Dirt Gardens and Raindrip Irrigation

The Dog Days of Summer reach their peak in August and chase me into the house to think and reflect on what I’ve done and learned in my gardens with rainwater drip irrigation.  I mostly tried to optimize my raised bed garden and experimented with 3 different dirt gardens.  My raised bed garden outperformed all of the dirt gardens in almost every aspect – that’s a big lesson!

Lettuce Garden with Raindrip Irrigation

Drip Irrigation Lettuce Garden with Brown Irrigation Hose and White Insecticide and White Barn in Background

Drip Irrigation Lettuce Garden

My shaded lettuce garden with garden drip irrigation never really produced any lettuce.  The broccoli also performed very poorly and what was there was quickly eaten by bugs.  I’m not an “organic” farmer but if I have to chase bugs off with pesticide then it’s not worth it for me.  As an experiment, I tossed in some survival kit seeds that I’d saved from heirloom melons and cucumbers the previous.  Low and behold they took root and performed better than the broccoli or lettuce!

Melons Thrive, Broccoli Fails

Lettuce Garden with Raindrip Irrigation System with Brown Irrigation Hose and White Shed in Background

Lettuce Garden with Raindrip Irrigation System

I used a different raindrip irrigation system on the lettuce garden.  I used perforated hose with built in emitters rather than the usual black hose with dedicated emitters.  For a dirt garden, this was a great approach to easily getting water exactly where I needed it.

Survival Melons with Garden Drip Irrigation

Raindrip Irrigation on Green Melons with Brown and Green Irrigation Hoses

Raindrip Irrigation on Melons

Eventually, the “survival melons” took over as the last of the broccoli withered to the onslaught of pests.  The vines on these plants are simply amazing!  But, the garden drip irrigation hose is also very wasteful when compared to drip irrigation on my raised bed garden.

Corn Garden with Rainwater Drip Irrigation Struggles in Poor Soil

Raindrip Irrigation on Corn Garden

Raindrip Irrigation on Corn Garden with Medium Green Corn Stalks and Hard Grey Clay Soil

My dirt corn garden struggled mightily.  It was my fault.  I knew, when I roto tilled that ground that it was going to be a steep uphill battle to get anything other than Johnson grass to grow.  This was a very thirsty garden and I struggled to find the best setup for my rainwater drip irrigation system.  A few corn stalks sprouted but it was mostly a battle to keep the Johnson Grass and Coastal Bermuda Grass at bay and the soil moist and loose enough for the plants to grow.  I lost that battle and just kept closing down more and more portions of the corn garden as it became evident that my plants were not going to outperform the native grasses already there. 

A Few Mature Corn Plants under Raindrip Irrigation

Corn Garden with Raindrip Irrigation using Green Garden Hose

Corn Garden with Raindrip Irrigation

A few plants in the raindrip irrigation dirt corn garden did mature.  The successful plants were closest to the Johnson Grass – which should be some sort of indicator of something.  Nevertheless, I did spend a lot of time hoeing out Johnson Grass so pick your battles carefully! 

Raindrip Irrigated Corn

Mature Green Corn Stalk with Brown Tassle from Raindrip Irrigation Garden

Mature Corn from Raindrip Irrigation Garden

I did harvest 4-5 ears of corn from the dirt corn garden with garden drip irrigation.  They never matured nicely and the kernels were sparse and flat.  These plants never got over a few feet high and had a lot of trouble finding a peer to pollinate with.  I helped by manually pollinating them but overall, it was not a success. 

New Three Sister Garden!

Three Sister Garden Start with Orange Survey Flags and Large Green Plants

Three Sister Garden Start

And then I had another wild hair and planted a “Three Sister’s Garden” according to this plan for a Three Sister Garden. Thanks Renee!  It was very rough country to start with a lot of native grass and brush to clear to get to bare dirt.  I also knew that it would be a long hose needed to provide rainwater drip irrigation to this garden.  I marked my mounds and then got very busy with a hoe and weedeater.  Thankfully, I did this in June prior to the July/August dog days. I made 36 mounds in total.

Long Lines in a Raindrip Irrigation Garden

Rain Drip irrigation Installed on Three Sister Garden on Red Dirt with White Truck in Background

Rain Drip irrigation Installed on Three Sister Garden

I ran a long extension from my raindrip irrigation system to provide water for the Three Sister Garden.  Each mound was given a few feet of emitter hose and a dedicated emitter.  This combination proved to be very effective and relatively more efficient than just emitter hose by itself.  Even with rainwater drip irrigation, you have to be careful about water conservation or you might run out of water!

