Which is best – Sprinkling, Flooding, Drip/Soakers or Something Else?

Q. What is best, watering from above (sprinklers) or watering from below (flooding or soakers)?

A. Sprinklers are the worst – for several reasons, including 1) the great waste of water from evaporation, 2) the waste of water and encouragement of weed growth by watering the aisles, 3) the increased risk of disease infection caused by wet and humid conditions, and 4) discomfort from working in muddy conditions.

Flooding the garden area also is a great water waster. It also waters the aisles, and it often brings in weed seeds.

And there is a better solution than using soakers. 1) They sit on the ground and any back-pressure will suck soil particles into the aperture, plugging it, 2) because they are on the ground they get in the way of weeding, 3) there is no practical way to measure the amount of water your plants are receiving, and 4) the water must stay on for a very long time – potentially wasting water.

The semi-automated PVC system we use and recommend is 1)inexpensive to install, 2) lasts MANY years, 3) delivers water quickly and accurately, and 4) wastes not a drop when used with the raised – ridged beds.

The plans are in several of the books. They are also FREE on the website. You can see and download them by going to www.growfood.com/store then Books, then the Mittleider Gardening Course. On the left side of the page you will see a free chapter you can download. It’s all about the watering system.

Automated Watering – PVC vs Soaker Tape

Q. I had a question regarding soaker tape. my garden is to big for me to try to water with a hose and sock ( 50 + soil beds 60 feet long). But the cost of running pvc and all the fittings and the 400 feet of main line would run me over 2000 dollars just for materials not including the cost of renting a trench digger.

So I looked into soaker tape and found it to be considerably cheaper. I was able to have what I needed to water 100 beds for less than 300 dollars. Although I must admit there is still some fine tuning that I have to do concerning water pressure and figuring out how many beds can be watered at the same time. Just wanted to know what you thought about and what may be your experience with it.

A. Being on the ground it is subject to getting cut when weeding occurs.

It is also subject to getting soil particles into the orifices, plugging it up.

It is not designed to supply a large amount of water quickly, but rather to work for several/many hours applying a little water at a time.

It is not possible to know how much water is being applied.
Plants sometimes (often?) are under-watered.

Life expectancy is 2-4 years.

One thing to consider is that you are making an investment that will last for 15-25 years, and so the cost per year is minimal. My garden at Utah’s Hogle Zoo has had the same inexpensive PVC pipes for 20 years now.

And by the way, you do not use Schedule 40 pipe, but instead use the inexpensive Schedule 200 pipe.

Jim Kennard

Watering during drought conditions

Q.  Our BIG problem right now is drought. What is the most efficient way to water a garden in drought conditions?

A.  The Mittleider method of watering is great for saving and making the best use of available water.  The narrow ridged beds keep all the water right at the root zone of your plants.  Close planting means the soil is shaded, so very little water is lost to evaporation, and level beds keep the water from running off.

Automating the process using drilled PVC pipes allows quick watering of the entire bed, again avoiding waste.  This process is explained graphically in Chapter 16 of The Mittleider Gardening Course book, and that chapter is included FREE in the Store section of the website at www.growfood.com.

The MM watering system saves more than half the water of traditional methods.

Watering – How Much is Too Much

Q. I have been watering every day and the ground is now GREEN. Am I doing too much watering?

Also when trellising cucumbers or melons, should I cut all but one main stem?

And I don’t seem to see how to trellis Zucchini or yellow squash.

A. Nothing’s wrong with having your ground green under the plants. HOWEVER, you only want to keep your soil MOIST, and not WET at the root zone.

Water often enough to keep the soil surface from DRYING OUT. In dry climates without rain in warm weather this usually requires an inch of water in the planting area 5 or 6 days per week. And in very HOT weather you may need to water TWICE a day occasionally.

Remember that an inch of water is sufficient for each watering.

To grow cucumbers and small melons vertically, by all means limit them to one
stem. However, in removing the sucker stems you allow the stem to grow just
long enough for the first female flower to form. This is usually at the first
leaf. Keep the blossom and leaf, but cut or pinch off the stem at that point.

