Watering In High Heat

The most expensive part of my garden is the city water that we’re on. Our city water is piped in. The aquifer that our land is over does not have good water. We’re near an air force base, started in the 50s and I wonder if over the years, that aquifer has been polluted from old ideas of chemical storage or dumping. Might not be, but that’s my guess. So even if I got permission from the city (would not happen!) to drill a well, I couldn’t use the water. It’s a “new generation” problem. And a well would be something I would make sure I had if we ever moved.

So, our water is expensive, as most city water is these days. I need to use my water wisely, or it doesn’t make sense to garden at all. I have friends who have tried to garden in their areas and after factoring everything in, that they spent over the season, they have reported having sad, $30 tomatoes. That’s seems outrageous, but if you are on city water and are not using it wisely, it’s very possible to spend that kind of money on an annual vegetable bed.

In spring I bury empty water bottles with holes in the base of them and fill them with water, when I hand water, to make sure water gets down as far as it needs to. I also partially bury full water bottles to absorb and radiate heat in our early growing season.

So, what do you do? What is the smartest choice for watering your garden? I will start off with the most inefficient way to water, and I see a lot of my neighbors doing this, and that’s: sprinklers. You can cover a large area in the beginning. However after your plants get taller, and are in the way of the plants behind them, sprinklers are going to be an inefficient way to water. Another reason not to use sprinklers is that you will lose a lot of water to evaporation. Plus, getting your plant’s above ground parts wet frequently, will cause disease. Powdery mildew has been a problem for me no matter where I’ve lived and it can kill entire plants if left unchecked (or if encouraged) by wetting your plants with a sprinkler. I feel the same way about sprinkler hoses. They are flat and spray out of the center of the hose all along its length. You’re still wetting the above ground parts of the plant and I don’t have a use for them in my garden.

The only thing sprinklers are good for in my opinion. Actually, when you are sprouting seeds and need even moisture: this can be effective. But once you have some decent growth on a plant this will just encourage fungal issues.

Another way to water is to hand water. This is something I do to supplement my more permanent watering set ups. But if you live somewhere really dry and/or hot you can end up with a weak garden because of water stress. If you forget or get busy or can’t get out there, for whatever reason, your garden will go through boom and bust depending on when you can make it outside to water. Like I said at the beginning of this paragraph: I do use hand watering, but not for my entire garden and not as the only way I water. There are always a few plants that need more water than my soaker hoses give them and I’ll hand water those plants or just hit the bottoms of plants when our temps get high, like today: it was 103 degrees.

Another way to water is from beneath. If you have ever seen the (“Hello, fellow gardener’s!”) YouTube channel “Gardening With Leon” he has a wicking system for constant watering from below. I’ve seen this in large scale, on other blogs, as full sized beds lined with pond liner. This is probably the most efficient way to water, but I recommend building a few of Leon’s pots to get a feel for how his wicking watering system works. You can find him here: https://youtu.be/s638_LDzOjM 

Other wicking examples. This container is a stock watering tank and they aren’t cheap. I don’t recommend spending anymore than you have to in your garden. There will be plenty of other things to spend money on.

On an aside: Leon is in Oklahoma, I grew up in north Texas. My grandfather, who was a farmer, farmed in Kansas, so I remember the cadence and the words he uses. It’s a blend of my accent as a kid and my grandpa’s. He dresses like my grandpa did, too.

I feel like I’m in a time machine whenever I watch him. Leon reminds me of going to the coffee shop, early in the morning, with my grandpa and “jawing” with the other local farmers. I would sit and listen, and all of these guys who had farmed their whole lives would talk about the latest harvest prices, local gossip and politics. Those are some of my favorite memories. Anyway. Leon is fun to listen to and he has decades more experience than most of us.

Wicking beds on a larger scale.

I actually thought about doing wicking beds when I built my last two beds, but my kids and I built the beds and I wasn’t really interested in leveling and filling a full sized bed with that method. I really recommend it for pots of all sizes (my mother uses Leon’s wicking water system for indoor pots because she travels a lot), but on a 6×12 foot bed, it would be a big undertaking.