Mound Configuration of Garden Drip Irrigation System

Drip Irrigation Detail on Three Sister Garden with Brown Dirt Mound, Black Irrigation Hose and small Green Plant

Drip Irrigation Detail on Three Sister Garden

Each mound in the Three Sister Garden got a small garden drip irrigation emitter hose with 3 1 GPH emitters and the a 1 GPH emitter on the end.  I ended up taping off one of the emitters in the hose because it put water into the ditch rather than on the mound which is more efficient. I got much better sprouting in the Three Sister Garden thatn I did in Lettuce or Corn garden.  Definitely better soil in this location.

Raindrip Irrigation on Mounds

Fully Raindrip Irrigation Three Sister Garden with Brown Dirt Mounds, Black Pipe and small Green Plants

Fully Raindrip Irrigation Three Sister Garden

The corn in the Three Sister Garden never sprouted very well and I went ahead after 3 weeks and planted to beans and melons despite the short corn stalks.  These guys were very thirsty for rainwater drip irrigation!  We’ll see but my hopes are not high on this dirt garden either….

Summary of Dirt Gardens and Raindrip Irrigation

The Dog Days of Summer are here and lessons have been learned.  Dirt gardens are harder and less efficient than raised bed gardens.  Soil selection and preparation is critical in a dirt garden – much more so than in a raised bed garden.  Garden drip irrigation worked fine but almost ran out of water a couple times.  I didn’t realize how much water a dirt garden uses relative to a raised bed garded – a lot more than I expected!  I’m going to end my dirt garden adventures and expand my raised bed gardens much more next spring.
Container Garden | Rain Drip Irrigation | Rainwater Collection | Raised Garden Beds

 

Rainwater Drip Irrigation Garden Phase 2

I’m planting my raised bed garden in 4 phases this summer to see if I can extend my harvest season.  I’ve also expanded the number of gardens that I use with my garden drip irrigation.  I expanded my rainwater drip irrigation system and have a lot more water stored to use.  In fact, with recent rains, I’m already overfull and overflowing.  I’m planning on further expanding my rainwater drip irrigation and collection system to support additional gardens and a fruit tree orchard.

Phase 1 Tomatoes in the Raised Bed Garden

Raised Bed Garden Tomatoes

Young Green Raised Bed Garden Tomatoes

There’s a lot of myth and misunderstanding about when to let tomato plants flower and fruit.  This is especially true when using garden drip irrigation.  My historic knowledge said they needed to be 24″ tall before allowing flowers to bloom and fruit.  I read some recent research that says that 12″ plants are fine to bloom and fruit.  My Phase 1 tomatoes in my raised bed garden had been wanting to bloom for quite some time – they were about 18″ tall.  I’ve let them bloom and will use the new guideline of 12″ for Phase 2 – 4 tomatoes.

Lettuce Garden before Garden Drip Irrigation

Garden Drip Irrigation for Broccoli and Lettuce

Garden Drip Irrigation with Brown Dirt and Orange Flags for Broccoli and Lettuce

I had a septic tank hole that needed some fill and I used some of the topsoil leftover from the Duck Pond.  It worked so nicely that I decided to turn it into a garden and use some rainwater drip irrigation.  Unfortunately, it is very shady and most of the vegetables I enjoy are sunny ones.  My wife likes lettuce & brocolli so that’s what I planted.  I added some survival seek melons as well.  This garden started very rough with a lot of debris and trash in the soil.  I’ve spent a lot fo time cleaning and hoeing this garden but find it oddly satisfying.  I’ll add rainwater drip irrigation as soon as I see the plants establish themselves and it becomes too hot outside to water every day.

Corn Garden Started for Rainwater Drip Irrigation

Rainwater Collection Corn Garden

Rainwater Collection Brown Dirt and Green Grass Corn Garden

I noticed a lot of Johnson Grass growing over a septic tank drain field and decided that might be a good spot for corn.  I rented a rototiller and proceeded to tear up the ground for a corn garden with drip irrigation.  Well, they haven’t improved rototillers in the past 30+ years!  I managed to scrape a little soil but it was mostly clay mud that was dug up when they put in the septic lines.  I couldn’t even hoe furrows!  So, I just plated the corn by sticking seeds in the ground and we’ll see what happens.  I suspect I’m going to have a lot more work in the garden before it is ready for rainwater drip irrigation.  If it even performs at all by growing corn in a semi-sunn spot I’ll be pleased.

Young Corn and Grass!

Garden Drip Irrigation Corn Sprouts

Garden Drip Irrigation with Green Corn Sprouts peeking through Green Grass

The grass in my corn rainwater drip irrigation garden is growing faster than my corn.  Also, it’s Bermuda Grass and is going to be tough to get rid of.  Watering with garden drip irrigation only aggravates the problem so I’m still on hand watering in this garden for now.  And, I’m going to have to figure out how to get rid of the grass if the corn is going to stand a chance.

