Irrigation system

Another gardening guest post courtesy of Matthew, AKA Farmer Brown.  For all things garden-related, check out the new Browns’ Green Garden page.

I’ve been gardening for a while now, and I’ve watered by hand, from rain barrels, with a sprinkler, and with soaker hoses.  By hand can be very precise, and allows use of rain barrels, but takes a lot of time once you have a larger garden.

Watering with a sprinkler saves a lot of time, but is relatively wasteful of water.  You lose some of the water to evaporation (depends on relative humidity, wind speed, and time of day), but all that wet foliage also increases the risk of a number of plant diseases.

Watering with soaker hoses is more water efficient than the sprinkler, but one soaker hose costs a decent bit, and then you must leave it in place and move the connector hose between soaker hoses, or laboriously move the soaker all around (soakers are easier to use with row gardens, but row gardens do not use precious garden space very efficiently, so I use 4’ wide beds, which require soakers to be snaked among the plants.

I’ll still use my rain barrels, both by hand watering and watering with a hose.  I’m also still pondering setting up a siphon system to increase the storage and move the water closer to the destination, but this system promises to dramatically decrease the time watering (my mom was moving the sprinkler to four locations to water the whole garden), decrease water use, and decrease plant diseases in my garden.  Here’s hoping it delivers.

Switching to drip irrigation
Drip systems take significant money and time to set up (and to learn enough about them to order one), but they allow a gardener to deploy the system and leave it in place, deeply watering the whole garden by timer without getting foliage wet.  While they cost a lot, they cost less than enough soaker hoses to water a garden, and entail much less effort than moving a hose about, and much less risk of damaging plants with hoses.  They do require the gardener (and anyone else in the garden) to be careful not to damage the system.

Thanks to a biodiversity grant from Slow Food St. Louis, I’ve taken the leap and invested in a drip system.  It took me about eight hours, spread out over a number of days, to understand the parts of the drip system, how the parts go together, the different flow rates of different components, costs and benefits of high vs. low flow, and the various calculations you need to make.

I knew I was just doing garden beds, so I simplified matters by only investigating emitter tubing and drip tape.  Using the Dripworks’ T-Tape estimator, I determined that with low flow T-Tape I could do my main garden on one zone.  Later I learned, luckily in time, that to do such a large zone I’d need to use 3/4” mainline tubing to allow sufficient flow rate to support such a large zone (most kits include the more standard 1/2” mainline tubing which can only handle 240 gallons per hour, but 3/4” supports up to 480 gallons per hour).

I debated drip tubing vs. drip tape, but the tape costs about a quarter as much and was available as lower flow with more emitters per linear foot and theoretically lasts pretty well.   I decided that the tape was worth a try, especially since the price of doing the whole garden with tubing would have been a much larger expense, and the benefits of the system are greatest with as much of the garden covered by it as possible.

I also realized I could save money, time, and water by doing each 4’ bed as a valved barb (so the water supply to the bed can be turned off), a run of drip tape, a T shaped connector, two short bits of drip tape, a 90 degree connector, and two more runs of drip tape.

It took about sixteen hours to install, and I learned that while most instructions say to tighten drip locs for drip tape by hand and fold ends of drip tape once or twice, if you want them not to leak you should tighten with pliers and fold ends of drip tape twice.

There are many drip irrigation suppliers and companies out there; these are the two I used.  I purchased most of my supplies from Irrigation Direct with their competitive prices and free shipping, but they don’t make or carry low flow drip tape, so I got low flow drip tape (T-Tape) from Dripworks.

July garden tour

Here’s another slide show from the garden.  Given the fact that we’re baking here (and will be for the foreseeable future), we’re very thankful to have the new drip irrigation system in place (guest post on that coming soon).

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It’s come a long way since May:

  • We ate our first tomato, with lots more on the way.
  • We’ve been enjoying new potatoes.
  • Matthew and his mom harvested all the Yukon gold potatoes, but there are many potatoes that need to be harvested soon.
  • Despite the large quantity of onions planted, our harvest may be fairly small — it got too hot before they had time to get much size.
  • Summer squash and cukes are pouring in, with a couple jars of pickles in the fridge.
  • Matthew made a couple of small restaurant sales (fennel, artichokes, kale, and golden beets)!
  • We named the garden, and I’m working on a new page for all things garden-related.

