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Automated Irrigation Without Running Water: Possible?

How do you irrigate when you don’t have running water?

Let me rephrase the questions. Is there a way to put your irrigation on automatic when you don’t have running water (i.e., pipes and pumps)?

Rewind to last year, the summer of 2014. All but two days, daytime temperatures stayed below 92 (cool for zone 7). Most weeks, it rained at least once. And I mean, a good rain. I only had to water the garden four times by hand.

Four times, lugging milk jugs filled with water back and forth from the overflowing-with-rain-water rain barrels.

I can live with this, I think. Then I wonder if we get this much rain every summer here. It is not an unreasonable supposition, as a neighbor told us that the summer before there was a shower almost every afternoon.

Fast forward to the present, the summer of 2015, in which I begin to desperately consider the issue of irrigation when you don’t have running water. In this post, I explain how the weather this summer has not been at all amenable to growing food. At least, not for at least the past five weeks.

And a big part of it is that it takes a lot of water to keep the sandy soil here moist. Yes, even if you mulch it – and keep mulching it.

I am dragging the fourteenth and fifteenth jugs to the languishing strawberry patch, for the fifth or sixth time, and I make a decision.

I don’t care if I have all day to water (and I have most of it). I don’t care if it only takes an hour of that day to water everything by hand that needs to be watered. (In the grand scheme of things, that’s not that much, right?) I don’t care that if I am patient and keep adding mulch and goat manure (from our friends the goat dairy farmers), in five years the soil will hold water better.

I decide that I am not going to do this one more summer.

I have lived in the South for twenty-two years, most of those years in the Dallas, Texas area. Most of those years, very little, if any, rain fell during the summer. I am not going to delude myself that this summer was a fluke and that last summer was “normal.”

Yes, the average rainfall in southeast Oklahoma is nearly twice that of north Texas. But most of that rain, like most of the rain in the Dallas area, falls between October and April, not during the summer months.

I decide that I am going to figure out a way to set up some kind of self-watering system. We tried it once back in Plano, and had limited success. We used plastic storage containers that are not made for outdoor use, and the sun disintegrated them after one season.

But even that system wasn’t truly self-watering. We had to continually add water to the reservoir. Even so, growing plants in self-watering containers conserves a lot more water than sprinkling, pouring, or even dripping water over the ground.

Especially when that ground is mostly sand and rock. Not as sandy as Florida soil, but still very porous.

So I get online and do some research. I am reluctant to go back to container gardening – I tried it once and was disappointed because the plants did not get nearly as big as they do in the ground – but I’m determined never again to suffer the heartache that I have this summer. Besides, a large part of the stunted growth in containers has to do with not putting enough fertilize in the soil. Which I have been bad about in the past.

My no-running-water irrigation solution

Next spring, I am going to try the rain gutter grow system. I am going to use the Smart Pots (fabric pots) that I bought several years ago when I first tried container gardening. Instead of screwing boards into the gutters to hold them up, I am going to dig trenches that will be covered with landscaping fabric. The gutters will go inside the trenches, and the pots sit right on the ground.

The rain tanks behind the Tuff Shed will provide the water. When they have several hundred gallons in them, the water pressure is just like what comes out of a tap. Actually, it’s a lot more powerful. I’m sure I’ll have to have the spigot turned as low as possible to keep the water flow under control.

I will hook up a hose to the rain tank to keep water in the gutters. Should that not work for some reason, pouring jugs of water into the gutters to water my crops will be a lot less wasteful and time-consuming than the way I’ve been doing it this summer!

Here are a couple of videos to give you an idea of what I hope we’ll be doing:


Okay, I also promised to give you a sneak peek at our future porch, but this post has been long enough already. So while we await the next step in the building of our house, getting the concrete floor in, I will get another post up soon all about that.

Speaking of watering the garden…Finally, rain in the forecast! Whoo-hoo! 🙂

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