Phase 2 Tomatoes and Cucumbers in the Raised Bed Garden

Raised Bed Garden Phase 2

Young Green Tomatoes and Cucumber Spouts in Raised Bed Garden Phase 2

Phase 2 cucumbers and tomatoes in the raised bed garden are doing nicely.  They were planted 4/15 and Phase 1 was planted 3/15.  I have two more phases, 5/15 and 6/15.  If this works it should extend my harvest season.  The cucumber seeds very much liked the warmer temps and sprouted within a week or so.  Phase 1 cucumbers took upwards of 2-3 weeks to sprout. These plants are in a well established garden and get a lot of benefit from garden drip irritation.

Better Tomato Supports for Garden Drip Irrigation

Raised Bed Garden Phase 1

Green Tomatoes and Young Green Cucumbers in Raised Bed Garden Phase 1

My Phase 1 tomatoes and cucumbers have reached the size that they need additional support.  Rainwater drip irrigation is a very powerful tool to use in an established garden.  Drip irrigation hoses aren’t easy to adjust and tend to be a little fragile so having a very clear idea of what you want and how you want it makes using garden drip irrigation much easier.

Summary of Rainwater Drip Irrigation Garden Phase 2

Phase 2 planting of tomatoes and cucumbers followed a month after Phase 1 plantings in my raised bed garden.  The garden drip irrigation system is working very well this year and I have expansion plans into my lettuce garden and corn garden.  But, those two gardens need to emerge and stabilize before it is worth putting in the rainwater drip irrigation system that so benefits the plants and me.  Phase 1 and 2 plants are doing fine and I’m preparing to plant Phase 3 this weekend.
Container Garden | Rain Drip Irrigation | Rainwater Collection | Raised Garden Beds

 

New and Expanded 2014 Season for Rainwater Collection Drip Irrigation Garden

It’s that time of the year to fire up my raised bed garden and make sure my rainwater collection system is ready to feed my garden drip irrigation.  I’ve expanded my rainwater collection system from 1000 gallons to 4000 gallons.  I have a couple of new things to test this year and I’m excited! I’m phasing my plantings into my raised bed garden over four months to see if I can extend and smooth my harvest season.  I expect issues to too much or too little garden drip irrigation but will iron those out if the overall strategy works.  I’m also planting corn in a larger patch on my septic drain field.  The Johnson grass, a close cousin of corn, grows tall there so I thought I’d give it a try.  I’m phasing my corn harvests as well.  Except with the corn garden, I’m doing the phasing with 3 different maturation periods instead of varying the planting dates.  Additionally, since the corn is on the septic drain field, I’m not planning on using any garden drip irrigation from my rainwater collection system – just natural water to start with and then we’ll see how thing progress.  It’s going to be a great season of rainwater collection an garden drip irrigation in my raised bed garden!

Removing the Cover from my Raised Bed Garden

Brown Dirt and Grey Wood Drip Irrigation Garden

Drip Irrigation Garden

I covered my raised bed garden last October at the end of the season.  I wanted to see if this was easier than pulling a ton of weeds that accumulate over the winter season.  It was definitely easier and I highly recommend it. I also added 4 bags of compost to the raised bed garden soil mixture to enhance the nutrients in the soil.

First Phase Cucumbers

White Paper Package of Raised Bed Garden Cucumbers Seeds

Raised Bed Garden Cucumbers

I’m attempting to plant in 4 phases this year.  I’m planting only cucumbers and tomatoes – since that’s mostly what I like and that grows well in my square foot garden.  I’ll continue using rainwater collection to water each plant.  Phase 1 starts on 3/15 and each phase is approximately 30 days after the previous phase so I’ll plant again on 4/15, 5/15 and 6/15.  Hopefully, this will spread out my harvest times.  Maybe maybe not – depends on if the plants use heat and sunlight to trigger fruiting or if plant age is more deterministic – always something to learn.  Even if it only works partially, I’ll be ahead of having everything to harvest at the same time.  I’m also using different varieties of cucumbers and tomatoes in each phase.

First Phase Tomatoes

Green Plants in Brown Dirt in Garden Drip Irrigation Phase 1

Garden Drip Irrigation Phase 1

Each phase will have two different varieties of tomatoes and one variety of cucumbers.  There were only about 4 cucumber varieties that I like but there are a bunch of tomato varieties that I’d like to try – especially since I have slots for 8 different tomato varieties. You can also easily see where I’ve adjusted my garden drip irrigation lines for each plant.

