Gardening: Low-flow irrigation for raised beds

Gardening

By Lesley Arrandale
mail@floridanewsline.com

With summer rains happening on a fairly regular basis, my drip irrigation system is getting less use, I’m happy to report. The timer is still integral, but now I set it in “manual” mode and input the length of time it should operate. We’re harvesting pounds of tomatoes, plenty of Japanese (long, thin) eggplants, basil, chilies and sweet peppers, as well as Swiss chard, which is holding up surprisingly well despite being considered a cool-season vegetable. The okra is sturdy and healthy, and we’re really looking forward to the first young tender pods.

Reflecting on the installation, I made heavy work of it in the planning stage, making things unnecessarily complicated. Once we had the components in hand, we modified the design and the actual installation was straightforward. It took perhaps an hour and a half at most to cover three 8 x 4 foot beds.

Being able to watch the ins and outs of the process of putting a system together was helpful. Without particular endorsement, there are helpful videos here: http://www.dripworks.com/how-to-videos, as well as elsewhere on the internet. The University of Florida website directs its advice to small farmers, but the technically minded may find this useful: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs388.

My difficulties in the planning stage were partly due to the huge choice of components. Finally I chose drip line with the closest emitters, since I wanted flexible, even coverage. In order to use the sturdiest locking connectors in the main feeder line, rather than push-together connectors, I needed the larger, nominally 3/4-inch line; and so on.

The system has been in place for long enough now for us to know that it works well to water lightly and frequently, if there’s no rain. The soil drains nicely, while keeping the roots of the vegetables moist but not drenched. As a testament, it produced some very satisfying cool-season vegetables, including several varieties of beautiful Chinese cabbages. I’m looking forward to growing more, come fall.

We do need to install some right-angle connectors to take the feeder line down to the ground between the beds, rather than leaving it in the air for us to step over. In our haste to get the system up and running we took the easy route. Knock on wood, we haven’t had any “enjoy your trip?” incidents thus far, so we’re waiting for cooler weather before adding them.

As to how the summer vegetables are faring, we are lucky to have a decent population of beneficial creatures, including lizards. I’ve seen mostly benign wasps of various species, many of which eat pests, and the occasional lady beetle, which in both their larval and adult stages eat aphids. So far, we have had minimal damage, for which I thank those good guys.

So far, growing vegetables in raised beds with drip irrigation has been supremely satisfying. Now if only I can track down the culprits depositing tiny frass on my eggplants, before they become too large, that would be the icing on the cake.

Terry Delvalle, our Horticultural Extension Agent, has reported that the grafted versus non-grafted tomatoes she’s been trialing have come out ahead in sheer poundage. Other people around the state are participating, and I hope to relay the results on flavor comparisons as well as weight in the near future.

The latest issue of A New Leaf is available here: http://tinyurl.com/73cdjjo. Make sure to check out the section on what to do now in your garden and see what (indoor!) classes are being offered. For would-be vegetable gardeners, the Aug. 20 class on starting your own seeds would be perfect.

Lesley Arrandale is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Cooperative Extension Service/City of Jacksonville Agriculture Department, which is a partnership between the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the City of Jacksonville.