However, I will be adding some pots to my porch, according to Leon’s instructions, that are wicking. Right now I only have things in pots that I bring inside for the winter and wicking tubs can’t be moved when they’re full of water. I’ll make some this fall and keep my cooler veggies and herbs in them and leave them out on the porch.

An over wintering indoors example. Tropical hibiscus. I think this plant is about 7 years old.

I also have an area that used to be a playground for my kids. I’m going to tear out that rotting wood play structure and create longer wicking tubs for that area (because there’s no sprinkler water out there) I’m also planning on raising fish. I know: “Look! Squirrel!” I’m easily distracted. Anyway, back to watering.

Fiddling with this many connections is not something I want to do yearly.

Drip lines are good for perennials but not for vegetable beds, especially if you are rotating planting. Drip lines are not something you want to continually mess with. They are usually more work than I want to put into my garden in a season, especially if it’s hot. But for trees and bushes: drip lines are ideal.

Then we’ll get into what I prefer to use to water: soaker hoses. I’m talking about rubber soaker hoses not the fabric kind.

The type of soaker hose I recommend. You can find this one for sale here: soaker hose

The rubber ones last forever and if they fill up with calcified deposits all you have to do is: tightly coil it and uncoil it in a couple of directions, and those holes will open back up. This the best of all of the ideas for a large bed, or raised bed, of annual vegetables in my opinion. It’s a quick, low effort, large area, low disease inducing way to water. Soaker hoses do not weep very far away from the hose, so in a large raised bed you will need to coil it into a spiral to get all of your plants wet. I keep hoses in place with landscape pins.

I usually lay two 50 foot hoses per bed. In this picture the hose is a little too far apart but my beds right now are full of plants so I can’t photograph those.

The water around a soaker hose tends to go straight down from where the hose is placed, so keeping that in mind as you are planting is essential. Another good thing about soaker hoses is that you can put landscape fabric and mulch over it to retain the water you have used or just mulch over it, to retain water with less work.

If you have a plant or an area in the bed that is consistently dry, then, while it’s running: take a push pin out to the hose and poke a hole in the hose towards the dry area. It will sprinkle that area. It’s not ideal but it will get any areas that your hoses seem to consistently miss. If you poke the hole in the wrong spot or it’s not spraying where you want it to, lay a pottery shard (or a rock) over that part of the hose and try again.

Straw on top of soaker hose on top of hugelkulter. This is an ideal set up for where I live. My mom brought me iris from a farm in Colorado that was shifting gears into specialty iris. I only had one plant, that she brought, bloom this year. But they’re all different colors and I looooove iris, so I’m excited to see what they look like next spring! If I could, I’d grow peonies down here, but it’s just not the right temperature for those. So I grow three of my other favorite bulbs: daylilies, amaryllis and gladiolus. That’s my whippet helping me patrol the garden. If you don’t want cats but you also don’t want rodents or opossums you need a whippet. This dog murders everything small in my yard. I don’t have to poison or trap anything.

I like to use landscape fabric when I want to keep bark mulch from mixing into my soil. It makes it super easy to rake large chuncky mulches off to the side at the end of the season. If you leave your mulch in place this isn’t necessary, but I usually add compost or green manure and I’d rather keep bark mulch out of that. If you use spoiled straw, then you can just mix it in with the compost or green manure. It’s why I love using straw so much!

Happy beds. There’s four 6×18 foot raised beds in this photo and all those open spaces have been planted for fall. I’m slowly fencing the garden with hardware cloth to keep rodents and other varmints out, but it’s so hot I’m kind of stalled at the moment.

I was going to bury the hoses where they cross the grass and go into my beds but the distance was short enough I just mulched over the hoses and now the Bermuda will grow up and cover it. This way I don’t have to keep connecting and disconnecting to mow the grass. If you do want to disconnect and reconnect frequently, for whatever reason, you can get quick connects for your hose ends and they are super easy to use.

