Best Watering System For Vegetable Garden – One of our top priorities when building our new garden was to install drip irrigation for all the raised garden beds. When it comes to keeping plants healthy and happy, providing deep, even water is just as important as high-quality soil, compost, and sunlight! However, good irrigation practices are often overlooked. Hand watering is time consuming and difficult to be consistent. Plus, setting up automatic drip irrigation systems can often feel daunting…
Follow along and learn how to set up drip irrigation for multiple raised garden beds. Our new raised bed drip irrigation system uses drip tape, but the skills you’ll learn today can easily be applied to other types of drip emitters. This article and accompanying video will walk you through everything you need to know—from supplies to the step-by-step process—to feel confident setting up a similar drip system.
Best Watering System For Vegetable Garden
Did you know that automatic drip irrigation systems not only save time and energy, they also save water? Research shows that drip irrigation can save up to 70% more water than overhead sprinkler systems. Instead of spraying everything down, drip irrigation provides targeted water right at the base of the plants and soil. This reduces waste, leakage and evaporation.
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Not to mention, drip irrigation is more efficient and effective for watering plants deeply, rather than just wetting a few inches of the soil. Deep water means deeper roots and more resilient, drought tolerant and hardier plants. All in all, drip irrigation is a win-win—for you, your wallet, the plants, and the planet.
A drip bar is essentially a flattened version of a drip tube. It lies flat on the surface of the soil, but inflates once it is pressurized and full of water. Drip tape comes with emitters pre-installed at a certain distance, such as every 6, 9, 12, 18 or 24 inches. Each individual emitter will release a specific amount of water – from 0.25 gallons per hour (GPH) to 1 GPH depending on the type of drip bar you choose. The drip bar operates with lower water pressure (8-15 psi) than standard drip irrigation (20-40 psi).
It is important to note that not all duct tape is created equal. In fact, swim tape often gets a bad rap as short-lived and even “disposable” because of the way it’s commonly used in big industry. However, the life of the drip tape depends on the quality and thickness of the tape used. We chose the thickest commercial grade drip tape we could find (15 mil), which is rated to last up to 10 years when taken care of!
We chose to use drip tape in our raised bed drip irrigation system for a number of reasons:
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Yes! Drip tape can be placed on the soil surface, buried up to a foot below the soil, or covered with non-clogging mulch. Even better, drip cover tape (or other drip irrigation components) can offer protection from sun damage and extreme temperatures, thereby extending its life.
In order to keep the very top of our soil well watered, we plan to keep our drip tape fairly close to the soil surface, but we will cover it with some soil and mulch. No matter how you choose to install the drip tape lines, make sure the emitters are facing up.
I recommend spreading drip irrigation in raised garden beds in a way that evenly saturates the entire bed, with rows no wider than 12 inches. After all, one of the many benefits of growing in raised beds is that you don’t have to follow rigid row planting, unlike traditional row crops. Plus, the more moist soil there is around, the more worms, nematodes, and beneficial microbes will thrive! Last but not least, watering in a wide circle around the plants (as opposed to directly at their base) encourages the roots to explore, grow bigger and wider. It leads to bigger, healthier plants!
In our 4×8′ raised garden beds, we placed the drip lines about 9 inches evenly spaced across the bed – or a total of four lines per bed. Each row of drip strips has 0.25 gph emitters every 6 inches. This distance will ensure a nice even distribution of water throughout the bed, allowing us to plant along the drip lines or in between. It will be especially great for closely spaced crops like root vegetables.
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It is best to place the header at one short end of your raised garden bed. Then attach the drip tape (or other pipes and emitters) from the header down the length of the garden bed.
Drip tape in our 4×8′ raised beds, spaced every 9 inches. With 15 emitters per 8 ft row of drip tape, each one provides 0.25 gallons per hour and a total of four rows of tape, which means this bed will receive 15 gallons of water in an hour. We definitely could have gone with a 0.5 gph drip tape as well – and then run the bed for as little time as needed!
Depends on! Each garden will have different water needs based on its unique climate, season, temperatures and rainfall patterns. It also depends on your mulching practices and how thirsty your plants are. Larger, mature plants usually “drink” more water than smaller ones. Soil protected with a nice 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch will stay moist much longer than bare soil, greatly reducing water needs.
In general, it is best to provide less frequent, deep, long watering, as opposed to short shallow periods of water each day. This will encourage deep healthy roots and stronger, more resilient plants. Try to water enough to keep the soil evenly moist at all times, but allow it to dry out very slightly between waterings. Of course, you never want the soil to be completely dry! But remember that plants breathe through their roots – so the soil should not be constantly wet.
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In our climate, we typically run our raised bed drip irrigation system for about an hour twice a week. Your system’s power-up time will also vary depending on the type of emitters used. For example, if we used adhesive tape with 0.5 gph emitters (instead of 0.25 gph), we could run the system half the time.
When direct seeding, plan to provide supplemental overhead or hand watering during the first few weeks. It will help keep the top of the soil nice and moist during germination and early root development.
Once these baby radishes get a little bigger, a drip irrigation system will give them plenty of water on their own. However, immediately after planting the seeds, I made sure to hand water as well to keep the topsoil nice and moist (especially between the rows of the drip tape where it is more prone to drying out).
As with all types of irrigation, it is best to winterize your raised bed drip irrigation system before freezing conditions occur. At the very least, drain the system thoroughly and protect it with a nice deep layer of mulch. Leaving standing water in pipes or valves can cause bursting when the water freezes and expands.
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Or, to further reduce the risk of damage, people in extremely cold climates may want to remove drip irrigation components entirely—storing them in a sheltered location over the winter. However, there is no need to tear down the entire system! Use a threaded adapter at the connection point in each raised bed. Then you can simply unscrew it, remove the entire header and attached drip lines together in one piece, and hang it in the garage (or something).
Average household water pressure is about 40 to 60 pounds per square inch, also known as PSI. It is the ideal pressure for sinks, showers and outdoor hose bibs. However, drip irrigation systems cannot handle such high water pressure. Too much pressure can cause “bloat” or damage. Therefore, you will likely need to add a pressure reducer to your raised bed drip irrigation system.
The best operating pressure for standard drip irrigation pipes and emitters is between 20 and 40 psi. Most often, a pressure reducer at the start of the system is adequate (eg where it connects to a tap or control valve). Our main irrigation valves already had 40 psi pressure reducers installed on the head assembly. Note that lengths over 100 feet of standard ½” irrigation pipe may begin to lose pressure at the farthest end.
However, drip tape needs even less pressure, from 8 to 15 psi, depending on the thickness and specifications of the drip tape chosen. ***In order to maintain good water pressure throughout our large garden, we kept our main PVC lines at 40 psi, but then added a 15 psi pressure regulator to each raised bed before connecting the drip tape.***
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The first pressure regulator in our system reduces water pressure to 40 PSI in the main water lines that feed each garden bed.
Then, in each bed, we added an additional pressure regulator to reduce it to 15 psi, ideal for drip tape.
Below is a list of supplies needed to create the
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