In February Tips pages, Larry Ledwick left this link:
It is an interesting idea, but a bit short on details. The basic idea is a bucket with small holes at just above bottom level, and another row at 10 inches up, then buried to that 10 inch line. Compost added to about dirt surface level. Once a week (or so…) fill with water. It slowly both irrigates via a drip like method (at surface and at depth of bottom of root zone) and can slowly leach in that compost fertilizer material. Nice.
For me, it would solve one of my problems. In California, the dirt can be very dry. Watering on the surface to wetness sometimes only dampens the soil to an inch (or even less!). There are ways around it, but it’s an ongoing pain. Surfactants can help, but putting dish soap on my food plants isn’t really my idea of ‘elegant’. Keeping it watered from the end of rainy season works well (as it never develops that dry dust hard to penetrate nature) but takes a lot more water. Usually I just water right next to the plant stem to excess when starting out and hope that enough damp column develops along the root ball to be effective. Usually it works… Yes, I ought to buy and install a real drip system, but my garden is ‘ersatz’ enough that it would be in constant flux and a maintenance load. I’d rather not “go there”. Well, in truth, I did “go there” about 20 years back and it was no fun.
But this idea I can get into.
My garden is in 4 x 4 foot squares with 2 foot wide rows of “paver stones” between them. This gives access everywhere, along with assuring each block has sun access even to the sides. (A 4 foot wide row aligned N-S would do the same, but with a bit more walking to get from one middle to the other). This layout means I already have a fair amount of dirt covered and not used for plantings (but roots can adventure there). Covering the middle of each square with a bucket would impact growing space. Yet for some squares that “middle foot” is not all that productive, being fairly heavily shaded. (Tomatoes, Beans, most any tall climber). I could also see putting small drip tubes into the bucket and just laying them next to the plants. Then the bucket could just sit on the pavers next to “its square”. (Note to self, check into systems for inserting small tubing connectors into 5 gallon buckets and find a friend at a fast food place that uses such buckets for mayo…)
They don’t mention the size of the holes. I’d likely start with 1/16 inch and if they clog up too badly, move up to 1/8 inch. At 1/4 inch (about 6 mm) you will have that water leaving pretty fast and I’d not call it “drip” any longer. Number of holes isn’t stated either. I think I’d point one at each intended planting location. So 4 or 8 most likely. For me, one of the major benefits would be that the quantity of water put on each square would be easily measured (instead of my present ‘by guess and by golly’ method ;-) and in the present drought, that will matter. It also would get water off the leaves. Important for both beans and tomatoes. The slow release and potential sub surface release would help greatly with depth of penetration and maintaining a suitably wet root zone in this dry soil area. Not so much in wet places.
I already use sections of fence material for ‘ersatz cages’. I’ve done it for years. It’s not hard. Buy roll of fence. Use wire cutters to cut out chunk size of cage. Bend ends of cuts over verticals on other side. I’ve also already got a couple of buckets, so doing a first test bucket would not be hard. (Put in one 1/6 inch hole. Fill with water. Start timer. Get beverage if you don’t have one. Check bucket. Loop to Get Beverage until bucket empty. Record timer. Calculate number of such holes to drain in the time desired. Call it a day.)
I think I’ll go price small square plastic trash cans while I’m at it. Their profile might work better in my square oriented garden. White would reflect sun back to the plants well.
Depth of the bottom holes ought to be matched to the given crop root zone depth. Some, like horseradish, go down a few feet. Others, like regular radish, just a few inches.
I could also see using a small pipe like, say, 1/2 inch PVC, next to a row of short crops (like regular radishes). Then have that connected to a larger “stand pipe” like section at the side (call it the 6 inch or 8 inch used for septic tank connections). Now you can just fill the stand pipe, and the water more slowly is given to all that row. I have made my own ersatz sprinklers using 1/2 inch PVC. Long section, T at the end, end caps on the T. Hose fitting on the near end. Row of holes drilled along the length at the 45 degree angle. I used 1/16 inch about 1 foot apart (total area matched to cross section of pipe). This is the same idea, but at much lower pressure, and with a “fill tank” instead of a hose connection. I’d likely just point the holes down on the 45 toward the plants.
At that point, watering becomes the process of walking around the garden filling the buckets and standpipes while you inspect each square for pests, things ready to harvest, plants needing help, etc.
At one time I’d made a sprinkler cross for a couple of squares to test having a hose fitted to the square and just ‘turn it on’ but they were the sprinkler orientation and not drip orientation (as high pressure water supply sprinkles better than drips…) Wonder where those went ;-) Between the clutter of hoses and the cost of all the hose fittings and all, it wasn’t really that helpful. Easier to just turn on one big sprinkler… But now that water is much more dear, the hand water each square is starting to be a drag. Self Drip seems like a nice approach. Filling a dozen “stand pipes and buckets” far less tedious and less prone to leaves molding…
For ‘tall stuff’ like beans and tomatoes and maybe even corn and tall collards, this is a very interesting idea. For “short stuff” like radishes and carrots, it would need modification, but serves as a good jumping off point.
Relatively convenient, cheap, and does help put the water right where you want it and not where you don’t.