Tighter Security for my Raised Bed Garden and Rainwater Collection

Orange Electric Fence on Raised Bed Garden

Electric Fence on Raised Bed Garden

My electric fence solar powered generator worked great last year.  But, my electric fence was pretty terrible.  I upgraded from small thin sticks for fence posts to large t posts for fenceposts.  I was able to fence higher and tighter and it is working very well.  Even keeps the puppy out of the garden! I expanded my rainwater collection from 1000 gallons to 4000 gallons so I should have plenty of water for the raised bed garden as well as the corn garden as needed.

Planting Corn in Hard Ground

Yellow Corn Planting with Grey Spike using Rainwater Collection

Corn Planting with Rainwater Collection

I’m planting three varieties of corn on the moist soil over my septic system drain field.  I’ve tried planting corn in my raised bed garden but find that I don’t have enough plants for them to successfully pollinate.  Before you say “yuck”, stop and consider that the thing that brought the drain field to my attention was the enormous Johnsongrass plants that grow there anyway.  Septic drain field water is grey water and should be fine for corn.  We’ll see.  Additionally, while I have some great top soil, I have very tenacious clay just below the top soil.  I rented a roto tiller and tried to make a dent in the grass and top soil but it was very hard.  There isn’t much topsoil left on the drain field due to the way it was orginally dug and then refilled – most of the top soil is gone and the clay is on the top.  Since the roto tiller didn’t make much of a dent, I just marked out straight lines and then used a large nail to poke shallow holes into the clay to plant each seed.  It was LOTS of bending over!  I have no idea if it will work but can’t see a reason that it wouldn’t.

Early Harvest Corn

Early Yellow and Green Corn for Garden Drip Irrigation

Early Corn for Garden Drip Irrigation

I have three varieties of corn and instead of planting them at different times, I got varieties that have different maturation dates.  They are all sweet corn – I mean, why would you plant anything else to eat?  My early harvest variety is Burpee’s Early & Often Hybrid at 64 days. I should have full sun for corn but my corn patch/septic drain field has a bit of shade early and late in the day.  I’ll take that. I’m not sure if or how much water the corn will need but I’m confident that I have plenty from my rainwater collection system.

Middle Harvest Corn

Yellow and Green Middle Corn in Raised Bed Garden on Brown Grass

Middle Corn in Raised Bed Garden

My second sweet corn variety is Burpee’s Buttercream Hybrid with a 73 day maturity.  I like this variety a lot! I’ve read that this variety can require more water.  I’ll start without any rain drip irrigation in the corn garden but have sufficient water storage to implement it if needed.

Late and Best Harvest Corn

Yellow and Green Late Corn Using Drip Irrigation

Late Corn Using Drip Irrigation

My last sweet corn variety is Burpee’s Silver Queen Hybrid.  This is my favorite sweet corn!  It has a 92 day maturity and by July the weather should be hot as hell and the corn sweet as cream. If this corn requires rain drip irrigation, I think I will use something other than my current garden drip irrigation system. I’ll power it from my rainwater collection system but will probably use a broader, less specific method of delivering the water to the plants.  I’ll also need to be careful so as not to over water the septic drain field.  Surely there’s an appropriate but fine balance there somewhere.

The Corn Garden and Garden Drip Irrigation

Green Grass and Brown Dirt in a Rainwater Collection Corn Garden

Rainwater Collection Corn Garden

My efforts to turn my septic drain field into a corn garden were somewhat successful.  I dug through most of the grass down to dirt.  But, It wasn’t deep enough to actually till any rows or furrows.  It was just too hard with clay that had been pulled to the top when they put the drain field in.  So, I marked out 14 rows approximately 40 feet long.  You can see the little orange flags that mark each row.  It should work but you never know.  I need to put an electric fence on this garden as well but I’m not going to invest that much until I see if I need it.  I’ve put a game camera on the garden to get pictures of any critters or dogs that may be in the garden.  I’ll adjust based on what I learn from the pics.

Summary of 2014 Season for Rainwater Collection Drip Irrigation Garden

Spring starts a new season of raised bed gardening with rainwater collection and garden drip irrigation.  I’ve made some improvements from learnings last year and I have a couple new experiments.  It’s going to be a great season!
Container Garden | Rain Drip Irrigation | Rainwater Collection | Raised Garden Beds

 

Raised Bed Garden and Rainwater Collection and Garden Drip Irrigation Lessons Learned 2013

Another season of the raised bed garden has come and gone. I learned a lot of lessons this year and benefitted from lessons learned in previous years.  The raised bed garden was a success and we got enough rain for the rainwater collection system to be more than adequate to run my garden drip irrigation system.

