Weekly Watering – Often Enough?

Q.  I am going to try the Mitleider method this year.  Watering is done by irrigation once a week.  Is this alright? Is there anything different I should do?
A.  No matter what “Method” you use, plants need constant moisture, and must have it or they die.  In the arid West, irrigation turns on a weekly basis were the best farmers could do, and so their plants had to grow very long, deep root systems to follow the water table down between irrigation turns.
That takes a great deal of energy and time away from producing top growth, including leaves and fruit, but if that is the best you can do, you’ll have to live with it.
Ideally, watering should be done before the soil dries out.  Constant moisture in the soil at the root level is necessary for healthy plants.  However, soggy soil for any length of time can drown your plants, so use the raised – ridged soil-beds, and make them level, then water as often as necessary to maintain moisture in the soil.

Feeding Plants in the Water? How and When?

Q. Can I mix the fertilizers with water and use that to feed my plants?  How do I do it?  And when is it appropriate?  One other thought – my watering method is the PVC with the tiny (#57)hole.  If this method is used, since there is very little contact with a dry mix, Will the PVC method the use of a liquid feed?

A.  The simplest way to water your garden with pressure is to do it from your
normal water source – through the PVC pipes, with3 holes every 4 inches.
The easiest way – in most cases – to feed your garden is to apply the dry
mineral nutrient granular mixture right down the middle of your bed or box,
and let the water from the PVC pipes dissolve it into the soil.

The Weekly Feed can be mixed with water at the rate of 16 ounces in 55 gallons of water, 10 ounces in 30 gallons, or 4 ounces in 50 liters of water and used as a “constant-feed” solution.  This is usually done for feeding and watering seedlings in a greenhouse environment.

It can and has been used in the garden, and even in the open field, with
excellent success, but you have to know the volume of water you are
applying, and it needs to be applied just at the plant root area – not
flooded in the aisles – otherwise you are wasting water and fertilizer, and
feeding the weeds.

If you want to go to the trouble of watering your garden from containers it will work, but is generally much easier the other way.

I know of a 3 acre garden with a concrete holding tank where we successfully metered the minerals into the water, and had outstanding results, so it can be done in the right circumstances.



Soaker Hoses – As good as PVC? How about Sprinkling?

Q.  Won’t soaker hoses work as well as PVC for automating my watering?  And sprinkling is easiest of all, why not just sprinkle everything?
A.  Problems with drip or soaker-hose irrigation include: 1) Water must be left on 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; 4) the hose, being on the ground with the weeds, gets damaged in the weeding process; 5) dirt sometimes plugs the holes, making it inefficient. 6) hoses become brittle and have to be replaced 7) soaker hoses generally cost more than PVC. 
Drilled PVC pipes will last a LONG TIME if cared for decently.  I am aware of 26 year-old pipes still working well.  The pipe is off the ground, so it’s not in the way of weeds, and there’s no back-flushing.  Watering is quick – only 2-3 minutes per bed.  No water is wasted, because you know how much is applied.  The straight, rigid pipe can be lifted out of the Grow-Bed in seconds, if necessary for weeding, etc.  It is less expensive, and available most places in the world.
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) increased weeds rob vegetables of necessary nutrients, reducing the crop;  4) weeds compete with vegetables for light, further reducing the crop; 5) water on plant leaves encourages fungus diseases; 6) bugs, snails & slugs proliferate in the wet environment.



Automated Watering – Length of Beds

Automated Watering – Bed Lengths

Q. I have 2 – 66′ grow boxes and 3 – 32′ ones. Do you think I can do the PVC water pipe with the #57 drilled holes for the whole 66 ft?  Or should the pipe be enlarged to 1″?

A. Grow-Boxes 66’ long will very likely be hard to water.  Most water will come out in the first 30’.  It is also a very long walk to get to the other side, if you have it full of tall plants.  You will have better success if you make two boxes by placing a 4’ or 5’ aisle in the middle.

Depending on your volume and water pressure, and if the water is clean, you might be able to have some success at that length if you use a #58 drill bit for holes in the first 1/2 of the box and a 1/16th” bit for the last half.  Again depending on the water source, if you have sufficient volume, a 1″ pipe might work, but we can’t recommend it.

Over the years, we have settled on 30′ because it is a good length to water, it isn’t too long to get around, and fertilizer application is standardized at 16 ounces per bed.

I read that I should stop watering my crops like lettuce 10 days before harvest. Is this true?

The suggestion to stop watering lettuce 10 days before harvest is ill-advised. Lettuce is a good example of vegetable plants’; need for water all the way through the growing cycle.

Water usage by growing lettuce plants actually increases every day right up to the harvest, and the only justification for withholding water – perhaps for a couple of days – would be to assure that harvesters have access, and muddy soil is not transferred to the plant upon harvesting. Two charts showing daily water requirements for lettuce are included at this location https://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/water/az1132.pdf

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.

How can I speed up my watering? I know sprinkling wastes water and encourages slugs, snails, and fungus diseases, but I hate to stand there with a hose!

Watering Soil-Beds or Grow-Boxes with pre-drilled 3/4″ PVC pipe is fast, works better than a hose or sprinkling, and saves water. Pictorial instructions are on the Garden Master CD, The Mittleider Gardening Course, Grow-Bed Gardening, Let’s Grow Tomatoes, and Gardening By The Foot. First, start with a level bed or box – that’s essential! Here are the basics.

Plumb water to the head of each bed or box, with a simple female-threaded 3/4” ball valve 4-6” above the soil surface, to control the flow.

Make 30’ lengths (or your bed length, if shorter) of 3/4” Schedule-200 pipe. On the end of each pipe, make marks dividing the circle into 4 equal parts. Two adjacent marks are at 90 degrees. Now make a mark between those two, and you have the starting points for 3 straight lines down the length of the pipe that are 45 degrees apart.

Take a piece of 2 X 4 – 6″ long and notch one side of it so that a 3/4″ PVC pipe fits snugly. Drill a hole from the top to the center of this notch the size of a pencil. Insert a sharpened pencil, and as one person holds the pipe from moving, another person starts at one of the three marks on the end
of the pipe and makes a straight line the length of the pipe. Turn the pipe to the next mark and repeat. Then repeat a third time.

Next, take a measuring tape at least as long as your pipe, place it alongside the pipe and draw a line every 4″ across the 3 lengthwise lines already drawn on the pipe.

Insert a #57 drill bit (that’s very small – .042″, and is found at a hobby shop) into a hand drill and drill 3 holes every 4″ the length of the pipe – on the points where the lines cross.

Attach male threaded ends on both ends of your pipe. On the far end, place a threaded end-cap, and attach the front-end to the ball valve plumbed to your water source.

Place the pipe in the center of your Soil-Beds or Grow-Boxes, on 4 small 2 X 4 blocks equally spaced along the length of the bed. Each block should have two nails in the top center spaced 1″ apart, to keep the pipe from falling off.

With the holes at 45 degrees and the pipe 3 1/2″ above the soil surface, the water will quickly fill the 12″ planting area the entire length of a level bed or box, and water all plants equally.

How often should I water my garden?

If the soil has proper drainage it is hard to over-water, but easy to under-water. To enjoy the highest quality and flavor of fresh garden produce, frequent applications of water are recommended – four to six times per week is ideal. Small amounts of water are used because you only water 17% of the ground – the base of the soil bed inside the ridges.