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Unattended crop watering - Blumat

 
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I've been posting about my decisions about either a raised bed or small greenhouse for my planned veggie growing at the tiny home. I can get there every 2 weeks during the spring/summer/fall seasons so I need some sort of automatic watering system. Every single one I've found has terrible reviews from the no pressure valve to battery/solar powered pumps that don't work, drip systems that get plugged, yada, yada, yada.

Whatever I get I need to test over the winter so I know it will work next summer. The requirements I placed on myself is A. Won't stop working after a short period and B. Easy to set up.

Quite by accident I happened upon an unattended watering system that seems to fit the bill called Blumat which consists of a clay piece and a weighted tube that's made in Austria and has been around for 50 years.

Blumat web site

The concept is simple enough - soak the clay end until saturated, fill it with water, put in the dirt and put the tube in water. I'm putting together a video of the initial testing but after just a few hours, I'm astonished that they work and they work great! The flow of the water is deterimined by the height of the tube versus the clay piece - higher is more flow, lower is less flow.

I filled a graduated container and plopped two of them into a couple of houseplants, one a virually dry pot and the other in a moist. You can see from the photos that after an hour with the tube at the same height as the clay end, it is working very nicely.

Now I've raised the tube to 8 inches higher than the clay piece to see how much stronger the flow is.

Blumat also has a far more involved product that would be better for a rain barrel system so I'm considering that too.
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dry pot
dry pot
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after 1 hour
after 1 hour
 
max cottrell
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Okay, I have a report on these Blumat things. I bought two 3 packs of the least expensive ones they make because I might be made of money but I hate wasting it.

The human brain and mouth cannot create the level of joy that I'm feeling after finding these things. I've been looking at every design of rain barrel watering systems and I have found exactly 0 that I would trust for two weeks at a time that I need it to operate for.

So these little clay things, they work. They work well, as advertised. In fact it's nothing more than a simple siphon. Fill the little clay pot with water, attach the tube and it does the rest until the water's gone. Raise the water container for more flow, lower it for less.

However.

It sure as heck would not work in a veggie garden on a 90 degree day simply because the pores in the clay aren't big enough to allow enough flow. Maybe I could drill a 0.013" hole in them to increase the flow.

However, Blumat has a second solution in the form of the exact same thing but with a dripper instead of the water going through the clay pot. Photos attached.

This will make unattended watering of my veggie garden so much easier because there's no need have a pump and the rate of the drip is regulated by a device that senses the soil moisture.  While it's fairly expensive if someone is on a budget, it's the simplist and easiest solution I've ever seen for unattended watering.

With the larger drip system, you can use a rain barrel or a spigot. You can use a pump or gravity.

There is one version that has a deeper moisture sensor for either bucket or container gardens.  I should probably mention that they also make a digital version so you can set your mositure level.

I'll be contacting them to discuss their systems and get a better handle on how these operate - especially how to connect them to a rain barrel.

Tropf-Blumat
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Interesting.

Question, though: Does the amount of output vary with pressure?

I'm just speculating here, but my knee-jerk reaction is that the difference between a half-full water barrel and a pressurized spigot would have to shake out of this somewhere...
 
max cottrell
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K Eilander wrote:Interesting.

Question, though: Does the amount of output vary with pressure?

I'm just speculating here, but my knee-jerk reaction is that the difference between a half-full water barrel and a pressurized spigot would have to shake out of this somewhere...



Great question. As it turns out, there's a U.S. distributer who carries the entire line of products including pressure and flow regulators. My concern wouldn't be the difference between a spigot and barrel but rather the difference between a full and 3/4 empty barrel.

Moreover, the standard calculation is 1 psi per 24 inches of height using a 1/8" line. I don't have the formula so I relied on the truth of the internet for that figure. 10 psi requires the barrel to be 23 feet higher which I'd pay money to see in operation.

However, Blumat says "Blumats require a pressure below 15 psi" - I suspect that most of us here have well water which in my experience is far easier to regulate the pressure of than muni water. Blumat does have pressure regulators for using a normal spigot, pressure regulators, but their system is designed to draw water from a container.

When I was a kid and we had our farm, we grew all of our own food, had an apple, pear, plum orchard and a small vinyard. Why I'm struggling designing my container garden is a mystery to me but the biggest hangup isn't what containers to use but rather the watering system. I require unattended watering that will work throughout the growing season without having to fiddle with it or worse, have it fail. I think I probably set my expectations too high for a system. After all, we're talking about 16 -20 plants to start with which won't trigger starvation if it doesn't work out. I do want to expand it 3 x larger in 2023.

As it turns out, the distributor and Blumat have systems that go up to 60 plants at a time, varied sensors depending on the root depth, valves, soaker hoses that all work with these little clay pots. I find that remarkable.

I'm calling them today to start my interrogation and I'll report back about my conversation with them.
 
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The Blumat seems like a modified Olla. Look up Olla on google or youtube. They are a really interesting and old method for watering plants automatically. I live in a place that freezes, so I have not been able to use them. They seem to be most effective in hot dry climates. I was going to suggest the Olla, when I read the description of what you found, and realized they are very similar.

You don't mention your climate or budget that I recall, but a couple other options might be to use mulch. With a good layer of wood chips I often don't water my garden at all once the seedlings are up and established.

Another option might be to pay someone to go water it for you once a week.
 
max cottrell
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Matt McSpadden wrote:The Blumat seems like a modified Olla. Look up Olla on google or youtube. They are a really interesting and old method for watering plants automatically. I live in a place that freezes, so I have not been able to use them. They seem to be most effective in hot dry climates. I was going to suggest the Olla, when I read the description of what you found, and realized they are very similar.