Quick connects

My hoses are on a four splitter timer. If you need more hoses than that, but only have one spigot: there are ways to hook more timers or splitters to your original timer’s 4 spouts.

This is the timer I use, you can find it here: timer
Find a hose splitter here: splitter
The grass is already starting to cover the mulch over the hoses.

Soil + water system + mulch = what kind of water usage you will have. If you pay attention to all three categories, you will see a reduction on your city water bills. Plus, your garden will be consistently watered and will grow well for you. So, if you start with a water retaining bed, use a soaker hose across the top of the soil and cover the soil around your plants with spoiled straw, you can save quite a bit of money on your water bill. You can also bury bottles with holes poked in the bottom and aim your water and fertilizer right at the roots of larger plants. (You can use a homemade olla for this. You can just bury a terracotta pot that you have plugged the hole in the bottom and place a saucer over the top. You lift the saucer to fill the olla and it will slowly weep water to the roots of your plants. Or use a plastic bottle with holes drilled in the bottom. It’s much cheaper going the plastic bottle route.)

I have found that lightweight hoses may seem like a great buy (and I only needed a few feet extra to attach to my soaker hoses, so I thought I’d save some money) in our heat the hoses collapse and kink on their own, they don’t even need to be bent around something. All of the the super cheap lightweight hoses I bought I’ve had to replace. I also don’t recommend collapsible fabric hoses. Those might work on a side yard where you need a lightweight hose to coil for storage in a small space, but you can’t put them on a reel and they must have a hose end sprayer to extend to their full length. They will not work if you are trying to lay hose towards a bed because they change in length with water pressure.

My pile of garbage, lightweight hoses that couldn’t even carry water in a straight line.

To successfully time soaker hoses: turn the hose on, at the strength you want to run all your hoses at, and time how long it takes to wet the bed (but not flood it: which would have the majority of the water run out the bottom and leave your beds.)

I remove the limiters that they put on the inside connection in soaker hoses. They are easy to grip and remove with needle nose pliers. I would rather run my hoses at full strength (especially because they are so long.) I’m not a fan of limiters in general. Newer shower, sinks etc can have limiters and then you just end up with sucky water pressure.

The blue plastic piece is the limiter.

So my evaluation over the years, of all of these watering methods is that: soaker hoses (made out of rubber) are the best way to wet your beds and spoiled straw is the best mulch for beds.

Mammoth sunflower
Dwarf okra
Happy square foot planting bed. The back has mammoth sunflowers, in front of those are a line of dwarf okra, then in the rest of the bed is basil, sweet potatoes, onions and a raspberry that may not make it. But not for lack of me trying! I let basil come up wherever it likes because the bees love it. I also have an insence bush just for bees. But the big haul this fall will be buckets and buckets full of sweet potatoes. All the beds have them and they really grow well for me.

Hugelkulter/Lasagna gardens (my beds are a combination of the two. Plus, my hugelkulter is neat, instead of a giant messy mound across my property.) is the best method for long term retention of water in beds.

See how I built my beds here: hugelkulter raised beds
Dragon fruit
Only a few figs were ripe today. I grow Celeste figs because they don’t turn dark (dark colors attract birds) and they taste like strawberries when they’re ripe. I’m all for more picking and less planting which is why I grow a food forest.
Parfianka pomegranates
Butterfly pea
Non astringent persimmons
A happy bee working my basil. Insects, animals and plants have all benefitted from my steady watering practices. My yard is full of bees and lizards and birds.

I hope you enjoyed this look at city, water saving options, for an annual bed of vegetables in the high heat of summer. Have fun and go get your hands dirty!

Crazy Green Thumbs

One thought on “Watering In High Heat

  1. Two streams and two creeks flow through the property here at work, and the ‘municipal’ water comes from one of the springs that feeds one of the streams. Nonetheless, the maintenance of the infrastructure is expensive. Even while it was free at home, I still paid for the energy to pump it.

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