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drip vs. sprinkler  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Location: Denver, CO
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I'm interested in what you all think of drip vs. sprinkler irrigation for small fields, say quarter acre to a few acres, of vegetables in a fairly dry climate.

I'm leaning towards sprinkler even though they are less efficient, because I'd like to plant cover crops, want to be able to hoe without worrying about cutting up drip lines, and don't want to buy mountains of plastic.
 
gardener
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Location: Middle Tennessee
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I like drip style irrigation, the water is applied right where it’s needed on the soil surface, minimizing loss to evaporation. Even better, is if the drip irrigation is lightly covered in mulch. Sprinklers, even run in the middle of the night, have more water loss to evaporation, and can sometimes provide the moisture needed for disease to get a foothold on leaf surfaces.

I think drip tape is better than the rigid drip hose, solely for the purpose of being easy to remove and roll up for any needed cultivating or hoe work, and easy to unroll and lay back down. I have rigid drip hose in my garden, and moving it aside is cumbersome and awkward, and it kinks. If I do it again, I’ll use drip tape.

I understand not wanting to buy a mountain of plastic, I don’t want to either. But may I ask what you would use to plumb water to the sprinkler heads? Plumbing for sprinkler heads often involves, but doesn’t require, burying the pipe below the frost line. PEX could be used as it will not burst if frozen full of water. Drip tape can take the expansion from freezing water as well, and there is usually little water in the tape when it’s not in use during the winter months. It drains most of the water in the line on its own thru the drip emitters after the water source is turned off.
 
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Neither. Both systems allow too much to be lost to evaporation in a dry climate. Water deep and infrequently.
 
Mother Tree
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Drip under mulch with an occasional deep watering seems to work best for me.
 
gardener
Posts: 3737
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I think of drip irrigation as a fad that is highly dependent on petroleum. Seems like it's purpose is to trap gardeners into a constant cycle of buying consumables. My family is still using metal irrigation pipe that was purchased by my grandfather when I was a small child. The maintenance cycle on metal sprinkle irrigation systems is measured in decades, not in weeks or months. The brass spray nozzles on my irrigation pipe can easily spit out a grasshopper. Even small moss particles clog drip emitters.

Water doesn't wink out of existence when it is used. Anything that evaporates from my field settles as dew or rain in the nearby mountains, or further afield. I don't worry about "wasting" water, because it cannot be wasted, it can only be put back into the water cycle.

Drip tends to water a tiny pocket of soil. Thus minimizing the area that roots can expand into, thus limiting the amount of nutrients that plants can pull from the soil. It seems to me like I'd be turning my farm into something akin to a bunch of small pots, one under each emitter.

Watering my one acre field with drip would require about 16,000 feet of drip tape. I currently water it with 720 feet of aluminum sprinkler pipe, but I could get by with 240 feet if I wanted to move pipe during the week.

The initial cost of a metal sprinkler irrigation system might be about double that of a drip system, but the metal sprinkler system could still be in use by your grandchildren or great grandchildren, while a drip system will be cluttering a landfill starting as soon as the first growing season.
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Sprinkle irrigation
 
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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Deep watering
Pipes can be places far apart and it will cover alot of ground
Very little water turns into mist and is blown away
Water quickly goes below mulch and spreads to plants without evaporation lost

Sprinklers
Pipes can be placed far apart and it covers alot of ground
Alot of water turns into mist and is blown away
Water stays on the surface and is evaporated alot less water makes it to the plants root

Drip Irrigation
Pipes are spaced very closely making it harder to use equipment
Very little water is lost to "wind erosion"
Water soaks into the soil and very little get evaporated

I like the idea of making the sprinkler so low, I lose very little to wind, and if I were to actually put it under a layer of mulch, I can flood the swale, but with mulch in the swale there is less evaporation. And with all that mulch My soil will become wonderful in no time.

It's okay to import/waste some water/mulch/rockdust/equipment run on oil but it should be a short term thing, not a continual thing. I would be fine with using some "horrible" means to grow mulch (7ft corn stalks) that can be used as mulch for the next season so that the water flows below the soil surface and the soil life gets an explosion  
 
Posts: 412
Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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I wanted to bump this thread.  There are some older threads speaking to the subject of irrigation, and whether a permaculturist can eliminate (or very drastically reduce) the amount needed.  Some of that discussion is pretty dated now. I'm thinking some of the posters (and other Permies members) will have more experience by now to base opinions on.  I do like the pro & con summary that S. Bengi posted, but there is a lot of truth in what Joseph says...