Rain Water Collection Pond

Red Dirt Rainwater Collection Catch Pond

Rainwater Collection Catch Pond

I had our farm tractor at the house to cut some dead trees and decided to take the opportunity to build a rain water collection catch pond.  It’s harde than it looks to use a front end loader to dig a hole.  It took me about 20 hours of digging but I ended up with a “pond” that will hold up to three feet of water.  I finally got through the top soil down to a clay base and I think it’s going to hold water.

Bad Corn in the Raised Bed Garden

Black Garden Drip Irrigation Hose with Green Corn Plants

Garden Drip Irrigation Hose

Im not sure that corn is a good plant for a raised bed garden.  While they start fine, they seldom finish well.  I’m guessing that there aren’t enough plants for even pollination.  Next year, I’m taking the corn plants out of the raised bed garden and farming them over the septic tank drain field.  At least the Johnson grass does well there so I might as well give it a try with it’s cousin the corn plant!

Flopped Squash

Raised Bed Garden Overflow of Green Squash Plants

Raised Bed Garden Overflow

My squash plants don’t look like they enjoy the garden drip irrigation system or the raised bed garden.  They are just too big to fit well in the garden and flopped over the side.  They flowered but never made any squash.  This is another plant that won’t make it on the list for next year either.

More Bad Corn

Yellow and Brown Survival Corn Year Two

Survival Corn Year Two

My survival kit corn didn’t do well at all.  It was probably due to the fat that I planted too few of them.  Corn isn’t going back in the raised bed garden anyway but I still have a number of dried survival kit corn to try again next year over the septic tank.

Failed Cucumbers

Raised Bed Garden Green Cucumber in Black Dirt Failure

Raised Bed Garden Cucumber Failure

My early season cucumbers did very well in the garden.  My late season cucumbers didn’t do well at all.  They consumed a lot of the water from my rain water collection system and never produced much of anything.  Another reason the garden didn’t do well may be that I didn’t add any new materials this year.  Next year, I’m going to add another measure of compost.  I think the peat moss and vermiculite are fine and the compost contains the organics anyway.

Winterizing the Raised Bed Garden and Drip Irrigation System

Brown Wood and Red Gravel Raised Bed Garden Drip Irrigation Put to Bed with Blue Plastic Tarp

Raised Bed Garden Drip Irrigation Put to Bed

Winter weeds were terrible in the garden last year.  This year, I spent an extra $7 to purchase and install a plastic tarp.  The goal is to prevent any weed growth over the winter – we’ll see if that works!

Leaky Rainwater Collection System

White Rainwater Collection Drip Irrigation Pipe Leak with Black Rubber and Purple Primer

Rainwater Collection Drip Irrigation Pipe Leak

The water line from my rainwater collection system that powers my garden drip irrigation system had a leak early in the season.  It took quite a while for the ground to dry out enough for me to find the leak.  It was a small and subtle leak and was occurring in a pvc pipe joint where they made a very slight curve.  I found this rubber connection joint at Home Depot and it worked just fine.  I ran my garden drip irrigation system all Summer with a water hose instead of the underground pipe.  It worked fine for me but annoyed my wife.

Summary of Raised Bed Garden, Rainwater Collection and Garden Drip Irrigation Lessons

I’m always a little sad when the growing season ends.  I’m also excited about what I’ve learned and can implement next year.  The rainwater collection pond will help a lot – especially as I plan a larger garden outside of the raised bed garden.  The garden drip irrigation system worked very well and I’m please – especially now that I have the leak fixed.  I’m going to expand the rainwater collection system this winter from 1000 gallons to 4000 gallons.  As always, next year will be even better!
Container Garden | Rain Drip Irrigation | Rainwater Collection | Raised Garden Beds

 

Rainwater Collection and a New Raised Bed Garden

Last year’s raised bed garden that I feed from my rain water collection system ended the season nicely. I experimented with “survival” seeds while they performed adequately, I DO think we’re in trouble if we have to feed ourselves from non-hybrid heritage seeds. It was very evident how plant hybridization and breeding have been influenced by the modern grocery store consumer. The fruits and vegetables from my “survival” seeds were smaller, misshapen and less tasty than fruits and vegetables grown from hybrid seeds or purchased in the store. I did save and dry some of the seeds for planting this season to see if they live up to the promise of heritage seeds.

The Right Mix of Rainwater and Raised Bed Garden

Fading Green and Brown Final Raised Bed Garden from Last Summer in Brown and Grey Wood Container

Final Raised Bed Garden from Last Summer

I’m very pleased with my rain water collection system feeding my raised bed garden. I use square foot gardening techniques in my raised bed garden and as you can see, it is very bountiful! It literally sips water and my 1000 gallon rain water collection tank never even got close to running dry – and it was a very dry Summer last year. I use a hose bib timer and turn on the drip irrigation twice daily for 10 to 15 minutes. Each plant has a different emitter that is calibrated to how much water the plan type needs. After many years of abject failure with the deck container garden, it is delightful to have a raised bed garden that performs well – especially in that it is fed from my rain water collection system.

