Growing more and better with Drip Irrigation


Imagine, if you will, that your gardens have been magically endowed with a
season of abundant sunshine and mild temperature...and that every day just before,
sunrise a gentle rain falls on your garden for exactly half an hour!then ceases as
suddenly as it began, giving way to the warming sunlight. The magic rainfall amounts
to exactly 1” per week.

And imagine further, that the same rain that falls daily on your garden, will, a
few times during the season, bring with it, nutrients in exactly the right amount for
each of your crops. The rain will do this at the optimal time for each crop bringing it
your favorite fertilizer or compost tea in precisely the right amount...
At the end of the season what would you expect your crop production to look
like ?

You may not know of any magical spell that can make this happen the way I
have described; but, except for the weather, which is beyond anyone's control, I
believe you can get some of the same results with less than magic. The regular
watering described can be obtained with a drip irrigation system with an automatic
timer. Add a Fertilizer Injector to give periodically balanced fertilizing.

First, about the water. Drip irrigation is insurance against the growth retarding
effects of drought or prolonged spells of dry weather. Why drip irrigation, you may
ask? The answer is that drip can save as much as 70% over other methods of watering.
Drip irrigation places water only where it's needed by your plants directly in their
root zone, where it can be fully utilized by the plant (and much less utilized by
adjacent weeds). A well planned drip irrigation system will give precisely measured
amounts of water with no waste due to the runoff or watering of pathways and
between rows that you can expect with watering by sprinkler or hose. The timer can
be set to give needed water at regular intervals, and the emitters in a drip system can
be arranged to account for plants that need more, or less, water than the
average, even within the same garden bed. So with this type of flexibility and
reliability, although it's not magic, it does nearly as good a job. By the way, studies
have shown that plants grow as much as 50% faster, using drip irrigation.

A brief description of the drip irrigation system I use on my gardens and
orchard is as follows: A zero pressure automatic timer is attached to the outlet of my
250 gallon water holding tank. With such low pressure I don't need to use a regulator.
The water to supply the tank is from a DC submersible pump which pumps water
through a filter as it enters the tank. A 3/4” mainline leads to a 4-way splitter which
directs water through ½” polyethylene tubing to the different areas to be irrigated.
In the vegetable garden area I run drip tape right off the tubing down each row.
I also use 1/4” drip tubing with emitters spaced every 6” to deliver to some of the
plants that will require more water as they grow. This micro-tubing is easy to add to
as the plants grow and also can be fitted with shut-off valves to regulate the amount
of water they receive.

Hazelnuts which are planted in rows have emitters inserted directly into the
1/2” tubing which traverses their root zone. Blueberries have a ½ “ line deliver with
in-line emitter micro-tubing spiraling around the root zone of each plant. Grapes have
an overhead line with a different type of emitter that drips from above the base of the
plant. This allows me to weed between the vines without endangering or moving the
tubing. I'll add more emitters as the vines grow. The raspberries have 1- 2” emitter
tubing with 12” emitter spacing.

The various fruit and nut trees and shrubs have in-line emitter tubing fashioned
into what I have called “Drip Circles”. Each circle is 16' long with eight 1 gph emitters
24” apart and hose threaded or barbed fittings at each end. With these fittings I can
hook the Drip Circles up to a 1/2” line which connects a number of trees in the area to
each other; or, if the tree is distant from the irrigation lines, I can reach and connect
with a hose.

About the fertilization. A convenient way to fertilize your plants is through the
irrigation delivery system as they are receiving water. Although there are a number of
different fertilizer injectors on the market, the Fertilizer Caddy is the one I prefer as it
seems to me to be the easiest one to use and the most precise in dosing. With the
Fertilizer Caddy connected to your delivery system you can fertilize as you water; and
you can be certain of the ratio used-- because it is totally proportioning. It is set at a
fixed ratio of 200:1 (200 parts water to 1 part fertilizer, a rate determined as
optimum). The Caddy can also serve as a foliar sprayer.

In all other systems that I'm aware of the proportion is adjustable. While that
may seem to be an advantage, it is also a pain in the neck, and potentially wasteful.
Also the proportion in some units is not necessarily consistent throughout the
fertigation cycle. The ratio can drop off as the fertilizer in the tank decreases. With
Fertilizer Caddy the injection rate remains the same from beginning to end. I don't
like messing with adjustments. And why bother, when I can use Fertilizer Caddy's
fixed proportion delivery.

With drip irrigation it is imperative to use a completely water-soluble fertilizer.
And this makes sense. Your nutrients are being carried by water and the plant can
only take up nutrients when they're in aqueous solution. Fertilizer in granular form
will only benefit the plant when rainwater dissolves and leaches some of it into the
soil where the plants roots can take it up. This can leave residues or minerals that can,
over a period of prolonged use, be damaging to plants.

From what I've been able to determine, tests over the years have concluded that
applying liquid fertilizer on a regular basis is much more beneficial to a plant than
being fed infrequently with a dry, granular form of fertilizer. Liquid fertilizer is
absorbed far more easily by a plant’s root system.

Wetting agents can also be added through the fertilizer unit to help breakup
compacted soils. Micro-nutrients containing vitamins and hormones for healthier
plants, and vitamin B-1 when transplanting trees and shrubs can also be delivered
efficiently through the fertilize unit.

While hoping for magical results, this is my practical course of action for
growing more, and better crops: using drip irrigation and fertigation. More
information on these subjects can be found on my website:
Richard Cartwright

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