Best Watering Method – Beds or Boxes – Compared to Sprinkling or Soakers

Q.  What do you recommend for watering, either Soil-Beds or Grow-Boxes? I have irrigation (lawn style) available in my new garden. Do you like drip watering or sprinklers or other? What would you see as the ideal from an effectiveness and convenience point of view?

A.  To answer your questions about watering, I will briefly describe the system we recommend, and then explain what I see as the short-comings of other methods.The beds are leveled and ridged (4″), in order to preserve water, which in most places is a precious resource. Watering is done either with a hose – with a large rag attached to cut the water pressure (but not the volume), or if possible the system is automated as follows:

3/4″ PVC pipe (schedule 200 is fine) is cut the length of the bed, 3 holes are drilled at 45 degree angles every 4″ along the length of the pipe with a #57 drill bit (illustrations and excellent instructions are found in several of the books, including Grow-Bed Gardening and The Mittleider Gardening Course, and on the Garden Wizard CD). Male threaded nipples are put on each end, one end is capped, and a Ball Valve is installed on the end with the water source and connected to it.

Water 1″ deep is applied 5-6 times per week (depending on weather and soil conditions – often enough to keep the soil moist) down the length of the 12″ planting area inside the bed, which ordinarily takes only a minute or two. This accurately provides the water needed by fast-growing plants and wastes none.  It uses less than half the water most other methods require. After trying out everything possible, Dr. Mittleider has declared this to be the most cost effective and convenient method he knows.

For Grow-Boxes, with the manual method, you would have to hold the hose and walk the length of the bed, since the water won’t travel (except straight down) in the box. The automated system works the same, however, with two pipes going the length of each 4′ bed, and watering 4 rows of plants (or 2, if you are growing melons, tomatoes, etc).

Problems with drip or soaker-hose irrigation include: 1) Water must be left on permanently, or for long periods of time; 2) There is no way of knowing how much water (too much or too little) is being applied; 3) the hose on the ground makes it difficult to weed and/or gets damaged in the weeding process; 4) dirt sometimes plugs the holes, making it inefficient. I’m sure there are more, but I don’t recall them at the moment.

Sprinkling 1) wastes a great deal of water to evaporation, and by watering everything in the garden; 2) weeds grow anywhere water is applied, therefore weeding is greatly increased; 3) water on plant leaves encourages fungus diseases; 4) bugs, snails & slugs proliferate in the wet environment.