Survival Seeds and the Next Generation

Dried Yellow Corn Raised Bed Garden Survivor Seeds Dried for Replanting on Red Marble Counter

Raised Bed Garden Survivor Seeds Dried for Replanting

I gave a try to survival seeds last year and had less than successful results but they weren’t a complete failure either. I dried a couple ears of corn and some melons to try this year. They’re in the ground in my raised bed garden but seem to be lagging behind the other, hybrid corn I planted at the same time. Again, if SHTF and we have to depend on heritage seeds, food is not going to be as easily available or plentiful as we’ve become accustomed to.

Thwarting the Deer Who Want in my Garden

New Season Raised Bed Garden with Orange Electric Fence Controller in Green Grassy Yard with Brown Weeds in Background

New Season Raised Bed Garden with Electric Fence

I have a lot of deer in my area and since they aren’t hunted they think they have free reign to pillage my garden. My stupid big dog does as well when she needs a snack between the limited meals I feed her to manager her weight. I found a very nice little solar powered electric fence controller and put in a very simple two wire electric fence around my raised bed garden. It’s worked very well thus far – I have a small game camera on the garden as well – and I’ve been pleased. As long as I remember to switch it off before hoping the fence, I’ll be fine.

Rain Drip Irrigation Main Hose

Early Start on Raised Bed Garden with Young Green Corn Plants and Brown Soil Mixture with Black Drip Irrigation Pipe

Early Start on Raised Bed Garden

I’m using the same rainwater collection system to power my drip irrigation system – no changes from last year. My drip irrigation system is fed by a large 1000 gallon rain water collection tank through a hose bib timer. When the valve is open, water flows through a large U shaped main hose that then feeds smaller hoses and emitters for each square foot section of my raised bed garden. This allows me the flexibility I like to vary flow rates for each different plant type during it’s growth and fruiting cycle and keeps it simple enough that it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance or have a bunch of breakage.

Sixty Days into a Garden Season

June Raised Bed Garden with Aging Grey Wood Sides Going Strong with Healthy Green Plants and Grey Equipment Storage Container

June Raised Bed Garden Going Strong

I got off to an early start this year by planting in mid March before Spring Break. We had an uncommonly cool and wet Spring this year and I may have planted a bit early. So much for getting a jump on Mother Nature. Nevertheless, the tomatoes and cucumbers in the middle are going big guns and the corn on the ends is struggling along. Some of the corn is doing very well but that’s not the survival corn. The survival corn is on the near left corner and is well behind all of the others. I’m not holding out great hopes for it even with plenty of water from my rain water collection system.

Rainwater Collection Expansion!!

Black and Green Plastic Rainwater Collection System Expansion Tanks Connected to Grey Trailer on White Truck in Green Grassy Yard

Rainwater Collection System Expansion

I have a single 1000 gallon rainwater collection tank and that has served me very well to support my 8′ x 4′ square foot garden. But, I have a LOT more roof to collect rainwater from and plenty of room for additional tanks so I’m expanding my water storage tanks from 1000 gallons to 4000 gallons! As you can see, the tanks are large and bulky but not heavy at all. It does require a trailer though.

Big Rainwater Tanks

Black Plastic Rain Water Harvesting Tanks Waiting for Install in Green Shady Lawn with White Casita in Background

Rain Water Harvesting Tanks Waiting for Install

I use 1000 gallon rain water collection tanks. I selected this size primarily so that they will fit easily under my deck at the back of my house. My dad has a much larger, 15,000 gallon rainwater collection tank but his is a more elaborate system that was designed to provide drinkable water directly into his taps in the house. My rainwater collection system is designed to collect and store water for my garden, my new duck pond and for emergency drinking purposes through a portable filtration system.

Site Pads for Collection Tanks

Rainwater Collection Tank Pads Built Using Red Gravel Under Brown Wood Deck with White and Red Dog

Rainwater Collection Tank Pads Built

Getting the rainwater collection tanks level and stable is very important. 1000 gallons of water weighs a LOT and if the ground underneath the tanks is unstable or not level, they can cause some big headaches. I use crushed granite pads to build a stable base for each rainwater collection tank. My hunting dog likes the new cool dirt.