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
I think of drip irrigation as a fad that is highly dependent on petroleum. Seems like it's purpose is to trap gardeners into a constant cycle of buying consumables. My family is still using metal irrigation pipe that was purchased by my grandfather when I was a small child. The maintenance cycle on metal sprinkle irrigation systems is measured in decades.


Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Drip tends to water a tiny pocket of soil. Thus minimizing the area that roots can expand into, thus limiting the amount of nutrients that plants can pull from the soil. It seems to me like I'd be turning my farm into something akin to a bunch of small pots, one under each emitter.

Watering my one acre field with drip would require about 3 miles of drip tape. I currently water it with 720 feet of aluminum sprinkler pipe, but I could get by with 240 feet if I wanted to move pipe during the week.


Joseph Lofthouse wrote:The initial cost of a metal sprinkler irrigation system might be about double that of a drip system, but the metal sprinkler system could still be in use by your grandchildren or great grandchildren, while a drip system will be cluttering a landfill starting as soon as the first growing season



Joseph also posted a pic, and I like that he did that.  If some of you have been succeeding in sizeable gardens without conventional sprinkler-type irrigation through a number of years (incl both normal and lower precip years), please describe — and also post pics of your system or layout, if you would.
 
Joel Bercardin
Posts: 412
Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Hey all.  It seems no one wanted to jump in and respond about actual years-long personal experience with outdoor drip systems versus sprinklers.  On the internet and among both market- and home-gardeners I know personally, the majority of people who have tried any sort of extensive outdoor drip system tell stories of hassles… like dealing with frequent replacement of components and with build-up inside the tubing.  Not to mention limited-pooling of delivered water in plants’ root zones.

At the same time, somewhat hotter and drier conditions (as well as draw-down of water tables and aquifers) are becoming more widespread geographic realities.  It’s my sense that permaculturists want to use and promote truly practical design elements and practices.  So, to help avoid the risk of allowing continued spread of a “permaculture myth” (that drip systems are a widely applicable answer), I thought I’d bump Gilbert's thread here.

What has your experience been?  Over what period of time? with food plants conventionally grown as field (row) crops? bed crops? with fruit- or nut-bearing shrubs and trees?  And in light of that experience, what are your conclusions?  The focus being on on water delivery:  indispensable water requirements.

Don’t get me wrong, not knocking mulches, using stones or ponds to alter micro-environment, providing useful shading, hugelculture (where applicable), etc.
 
Posts: 61
Location: Zone 7a, Paulden, AZ
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
I think of drip irrigation as a fad that is highly dependent on petroleum. Seems like it's purpose is to trap gardeners into a constant cycle of buying consumables. My family is still using metal irrigation pipe that was purchased by my grandfather when I was a small child. The maintenance cycle on metal sprinkle irrigation systems is measured in decades, not in weeks or months. The brass spray nozzles on my irrigation pipe can easily spit out a grasshopper. Even small moss particles clog drip emitters.
...........
The initial cost of a metal sprinkler irrigation system might be about double that of a drip system, but the metal sprinkler system could still be in use by your grandchildren or great grandchildren, while a drip system will be cluttering a landfill starting as soon as the first growing season.



I'm guessing the metal irrigation pipe would also be immune to my husbands weed eater when he goes to attack all the grass that grows under the trees (where the emitters are), and in the berry patch.  

Joseph, could you please suggest an youtube, website, or something to get started with metal pipe irrigation?  I have a feeling I'll get the 'crazy lady' look if I ask at the hardware/big box stores.

Also, what do you do with it in winter?  Can it be left in place, emptied somehow?

Bonnie
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 3737
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Metal pipe are susceptible to being dented by animal hoofs, and being run over by vehicles or equipment. An occasional bullet hole shows up. Rodents may  gnaw on the rubber seals at the end of each pipe. That can be minimized by storing them off the ground.  

Definitely don't ask about metal irrigation pipe at a big box store. Ask about it at a farm store, co-op, or specialty irrigation supply store.