Early May garden tour

Matthew and his mom have been hard at work this spring, putting in time weeding and mulching now to [theoretically] reduce the workload later.  For mulch, Matthew purchased several bales of straw — transporting them to the garden two or three bales at a time on our bike rack — and Pam picked up more coffee bean sacks.

I must admit that I haven’t actually been to the garden in a couple of weeks, and things change quickly in a spring garden.  Fortunately, you can join me on a virtual garden tour.  (Unfortunately, you can’t taste the food virtually.)

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A few things of note:

  • Most of the garden-fresh produce we’ve been eating has come from plants that wintered-over, some inside and some outside the low tunnel — lettuce, kale, carrots, and Swiss chard.
  • After years of struggling to grow spinach, we have a bumper crop this year, and it is delicious!
  • The attempts to winterize the artichokes failed, so Matthew started new plants from seed this year.
  • Our tomato seedlings look WAY better than anything I saw for sale at the farmers’ market on Saturday.  Just sayin’.
  • Some of the potatoes are already blooming, and Matthew cut scapes off of some of the garlic last weekend.
  • A rascally rabbit got inside the fence and dined on tender young pea shoots, so we mat not have much in the way of a spring pea crop.

Also, more exciting garden-related news: Matthew found out yesterday that he is the recipient of a Slow Food St. Louis biodiversity micro-grant!  His application included plans to grow celeriac and paw paws, both items that Slow Food StL identified as being of interest to local chefs.

If there’s anything I’m missing, I’ll let Matthew add it in the comments.

How’s YOUR garden growing?

Garden goods

Despite the craziness of having a baby in the middle of the summer, we managed to have a great year garden-wise.  Understandably, my involvement in the actual gardening, and in putting up the food, was even more limited than usual.  I just sat on my butt all day cared for a very demanding baby and enjoyed eating the garden’s bounty.  We canned some green beans, and my mother-in-law canned tons of tomatoes and froze lots of other veggies for us.

Last week, we made one of our favorite soups, Country Vegetable Soup with Pasta, almost entirely with garden goods, including fresh tomatoes in mid-December (picked green before the frost in early November, and ripened slowly inside since then).

Homegrown goods in our soup included leeks, tomatoes (fresh, not canned), onion, celery, sweet potatoes (subbed for carrots in the recipe, because that’s what we had), green beans (from frozen), and basil (also frozen) for the pesto.  We didn’t have any zucchini, so we just subbed more of the other veggies. Hearty and delicious, and so fun to have grown almost all of the ingredients!

In the end, the only non-garden item in the soup, other than the pasta, was the garlic.  We had a nice garlic harvest, but at the rate we go through garlic, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to grow enough (though Matthew’s working on it 🙂 ).

Monumental fennel

Look what our garden made!

A gigantic fennel bulb!  It’s always fun to try something new in the garden.*  We tried fennel last year, but never got beyond a tiny little plant.  Not so this year!

We roasted the bulb, and we’re using the stalks and feathery bits in salads.  Roasted fennel is quite the treat!  While we were at it, we roasted some garden beets and turnips, too 🙂

Roasted Fennel
Preheat oven to 400° F.  Cut fennel bulb into quarters.  (Reserve stalks and feathery bits for something else.)  Brush both sides of fennel with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast for about 40 minutes — flip to other side at the half-way point.  Finished product should be tender, golden, and caramelized.

*Growing Fennel (advice from Matthew)
We started the fennel from seed (look for “Florence fennel” or “bulbing fennel”) back in mid-January using our grow lights.  We transplanted them to the garden in mid-March, when they were still quite tiny.

What Worked for Us

  • When transplanting (or if sowing seed directly), leave at least 12 inches between plants to encourage large bulb formation.
  • Keep plants well-weeded early on — mulching will help with this.
  • Keep watered, too — again, mulch helps here.
  • Pray to the weather gods 😉 The rainy, cool spring probably helped.
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