Rain Water Harvesting Tanks Installed

Blue and Black Plastic Rain Water Harvesting Tanks Installed Under Brown Wood Deck

Rain Water Harvesting Tanks Installed

Once the tank pads are set, it is relatively simple to maneuver the rainwater collection tanks into their proper place. It is important that the tanks are mostly in a straight line. Last year’s tank is plumbed and feeding my rainwater collection system drip irrigation system. When I went to begin plumbing the new tanks, I noticed that the original tank is not perpendicular to it’s outflow pipe and this will cause leaks when I try to connect the original tank to the new tanks. But, the original tank is full of water, too heavy to adjust and I need the water for the raised bed garden. So, I’m going to delay plumbing the new tanks until I finish this year’s gardening season and can drain it an plumb all of the tanks properly. Every time it rains, I realize again just how much water I’m NOT collecting in my rainwater collections system.

Rainwater Line Leak

Brown Wet Spot in Red Gravel Path Shows Rainwater Collection System Line Leak

Rainwater Collection System Line Leak

I noticed a suspicious moist spot on the ground where I had run my main water line from my rainwater collection tanks to my raised bed garden. I hoped for a few days that it was just a low spot in the ground but then I noticed that a mud hole was being created just off to the side. The original trench wasn’t perfectly straight and there was a little bit of tension on the PVC coupler at a joint in that very spot. I’m not sure why it waited this long to start leaking. The real indicator was that my rainwater collection tank was draining water much faster than it ever had before. When I saw that I knew I had a leak.

Yeah, That Needs Fixin’

Green Grass and Red Gravel Surround White Rain Water Harvesting Line Leak Isolated

Rain Water Harvesting Line Leak Isolated

Yeah, not only does my main line from my rainwater collection system have a leak, it’s in a low spot that easily fills with and hold rain so getting it to dry out so I can pinpoint the leak is a real challenge. In in the interim, I’ve run a garden hose from the rainwater collection tank to my raised bed garden that bypasses the buried PVC. There is a flexible connection available so I’m going to give it a try to see if it solve the problem – soon, real soon now…..

Summary of Rainwater Collection and New Raised Bed Garden

My raised bed garden that is watered from my rainwater collection system did very well last year. I ended the season with a bountiful garden. My trial run at survival seeds was less than successful but wasn’t a complete failure. The second part of the test will be to plant seeds from last years crop. My drip irrigation system, which is fed from my rainwater collection system continues to work very well. It works so well that I’m expanding my water tank holding capacity to 4000 gallons. Installing the tanks is the easy part – getting them properly plumbed is a challenge that will have wait until this fall. As with any system, there will be problems and I have a leak in the line running from my rainwater collection system to my raised bed garden that powers my drip irrigation system – gotta get that thing fixed….

Container Garden | Rain Drip Irrigation | Rainwater Collection | Raised Garden Beds

 

Funny Stuff in the Raised Garden Bed

I experimented this summer with heritage plants in my raised garden bed using the square foot method.  My results were quite interesting.  Most of the heritage plants sprouted and produced fruits – strange looking fruits, but fruits nonetheless.  In general, the heritage fruits were smaller, strangely shaped and less tasty than food grown from hybrid seeds or purchased in the store.  The advantage to heritage fruits is that their seeds will reliably germinate.  Hybrid seeds don’t have this capability.

 

 

Failure of Leafy Greens in my Raised Garden Bed

Brown Dirt Shows No Progress in a Raised Garden Bed

No Leafy Vegetable Progress in a Raised Garden Bed

Leafy green vegetables failed completely in my raised garden bed.  It was probably due to the hot Texas Summers.  I replanted several times to no avail – I just couldn’t get the seeds to germinate and sprout.
 

 

 

 

Heritage Watermelons

Funny Oblong Green Watermelon in Raised Bed Garden

Funny Shaped Watermelon in Raised Bed Garden

The heritage watermelon seeds in my raised garden bed quickly produced large and spreading vines.  It seemed to take a very long time to get them to produce any fruits.  Since I’m using square foot gardening, I trained the vines upward – not sure if this had an impact or not.  Nevertheless, when the watermelons did bear fruit, they were small and had funny shapes – and they tended to rot on one end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funky Little Heritage Corn

Stunted Yellow Corn in a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

Stunted Heritage Corn in a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

My heritage corn also had some size and quality issues in my raised bed garden.  I planted 4 different varieties and every one of them produced small or misshapen ears.  The raised bed garden had plenty of water and sunshine so I’m not sure if this was due to the heritage seeds or something else.  My experiment next summer will be to plant a hybrid raised bed garden garden along side a heritage garden so that I can compare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Heritage Melons

Small Grey Cantaloupe from Raised Bed Gardens

Small Heritage Cantaloupe from Raised Bed Gardens

My heritage melons in my raised bed garden also were quite small.  However, they were very tasty and we enjoyed eating them.  However, there weren’t as many as I had hoped for.  My general sense is that if you’re going to use heritage seeds you’re probably going to be eating like a pioneer – which means not very much.  Or, maybe I’m just doing it wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of Funny Stuff in my Raised Garden Bed

My heritage seeds that I planted in my raised bed garden did perform but not very well.  The fruits were slow to produce, small or misshapen and quite scarce.  Next year, I’m going to plant an additional raised bed garden using the square foot method and have one with heritage seeds and one with hybrid seeds to see if there really is a difference or if I’m just a bad farmer.

