Gravity fed drip irrigation – is it worth it?

“If you buy what you don’t need, you steal from yourself.”  -Swedish proverb

Gravity Fed Drip Irrigation InstalledI’m a frugal person of Swedish descent, so why did I feel compelled to spend the time and money buying and installing a drip system for the back 40?  I have a perfectly good hose I could use to move the water from the rain barrels to the plants…

The main reasons are laziness and efficiency.  I don’t want to waste water or time.  I have so little ‘free’ time on the weekends – I don’t want to spend much of it moving a hose from one plant to another and waiting as each one has its turn.  I had made a pvc ‘sprinkler’, which worked well enough for the bananas, but it sprayed out lots of water pretty fast and unevenly.  There was no way to control the watering, and it did not work well for the raspberries.

Benefits of Drip Systems

There are lots of benefits to using drip systems – they’re very efficient in delivering water to a specific plant’s roots, with less runoff and leeching, less evaporation while watering, less weed growth, and the plant’s leaves stay dry. They save time after the initial installation… The list goes on and on.

Using Captured Rainwater for Drip Irrigation

But – there are a couple problems with hooking up rain barrels to a drip system.  First, the water is not clean.  That’s fine for the plants, but not so fine for the drip emitters which can clog easily. Most drip emitters are also rated for a higher water pressure than gravity provides.  Even if you have enough pressure (you get 0.43 psi per foot of drop) to push the water through some emitters, they don’t provide an easy way to balance the system and really put the water where you want it.

I looked around a bit and found what I hope will be the ideal system.  It has an inline filter which will help keep the sediment out of the line. But it doesn’t depend on that alone.  The emitters are actually valves the can be opened fully to flush them out, and then dialed down to just a drip or trickle for each plant.  Using valves for emitters also lets you balance the system so the bananas (very thirsty) can have more water than the raspberries. Nice.

I bought my system from Drip Depot. They offer Standard (20 emitters), Deluxe (30 emitters) and Premium (50 emitters) gravity fed drip irrigation kits for dirty water. The kit did have some parts I didn’t need, but it was pretty easy to build my own kit based on the parts list. They also have a nice collection of videos so you can see how to assemble everything and how all the parts work.

Gravity Fed Drip Irrigation KitThey shipped quickly and all the parts were well packaged. They even included a couple of Tootsie Pops with their thank you card.  Kenny liked that idea – a lot. I installed it in about an hour, including cutting/positioning all the lines and staking in all the valve drippers. Then I turned it on and thought it would take quite a while to get it all balanced.  Happily, that only took about 10 minutes.

Gravity Fed Drip Emitter ValveNext up – measure the level drop in the rain barrel for an hour of drip, approximate how much water is going to the plants and plan the watering schedule.  One nice part about running the system from the barrels is that even after the rainwater is long gone, you can fill the barrel with the right amount of water (from the hose) and then just let it run.  I don’t even have to remember to turn it off.  Great for lazy folks.

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