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Best Drip Irrigation Kit and Automatic Watering System

A Soggy Saga

Last year, we flipped from overhead sprinklers and a lot of hand watering over to using soaker hoses. We bought two kits online. They worked great and when connected to a reliable electronic timer, so much time was saved and the plants thrived.

This is the kit and timer we got from Amazon, and the article we published about this type of system and the results it achieved.1)

One nagging observation through the season gave us cause to consider another system. We were still putting out a lot of water which the individual plants didn’t need.

This soaker hose system was wasting water.

The lettuce and radishes that grew in rows were OK, but the tomatoes, broccoli, beans, and squash didn’t need all the space between them to be so saturated. Though much better than overhead sprinkler watering, the amount of soaker hose output is hard to regulate much less pinpoint.

However, we’d already invested time and money into the system, took the time to install it, we figured we’d just accept this as long as the soakers kept performing. But then…

Several soaker hoses sprang leaks.

We’d be walking between the rows and feel this wet spot on our legs and it would be a tiny little jet of water, sometimes as thin as a spider’s thread. Such a little spurt seemed inconsequential. We tried fixes like covering the leaks with straw mulch, but then realized more leaks were forming and more water was being wasted. Never the less, we persisted through the year into the fall.

At season’s end, we left the hoses in place, which was definitely our error. They were exposed to the deteriorating effects of the elements, primarily sunlight. Whoops! ?

By early this year, many of the hoses were diminished in size and hardened like a dried out sponge. Testing a few, even those buried in mulch, showed that their porosity was greatly reduced. These should have been taken up, coiled, and stored in a protected area, much like a garden hose. So perhaps, this can be a cautionary tale we share with folks as to how NOT to extend the life of a soaker hose.

Extend the life of your hose with proper storage.

➡️  Here is the current best seller hose reel storage solution on Amazon. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Well, this set us up to consider replacing the soaker hoses with newer soaker hoses or….maybe improve the system altogether and go with the drippers. We had no experience at all with drip irrigation and yet knew gardeners who successfully watered their crops in this way. After consulting with them, we dug into both the literature and the product lines.

Close up H2O emitter

Layout wise, drip lines weren’t much different from the soaker hose patterns. With garden rows (mostly straw bales in our case), you lay out header tubing crossing at the top of each row and then string out perpendicular tubing down each row. Our favorite tool, The Garden Planner, came in very handy for designing the drip line layout with a very specific layer devoted to irrigation. It also generated a parts list that specified what and how many pieces of irrigation components we needed to procure.

The Garden Planner Tool in Irrigation Layout Mode

We debated on going with a highly rated kit available on-line, or finding a vendor where we might mimic all the items listed in a kit. We checked out Amazon, several recommended DIY irrigation sources, and visited some local home improvement stores to see products first hand. All of these systems looked pretty similar. The main difference is that the sources that specialize in the products had a far wider array of options, including a kind of flat irrigation line referred to as “tape”. They also had cheaper pricing and sold a lot in bulk.

We got a free on-line consultation with one company, “DripWorks” 1) that looked at our garden plan and advised what we might use. We followed up with a phone call and received further advice as to what components would work best, especially with the rate of flow-calculated in a gallon per hour drip rate aligned with our well’s gallons per minute (GPH) output. This was quite helpful. We decided to go with the standard type tubes (rather than tape), use a 3/4″ pipe for our headers, and 1/2″ pipe for the rows.

Apart from size, tubing can come ready made with emitters, or you can get solid tubes and wherever a water point is needed, install an emitter or a 1/4″ tube that leads to an emitter. The emitter tubing can be selected on the basis of how far apart the emitters are. We chose a fairly tight pattern of 9″ and a drip rate of 1 gallon per hour (our phone consultant’s recommendation).

3/4″ header to 1/2″ emitter lines

While we decided to go with a customized order (via DripWorks). Just getting your feet wet with a quality kit from Amazon will go a long way in familiarizing with these systems. Just read all the reviews (as we did) and pick the best of the lot.

NOTE: No matter where or what you order, you will always need something else to complete the project. You can order extra pieces in advance, or work with what you have. Then with a parts list in hand, trip on down to the local (big-time) home improvement store or go back online. The cool thing is that the sizes are standardized and it’s pretty easy to add in sections with non-kit components. And no big worry if you punch a hole in the wrong place. They even sell “goof plugs”!

Our raised bed layout with custom installed emitters (1GPH)

Alright, so how is the system working? We’re about a fourth of the way into the growing season and could not be more pleased. None of us plumbers, but the installation went much better than anticipated and any goof ups or leaks were handled easily and with grace. We have a rather simple system set up in the Upper Garden with just a header section and one line per row of bales. The timers are as useful as ever. The container plantings are now connected to the system via 1/4″ tubes. Far less water is being wasted and it’s super easy to adjust the flow and the timer should we see any pooling on the ground.

Our drip line setup at the Upper Garden

Here are some final pointers derived from what we’ve learned so far.

  • If you want your soaker hoses to last longer, seek to minimize exposure to the elements. Take them up during the off season and store them. However, by all accounts we’ve seen, they will eventually deteriorate and need replacing.
  • Buy in bulk if practical. Especially, items that seem to run out quickly like hose clamps, connectors, emitters. Tubing already comes in bulk.
  • Test your system frequently for leaks around the connectors. Look and listen! Check your timer as well.
  • If you are considering implementation of a drip system, get advice from actual users, check out the literature, videos, and manufacturing info. All in all, it’s really not that complicated.
  • We believe both a timer and a hose filter are essential. The latter should actually save hassle with clogged emitters.

As always, we value experience and would be delighted to hear about watering systems and techniques you’ve been using and what’s been working and not working so well.  We welcome your comments here on this site or up on our Facebook page. Till next time, happy gardening and happy watering!

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