Suddenly Dry

Behold, mere mortals! Fear us, for we at Longleaf Breeze have learned how to create a drought! All we have to do is plant our garden.


This has been one of the wettest springs on record in Alabama. It has seemed to rain every three days or so, and it has been great for the soil. Great for the weeds, too, but that’s another story.

Because of our own schedule and our Easter trip to California to see our children, we failed to get our garden planted on or near Good Friday according to the conventional wisdom in Elmore County. Had we done so, we would have had a little fresh rainfall after planting to help with the fledgling plants and seedlings. As I told you earlier, we planted last Saturday, April 18, eight days after Good Friday. Our planting marked the beginning of the first truly dry week of the spring season, and the 10-day forecast (which we all know is accurate) shows 10 dry days ahead of us.

Friday afternoon – six days after planting – was our first chance to see the condition of the garden. Not pretty. Two of our six Better Boy tomatoes were bent over and dragging the ground, our Mountain Pride tomato plant was seriously stressed, and nearly everything else looked challenged. Only the strawberry plant (a Quinalt) seemed to handle the dry week okay.

hose-in-foreground-for-blogTime for an adjustment. We can’t afford or justify running down to Friendship every two days to man the watering cans, so we decided to invest in a quick way to deliver some moisture. Thanks to Mack Atchison at the Home Depot in Montgomery, we were able to find the three main components we needed. Here’s what we bought and how we set it up.

The most expensive piece was a Vigoro 5/8″ X 150′ medium duty 150 foot hose. We already had a 30-foot section of hose, and the 150 foot of additional length was just long enough to stretch (and I do mean stretch) from our temporary faucet to the veg garden and the herb garden. Amanda captured the end of the hose in the foreground with me bushhogging in the background.

The water comes from our well, 238 feet deep. It tasted really funny, almost sour, up until this weekend. That’s when we kicked on the pH filter David Kendrick provided for us. After we let it run for several hours, Amanda gave the taste of the water the Royal Queen’s Approval. What a relief!

cu-sprinklerThe task of spreading all that H2O around falls to a Vigoro 6 Pattern Gear Drive Sprinkler, which we found we could adjust in several different ways to get the water more or less where we wanted it. You can see the sprinkler in the picture to the right. Nice rainbow, huh? If you click on it and check the larger file version, you’ll see our Bonnie Bell pepper in the right background and one of those previously dejected Better Boys on the left. Behind the pepper is one of our two Sweet 100 tomato plants.

lee-adjusting-sprinkler-for-blogThe Vigoro 6 allows several adjustments to regulate the travel and dispersal of the water, which you must make while the sprinkler is operating. Obviously we recommend you do this on a hot, sunny day in the afternoon when a few dousings feel good to an overweight subsistence farmer. The top rotates between a straight, long stream, a moderately straight, moderately long stream that’s more diffuse, and a more diffuse spray that doesn’t go very far at all. After one of our usual episodes of ignorant but very thoughtful head-scratching, we chose the middle one. Down on the middle of the shaft, you can choose a large stream, a medium stream, or a small stream. We chose the medium stream.

On the bottom of the shaft, just above the stake that anchors the sprinkler in the ground, you can set the rotation limits of the sprinkler. We set ours so that it rotated in a 180-degree pattern that allowed coverage of everything we had planted. Parenthetically, in the process we are watering a good many of the surrounding weeds, so we expect to develop over the season a verdant and robust weed cover near our beds.

May 19, 2009 Update: We’re disappointed in our sprinkler. It failed within a month. You can read about the failure here.

amanda-w-timer-for-blogAll of this would be interesting but only interesting if we had to be there to turn the hose on and off every other day. What makes it all come together is the Vigoro six-cycle electronic water timer we bought and placed at the junction between the two hoses. It runs on a 9v battery and allows you to set the current time, the time when watering starts, the number of hours or days between waterings, and the duration of each watering. I read somewhere that the best time to water is just before dawn, so I set ours to come on at 4:00 am every other day and to run for 30 minutes before shutting off. Amanda thought that too early, so we changed it to 5:00 am.

Here’s the tally:

  • 150 foot hose – $29.97
  • Sprinkler – $16.97
  • Timer – $24.87
  • 9v battery (in a 2-pack) – $5.97

Total cost with tax: $82.84

Now if you’re about to tell me we could buy an awful lot of tomatoes, peppers, and squash for $83, shame on you; you obviously don’t understand the zeal of growing your own food and are hopelessly mired in practicality.

Speaking of practicality, seeing the way our “quick and dirty” approach to watering is spraying precious water in all kinds of places where we don’t need it and serving to build up the devil’s ivy that Amanda hates so much, we are seeing now just how important it is for us to install and put to use a reliable drip irrigation system. We have several tasks that we’re collecting on the “do this when we hire a trencher for a day” list, and drip irrigation for Veg Hill and the orchard will both be high on that list.

Oh, one other thing. We finished the day on the highest of notes, when Amanda noticed that our corn and our okra are coming up. You have to look closely, but when you do you can see teeny green shoots of corn and tiny green leaves where we planted the okra. Whoopee! We’re off on our adventure.

2 thoughts on “Suddenly Dry”

  1. Had you considered using soaker hose instead of the sprayer? The sprayer puts a lot of water into the air where most of it falls down again, but some of evaporates immediately. With the soaker hose, since it simply lays down on the ground and drips into the ground less water is wasted. All of the rest of your system would remain the same (feeder hose and timer), you would just need to snake the soaker hose around your garden.

    This is my plan, anyhow, though instead of drawing water from a well, I’ll be pumping water from my rainbarrels.

  2. Well done! That’s a nice idea, and we should try it. We know we’ve used soaker hoses successfully at our home, so we should give them a try here as well. Thanks for the heads up.

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