Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Go Ahead, Be a Drip: Irrigation Saves Water, Prevents Mold

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Go Ahead, Be a Drip: Irrigation Saves Water, Prevents Mold

Article excerpt

I hate to water the vegetable garden, but some time in late May or early June it usually becomes inevitable.

The first week, while trying to adjust the sprinkler so it turns 360 degrees, I get soaked. The garden doesn't.

The second week, I place the whirlibird atop a bucket to get better coverage. (The center of the garden never seems to be the center of its circle of damp.) About this time, the hose connection starts to leak, and the young cabbage plants experience a minor flood.

The third week, everything is more or less in place. But I go on a trip and forget to water, then learn the meaning of permanent wilting.

For all these reasons, drip irrigation is a terrific idea. It saves at least 20 percent of the water that would be needed to water a comparable area with a sprinkler. (Because you will now and again forget to turn off the sprinkler until it has formed a steady river of muddy water down the driveway, you can believe the studies that advertise savings of up to 70 percent.)

Drip irrigation waters each plant precisely where the plant needs it: in the root zone. This helps the roots to grow deeper and become less susceptible to drought. It does not wet the foliage, so damp-loving fungal diseases have trouble taking hold. It can be set on a timer, so that I can't forget to turn it on or off. You can even apply a liquid fertilizer right at the faucet head.

So, what can be bad? For one thing, installation sometimes seems to require the installer to have 18 arms and legs and to stand about 6 inches high. The parts consist of nice, tight coils of black polyethylene tubing. Neat, elegant and efficiently packed.

As it is unrolled, the line turns into a spring that coils itself around you. Holding a loose end at arm's length, placing it on the soil and dropping a rock on top works until the coil is unwound, but then the rock gives way and - wapp! - the loose end whips you in the back of the knees.

It is bad enough if you are working on an inoffensive thing like a vegetable garden. Even then, manufacturers recommend the use of little spikes called earth staples to hold the coils down. But imagine laying out a system to water the roses! It is diabolical. If the coils get away, they might well bind your tender flesh to the rose canes, fertilizing the hybrid teas with your blood.

All suffering aside, though, there is nothing quite like the pleasure of turning the tap and watching as, silently, the earth all around the garden begins to darken and smell damp.

To choose the best drip irrigation system, first figure how much ground you need to cover. If you want efficiently to water a short run of plantings - say 50 feet or less - and the garden is on level ground, you may not even need a full-fledged drip system. A soaker hose - either the old-fashioned kind made of canvas or the newer ones made of old car tires reconstituted as a perforated tube - may do the job. …

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