My pipe comes apart in 40 foot sections that I leave in the field overwinter. I like 30 feet pipe, cause they are easier to move, but they are lighter weight and more susceptible to dings. I bring the valves and end plugs inside during the winter. I have enough pipe, that I can set it up in the spring, and not move it again until fall. In larger fields, I take it apart and move every 12 hours, so that a little bit of pipe can water a huge area. They are designed for quick setup and take-apart.

Sorry that I don't have recommendations for videos. It's so common around here, that I wouldn't know what to recommend.
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Metal irrigation pipe in winter storage.
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Seed grown apricots with irrigation pipe.
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Metal irrigation pipe. In use.
irrigation-stem-pipe.jpg
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Pressurized water is available from this stem-pipe. They are spaced every 60 feet across the field. The water mains is buried. One of my fields used the outlet of a water pump.
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Valve, and end plug sitting on stem-pipe.
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Moving pipe from one field to another.
 
Bonnie Kuhlman
Posts: 61
Location: Zone 7a, Paulden, AZ
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Metal pipe are susceptible to being dented by animal hoofs, and being run over by vehicles or equipment. An occasional bullet hole shows up. Rodents may  gnaw on the rubber seals at the end of each pipe. That can be minimized by storing them off the ground.  



Thanks Joseph.  This should be helpful.  We don't have any large animals - at this point, and don't often have vehicles back there.  Rodents might be our biggest problem - gophers love us.  

I'm wondering how this would work in an orchard also. If it's spraying the tree trunks and they are kept wet much of the time, how might that affect them?

Bonnie
 
S Bengi
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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Your could do 'fertigation' and mix water kefir or worm compost tea with the irrigation water.
You are in Arizona, so I dont see a huge problem with high humidity pest problems.
Also you don't have to irrigate alot/non-stop. You can irrigated twice or just once a week. That way the plants have time to 'dry off'.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Bonnie Kuhlman wrote:I'm wondering how this would work in an orchard also. If it's spraying the tree trunks and they are kept wet much of the time, how might that affect them?



Our irrigation system was designed to supply one inch of water per week for about 12 weeks per summer. I sprinkle irrigate once a week, including the orchard. I live in a hyper-arid climate where relative humidity is often 10% or less, and dew points are around 20 F.  So dampness from irrigation is not a problem for me.

Sprinkle irrigation rinses the desert dust from the leaves of the plants, so that they can photosynthesize more efficiently. It also drowns insects, and washes away pollen. That modifies my approach to irrigation somewhat. I prefer to sprinkle irrigate at night when  fewer species of insects are actively pollinating. And I don't like to sprinkle the corn when it is shedding pollen. Flea beetles are a tremendous problem in my garden before the irrigation system becomes active. I think that they drown as soon as I start irrigating.  
 
Bonnie Kuhlman
Posts: 61
Location: Zone 7a, Paulden, AZ
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

Our irrigation system was designed to supply one inch of water per week for about 12 weeks per summer. I sprinkle irrigate once a week, including the orchard. I live in a hyper-arid climate where relative humidity is often 10% or less, and dew points are around 20 F.  So dampness from irrigation is not a problem for me.

Sprinkle irrigation rinses the desert dust from the leaves of the plants, so that they can photosynthesize more efficiently. It also drowns insects, and washes away pollen. That modifies my approach to irrigation somewhat. I prefer to sprinkle irrigate at night when  fewer species of insects are actively pollinating. And I don't like to sprinkle the corn when it is shedding pollen. Flea beetles are a tremendous problem in my garden before the irrigation system becomes active. I think that they drown as soon as I start irrigating.  



We are in north-central AZ - also hyper-arid.  So, I suppose this might actually work in our favor here as well.  When we lived in the Phoenix area, we had beautiful grape vines that grew on an arbor over the patio providing lots of shade in summer, then losing their leaves and providing sun during the winter.  Skeletonizers were the biggest problem.  I finally found that the best solution was to simply spray the vines down with the hose when they started showing up.  Fast forward, we have beetle problems with the apple trees.  I'm thinking the sprinkler might just help with that as well.   Thanks for all the info.  

Bonnie
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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My preferred method of dealing with aphids in the greenhouse or on a potted houseplant is with a jet of water.  Washes them right away.
 
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