Zucchini and yellow squash are determinate plants, and can’t be grown
vertically. No trellis or string is needed. However, it is imperative that you
take off old leaves and those touching the ground. Keeping air and light into
the interior of the plant will improve your yields, and it can reduce the
likelihood of powdery mildew taking over the plant.

Watering with PVC Pipe – Will small #57-size holes get plugged up?

Q.  I am in the process of starting work on the irrigation part
of my conversion to the MittleiderMethodGardening system. I would like to ask  if the small #57 holes in the pvc pipes present any special trouble
with stopping up?

A.  A #57 hole in a Schedule 200 PVC pipe will not plug up much at all if you are using water from a well or from the city system, etc.  If you use irrigation water from a canal or stream you may have some sediment that can clog the holes.

I water from a mountain stream that is sometimes quite dirty – especially in the spring and after a hard rain.  If I experience any clogging of the holes in my pipes I just carry a hoe with me and hit the pipe with the hoe HANDLE a few times. This will dislodge the tiny pieces of pebble, or whatever it is.  Immediately after doing this to a pipe I will unscrew the far end-cap and let the water run through for a few seconds, flushing any loose residue out the end of the pipe.

If any of you are tempted to use Schedule 40 PVC pipe, because “its stronger and will last longer”, etc., I don’t recommend it.  It’s usually more than double the cost, heavier, much harder to drill the holes (breaking lots of drill bits), more inclined to plug up, harder to break loose the blockage with the hose-handle, and even the Schedule 200 will last more than 20 years with any kind of care, so who needs it to last longer.

How Much to Water – Tradition says 1″ Per Week & Mittleider Says 1″ Per Day!

Q.  I came across a question and answer you gave previously (another article which states that 1″ of water in the beds is needed each time you water) and it confused me somewhat. I have a question about putting an inch of standing water on the beds every day.  Conventual wisdom is an inch of water per week. Are we to apply a week’s worth of water per day to the beds?

A.  An example of the confusion many people experience with this subject can be found in an article by Cornell University Agricultural Extension Division about watering tomatoes.  The author states that tomatoes need 1″ of water per week at a minimum.  In the very next paragraph the article gets more specific and says that a single tomato plant needs between 3 and 5 gallons of water per week.

On the surface, those two statements seem to be very inconsistent, but let’s go a little deeper.  Traditionally, tomatoes are grown much farther apart than we do in the Mittleider Method.  In addition, traditional watering is done by flooding the entire garden area.

Let’s suppose a person’s tomatoes are planted 2′ apart, in 30′-long rows that are 3′ apart.  That garden space of approximately 100 square feet would contain about 16 plants, and would require 64 gallons of water per week (assuming 4 gallons per plant).

Applying 1″ of water to 100 square feet of garden would require 8 1/3 cubic feet, or 62.5 gallons (1 cubic foot is 7.5 gallons), which is consistent with what Cornell recommends, both as to the 1″ and the 3-5 gallons per watering.

In the Mittleider Method 16 tomato plants – planted 9″ apart – will take up 12 lineal feet in a soil-bed.  The width of the planting area is 10″-12″.  Using a 12″ width, it would require 1 cubic foot of water each time(12′ long X 1′ wide X 1/12′ deep =1 cubic foot).  That amounts to 7.5 X 7, or 52.5 gallons per week.

So, you can see that watering 1″ per day in your Mittleider Method soil-bed uses less water than watering 1″ per week by flooding. 

There is more to consider, so let’s carry it a bit further.  If you are growing in heavy clay soil Cornell’s recommended 1″ per week may be sufficient, because water drains very slowly from clay soil.  But if your soil is loamy or sandy, or if the temperatures are hot, the water will be gone from the top 8-12″ of the soil in less than a week, and your plants will be stressing.

Tomato plants grown under traditional watering conditions have to expend substantial energy sending their roots deep into the soil, to follow the receding water, and keep from dying.  This is energy we prefer to use growing and maturing fruit.

Furthermore, flooding the entire area wastes much of the water, and usually much more than 1″ depth is applied, wasting even more.  Also, flooding makes the aisles hospitable places for weeds to grow, increases humidity which invites diseases, and the moisture, weeds, and cooler temperatures nurture the bugs.

