Garden Irrigation Project, Part One

It’s a Flourishing Friday and for the next few months I’m going to use these end-of-the-workweek-days to post something about my efforts to be a productive vegetable gardener. Y’know… vegetables that I can perhaps later cook into a delicious cast iron grilled meal.

Yet, it’s still deep in the cool spring and though I got a wee start on the growing season last weekend by tilling my small veggie plot and plunking my spuds in the thawed ground, there’s not more much to be done in the way of planting seeds and nursery-grown seedlings until the weather warms up a bit more.

In the meantime I decided to invest in and install a homebrew irrigation system to prepare my gardening efforts for a more productive (literally) season.

The idea of automated irrigation systems isn’t new and in fact there are all sorts of ready-to-install setups that can be ordered online. I found some bits — including tubes, brackets, nozzles, connectors, and even an electronic timer — and worked out the measures to not only set up a misting spray for the garden box, but there should also be enough to divert a line to where my wife likes to hang her flower baskets each year.

Setting to work, and even as my grass struggles to come back to life for the spring, I split the sod open and did the first step: burying some three-quarter inch PEX tubing six inches below the soil.

Sorry about the imperial measures! Plumbing kit around here still hasn’t gone metric.

This tube will ultimately act as a protective sleeve through which I will snake the smaller one-quarter inch irrigation hose (ordered and due to arrive this weekend) to traverse it safely below the ground to reach the garden plot (where the plants will be growing) to the house (where the water supply is emerging). This way the tubes and water will run safely below the ground where it won’t be stepped on or mowed over (or chewed up by the dog when she’s bored.)

I’ve spent sixteen summers tending this particular garden patch and over the years I’ve made various enhancements. I’ve routinely enriched the soil. I’ve improved the drainage. I’ve added a four square meter (slightly raised) box that I dug a meter deep into the foundational clay layer upon which the neighbourhood is built to give a proper soil bed for carrots and parsnips and the like. I’ve even put up some low fencing. And through all that I’ve rotated crops and managed weeds and tilled and pruned and managed the small bit of dirt in my little backyard in the middle of the Canadian prairies.

But water has always been a challenge. Consistent, timely watering shouldn’t be this hard, particularly those last two summers while I was working from home. Somehow it just never works in my agenda’s favour. The day gets ahead of me. The sun gets too hot. The evening gets too busy. The excuses roll off my back with ease and indifference by mid-summer. The garden and those veggies ultimately pay the price.

My new irrigation system, at least the way I’ve planned it out, will make sure that at least a couple times per day the most delicate of the plants get a good misting and enough moisture to carry them through the hotter months. An automated timer at the faucet will trigger at set times in the morning and in the evening, the cooler hours of the day when evaporation is lowest, to water the lettuce, parsnips, tomatoes, carrots, and beets, keeping the soil moist and optimizing growth. Rather than me finding twenty minutes each morning to clamber out there before work, drag a hose across the yard, soak every spot, and hope I remember to repeat that night and again every day for the four months, a forty dollar gadget will take on that job for me.

Yesterday evening I trenched that bit of PEX pipe under the sod where the little automated watering hose will hide safely below ground carrying the fresh water to my delicate yet-to-be-planted veggies. Later this weekend, I’ll add in the water tubes and set up the nozzles.

If it all works out, I’m really hoping this could be a very productive gardening summer.

And if nothing else, I can sip my coffee with my pajamas still on and watch the garden water itself for once. Even that sounds great to me.

This Spuds for You

May is planting season around here, the month usually starting by ensuring the root veggies are in the ground and ending by poking hundreds of more delicate seeds into the soil.

The weather cooperated long enough for me to till the recently-thawed layer of topsoil in the corner of my yard which I keep open for an annual vegetable garden.

… and then to plant a small bag of seed potatoes, neatly covered up with dirt and marked with a makeshift stake in the ground nearby.

A local gardening guru was recently a guest on the CBC morning radio show and he was discussing a strange topic to which the answer was, in fact, potatoes.

As it turns out there is a strong community of home gardeners who think deeply about things like caloric yield and nutritional output per square meter of soil. In the event of an “end of the world” type scenario, maximizing how much food one can grow in a small plot of land is something that enough folks have given enough thought to that aforementioned guru used it as the topic of his weekly radio segment.

His calculations showed potatoes were the winner, being both one of the most reliable and highly producing plant that can occupy your backyard in the event of cataclysmic events of the kind that wipe out the global supply chain, but leave you enough time to become a backyard subsistence farmer.

A similar calculation played out in the science fiction novel (and later film) The Martian where explorer astronaut Mark Watney finds himself left behind and stranded on Mars after a mission failure and hasty evacuation, and needs to use his botany skills to stay alive long enough for a rescue attempt some months (or years?) away. The science-driven narrative turns to the humble spud, the only fresh food sent along on the space voyage and intended as a happy holiday dinner on another planet, as the means by which meticulously calculated cultivation keeps the astronaut alive long enough for the plot to proceed.

I planted nine hills of potatoes yesterday which by late summer should yield enough tubers for a couple plates of fries and a few roasted dishes alongside maybe a campfire steak or two.

And ideally that’s all I’ll need them for.