You don't mention your climate or budget that I recall, but a couple other options might be to use mulch. With a good layer of wood chips I often don't water my garden at all once the seedlings are up and established.

Another option might be to pay someone to go water it for you once a week.



My handyman could go and water weekly but he's loooking for property on Sugar Island to retire and I can tell you it's very difficult finding reliable help in northern Michigan. As far as budget goes, I would put an artifical budget of $1,000 for the project. Honestly, I'd prefer keeping the soil properly moist.

I started a thread about my container garden and have gotten good advice for that part of the deal. I've actually found a way to save $300 on that part but that will go in that thread.

https://permies.com/t/168745/Raised-Beds-st-timer

Yes the Olla is similar. Blumat draws basically unlimited water as long as the container is filled, hence using a 55 gallon rain barrel. Blumat has been making these for 50 years so I would expect that the design is viable.

As far as our climate at the tiny home : snowbelt, normal total snowfall in excess of 160 inches. Exactly on the 45th parallel.  Low temps can be as low as -20 F. Summer typical will range from 50s to 100 F. What most people don't know is that our area is at a higher altitude. It's not a lot but the sun there is very intense, probably due to low pollution.

Off topic: we're 4 miles from the Michigan ANG gunnery range so we get plenty of A-10s and F-16s shootinx and bombing.
 
Matt McSpadden
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Ok, so you are in a cold climate just like me :) so you definitely don't want to leave them in all winter. I remember seeing a product from Australia (as opposed to Austria where these come from) called wet pots. It was a similar concept where a large reservoir was connected to a chain of small ollas. I think they went out of business, but since these have been made for 50 years, I would not be worried about that. I would be worried about the size of your beds and how many of these would be needed. I know for the wetpots the size of the wet area was twice the size of the pot. So a 4" pot had a diameter of 8". If these are similar you may need a lot of them to cover the size beds you talk about in the other post. Your picture suggests they might do a little better than twice the size.

Really you only have two options here. You either increase the amount of water that gets added to the garden or you reduce the ability for the water to leave (evaporation, run off, draingage, etc). Regardless of what watering method you end up using, I would highly suggest the biggest raised bed you can do. Raised beds will lose water faster than in ground, and the bigger the raised bed, the better it is for keeping moisture. I would highly suggest a water proof liner for the sides to help reduce evaporation, perhaps a pond liner or some sort of plastic. I would also highly suggest a good mulch on top. Not just top dressing, but a good 4-5 inch deep mulch, preferably something that holds moisture well like woodchips. I don't recall if you have built the beds yet or are still planning, but a wood core (some people would call it hugelkultur, though I would differentiate). That would also help retain moisture. And finally make sure that you either start with or create some soil that has a lot of organic matter. All these things will help retain moisture for longer meaning you need to water less.
 
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Matt McSpadden wrote:Ok, so you are in a cold climate just like me :) so you definitely don't want to leave them in all winter. I remember seeing a product from Australia (as opposed to Austria where these come from) called wet pots. It was a similar concept where a large reservoir was connected to a chain of small ollas. I think they went out of business, but since these have been made for 50 years, I would not be worried about that. I would be worried about the size of your beds and how many of these would be needed. I know for the wetpots the size of the wet area was twice the size of the pot. So a 4" pot had a diameter of 8". If these are similar you may need a lot of them to cover the size beds you talk about in the other post. Your picture suggests they might do a little better than twice the size.

Really you only have two options here. You either increase the amount of water that gets added to the garden or you reduce the ability for the water to leave (evaporation, run off, draingage, etc). Regardless of what watering method you end up using, I would highly suggest the biggest raised bed you can do. Raised beds will lose water faster than in ground, and the bigger the raised bed, the better it is for keeping moisture. I would highly suggest a water proof liner for the sides to help reduce evaporation, perhaps a pond liner or some sort of plastic. I would also highly suggest a good mulch on top. Not just top dressing, but a good 4-5 inch deep mulch, preferably something that holds moisture well like woodchips. I don't recall if you have built the beds yet or are still planning, but a wood core (some people would call it hugelkultur, though I would differentiate). That would also help retain moisture. And finally make sure that you either start with or create some soil that has a lot of organic matter. All these things will help retain moisture for longer meaning you need to water less.



Matt,
Thqnks for the input! I'm still waiting to contact these people to begin my interrogation.  I may be over thinking the whole thing. Next summer when it's 90+ degrees I'll let handman Dann know about the cold climate, lol. But yeah, last frost date is something ridiculous like in May. I'll throw some confusion into the mix. I'll either be using a traditional raised bed or using a small greenhouse and 5 gallon buckets as the containers. Which will make the frost date moot. The greenhouse makes the most sense to be able to extend the growing season before the leaves on the Oaks come out in May. The greenhouse assembly seems like punching myself in the face so the decision is difficult.

For whichever container I use, the advice in the container thread centers on moisture retention methods and mushrooms. I'm on my phone so flippin' between the threads is difficult for referring to.

The Blumats I've decided on are drippers. Blumat has noodled out a way for the clay "carrots" to act as a moisture detectors that shuts off the water flow. And they make a 5ninch deep "carrot" for measuring root moisture. So, it seems like this system will work since it's an always on system. It's rather like a pump driven system but uses gravity and the clay "carrots" act as the regulation system. I'm failing to understand how that's possible but it seems like when the clay absorbs moisture from the dripper, it swells and pinches off the flow, making it a 24/7 system. If I start with saturated soil the moisture from  the drippers should wick down to the roots.
 
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