All things considered, Dr. Mittleider has it figured out very well, even to the point of declaring that you will save 1/2 or more of the water you traditionally used, and promising a better garden with fewer problems with weeds, bugs, and diseases – without resorting to pesticides and herbicides.

Soaker Hoses for Watering – Good, Bad or ?

Q.  Regarding irrigation, I found a couple of black “soaker” hoses (the type that basically weep out water)and tried them in my grow boxes.  They worked very well for me as an irrigation setup for my grow boxes.  I did wonder if the black color of the hose could heat up during hot sunny days and possibly “scald” the younger plants. A friend recommended slightly burying the hoses, but I felt I would have even more undissolved fertilizer if I did this. I appreciate any feed back.

A.  Our experience with soaker hoses has not been as good as with drilled PVC pipe.  Being right on the ground, and with VERY small holes, they tend to plug up and not deliver water from every orafice.  Cost and durability are factors, and when used on dirt they get in the way of weeding, and are susceptible to being cut in the weeding process.

Black soaker hoses will not burn or harm your small plants if used properly. They are supposed to be placed in the center of the bed between two rows of plants, and so will be several inches distant from plant stems.

Leaves should not come in contact with them, because you should always be pruning your leaves that touch the ground.

Are Heavy Rains a Problem for my Plants?

Q.  I live in Southern Ontario,Canada. We at times get much rain, and at times no rain for weeks.Will heavy rains do any damage to the growing of plants in the “Mittleider Method” ?
A.   Heavy rains will not be a problem in the Mittleider Method.  In fact the Grow-Beds, or Soil-Beds, as well as the Grow-Boxes, are designed for proper drainage, so that plants will not be drowned in heavy rains.  The only thing needing to be done during those times is to leave the ends of the beds open, so water does not stand in the beds.
If you receive hard pounding rains, they may damage some of your plants.  If this is a common occurrance, you may want to prepare covers for the plants, to protect them.  The “Mini-Greenhouses” work well for short plants, and the “Greenhouse-in-the-garden”, using arched PVC over T-Frames and covered with plastic, will give protection to your tall-growing and vining plants.
More information on those procedures is found in the sectionon Extending your Growing Season,

Watering When It Rains

Q.  2.  If you spread the Weekly Feed down the center of the bed and you’re quite certain that it’s going to rain shortly, is it OK to just leave it there for the rain to wash in?  Or will it burn the plants somehow?  We’ve getting thunderstorms every night in a row, and my garden is full of standing water.
A.  If you are receiving heavy rains, by all means let the rain do the watering.  You never want your plants to be in standing water for any length of time.  They must have oxygen, and can drown if the soil is drenched.  That is one of the reasons we create raised beds with ridges.  And in high-rainfall areas, during the rainy season we have people remove the ridges from the ends of the beds, so the excess water drains out.





Watering With Irrigation Water – Pressure or Flood

Q.  We water our gardens with irrigation water.  How do we do the Mittleider method?  I have pressurized irrigation, but the water comes from the river and clogs the pipes with mud, rocks, worms, and even fish!   And my parents have flood irrigation – how do we do the beds to accommodate that?

A.  With pressurized irrigation water, just use screening materials that are fine enough to screen out the problems.  There are materials you can buy from places like House of Hose, etc that are very fine mesh, yet strong enough to last.  I pump from a creek myself and my screening material is several years old.  Running your water either to the head of each bed, or into a PVC pipe system will give you fast watering.  Always use pipe with threaded ends, so you can flush the built-up sediment.  And if the tiny holes begin to clog up, just tap the pipes with a stick or the hoe or rake handle to clear them.

If you currently have flood irrigation and don’t have the capacity or finances to install a pump and pipes, you just need to build your beds so they have access to the water at one end, and give them a 1″ fall in 30′.  The only problem you may have is if your irrigation turn is only every 7 or 8 days, your plants will be hurting greatly for water.  You may want to arrange – if you can – to take a much shorter turn more often, and help your neighbors to do the same.  This will make everyone’s plants healthier and more productive.