for them to climb on. They'll easily top that. Yum!

We'll also have green beans within a week or so. You can see the blooms about to open.

The cabbage could be picked. We have a family picnic for July 4th. We could make some nice cabbage salad.