For 20 years I worked a fulltime job in Reno, but lived at South Lake Tahoe. It was a 60 mile commute each way, and after the first year I gave up and started staying over in Reno 2 nights/week. My garden was at Lake Tahoe and my husband is NOT a gardener. The soil there, while not the same as our pumice soil, behaved in a similar way. It was mostly sand and water ran right through it. In the summer it had to get water every day. On the week nights that I did come home, with so much else to catch up on, there was no time for watering.
The first winter that we were in our Tahoe house, I began my research on watering systems. At that time the internet was not there (imagine that!), so research meant looking things up in books and catalogs. I think that’s why it took all winter.
I had some criteria to meet. The system had to be able to water whether I was there or not. It had to be freeze-proof, because I didn’t want to be mending broken pipes every spring. I had no intention of digging trenches all over the yard, so it had to be above ground or just buried a couple of inches. It had to be flexible enough to expand along with my garden. Although we didn’t have water meters, water was still a precious commodity and I didn’t want to waste it. I didn’t have a lawn to water.
Drip irrigation fit every requirement. The system I built the following spring consisted of a manifold of 6 electric valves, a backflow/master valve, pressure regulator and filter. The valves were wired to an automatic timer, which was inside the house. Each valve connected to a ½” polypropylene line that ran out through various areas of the garden, and had emitters or ¼” dripper lines attached. I had a lot of help with the design from the folks at Harmony Farm Supply in Sebastopol.
Each October I would disconnect the wiring and the lines from the valves and bring the manifold inside for the winter. The polypropylene tubing never cracked if ice formed in it in the winter—it just expanded—the one trick being to place any connectors slightly higher than the line so that water would not pool in them. There was no blowing out of lines or drain valves to leak. Each May I would reverse the procedure and turn the system back on. For the rest of the season it would water unattended, and my garden flourished. It also kept my pond topped up, the birdbath full, and the compost pile damp.
You might guess that this was not inexpensive. It probably cost about $800, but it ran for 20 years while I was there, and is probably still running now, with never a problem. So that works out to about $40/year—a bargain!
I have a similar system here in Chiloquin, but on a much larger scale. I run this system off the overflow from my artesian well, so the pressure does not need reducing. In fact it took help from Harmony Farm Supply once again, to find electric valves that would switch at such low water pressure. Even though I have more time for watering now, I can use that time for weeding instead.
If your garden is small, then you can get by with a timer and a soaker hose. I have a timer set up on a hose that runs to a sprinkler in my ‘nursery’ area. I particularly like the Orbit 91213 timer. It’s simple to use, has quite a few options, and costs $30 at Home Depot. Not a bad price to pay for a summer free of watering chores. If you use a hose splitter with it, watch out for the 2-way splitters—they often leak. I’ve found that the Gilmour 4-way splitters are very reliable.