Container Garden | Rain Drip Irrigation | Rainwater Collection | Raised Garden Beds

 

Raised Garden Bed Summer Version 1

It’s been a bountiful summer with my raised garden bed and square foot gardening technique.  I converted an old raised bed garden into the square foot gardening method by cleaning the weeds and replacing the soil mixture.  I also installed drip irrigation from my rain water collection system.  I also used survival kit seeds with the exception of my tomato plants.  The raised garden bed has performed well in come cases and poorly in others – mostly my fault I suspect.

 

 

 

Beginning a Raised Garden Bed

Green Weed Infested Old Raised Garden Bed

Old Raised Garden Bed From 4 Years Ago

My original raised garden bed had not been used in approximately 5 years.  I first confirmed that my rainwater collection system would adequately power my drip irrigation system.  The raised bed garden has 32 square feet and that could have been a serious load on the 1000 gallon rain water collection system but the slight uphill position of the rainwater collection tank was more than sufficient to provide hose bib level water pressure down to the raised bed garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Square Foot Raised Garden Bed

Reworked Raised Bed Garden with Brown Soil and Green Plants

Newly Reworked Raised Bed Garden

The raised garden bed looked especially nice right after I replaced the soil and planted the tomatoes.  The drip irrigation system was simple with a single loop and 32 emitters.  I had extra hog wire to form cages for the tomatoes and other vining plants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

Overgrown Green Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Gone Wild

Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Gone Wild

A month or so in and you can easily see how the raised garden bed thrived.  The plants on the inside did better than the plants on the outside.  The inside plants were mostly vining plants – tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, melons and the plants on the outside were leafy plants like spinach, chard, lettuce, etc.  I’m not a terribly attentive gardener and the weeds have grown to appreciate the new raised bed garden as well.  The inner row plants did very well but the outer row plants did not perform well at all.  A little research told me that my leafy plants don’t do well in the hot Texas summers so I will retry them in a Fall garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Harvest from Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

Green Cucumbers, Green Corn and Red Tomatoes is the Harvest from my Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

Vegetable Harvest from my Raised Garden Bed of Vegetables

I used survival kit seeds with the exception of my tomatoes and the production of vegetables has been moderate.  It is clear after a single season, that the benefits of hybrid vegetables are enormous.  My heritage seeds produce less fruit of a lesser quality.  They are still good and edible but definitely NOT what I’ve come to expect after 50 years of living on grocery food food.  The production level of the inner rows of cucumbers, corn and tomatoes has been sufficient to feed me salads every day each week throughout the summer.  The corn production was very poor but I only had 4 plants of 4 varieties.  I will plan better next summer for an expanded raised garden bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of Raised Garden Bed Summer Version 1

My raised garden bed using heritage seeds has been moderately successful.  It was relatively easy to build and start.  My rainwater collection system is adequate to power the drip irrigation and I can collect a nice basket of vegetables each week.  Some of the leafy plants did not do well in the Texas Summer – they are Fall garden plants.  In the end, the small raised garden bed was sufficient but just barely and better planning and an additional 32 square feet next summer will probably bring it into full production for a family of four.

Container Garden | Rain Drip Irrigation | Rainwater Collection | Raised Garden Beds

 

 

Rainwater Collection Powering Drip Irrigation in a Square Foot Garden

My rainwater collection system to power the drip irrigation on my square foot garden is working very well.  I have a 1000 gallon tank for rain water harvesting that sits approximately 20 feet higher uphill in elevation than my garden and the hose bib pressure is more than adequate to drive an inexpensive drip irrigation system. I was concerned that the rainwater collection would not provide sufficient pressure to water the raised bed garden so I’m very pleased with the initial results.  I’m very pleased with this particular use of my rainwater collection system.

 

 

 

Rainwater Collection Drip Irrigation Working

Rainwater Collection Irrigated Brown Wood Raised Bed Garden

Rainwater Collection Irrigated Raised Bed Garden

I configured a rainwater collection system pipe to my raised bed garden.  I planted my square foot raised bed garden with heritage seeds from a survival seed bank along with a few commercial tomato plants and basil plants.  The seeds responded well to the square foot garden approach and the tomatoes went nuts!  I allocated about a cup of water per day from my rainwater collection system through the rain drip irrigation system and that seemed to be more than sufficient to get the seeds to germinate properly. For bigger rainwater collection systems for your garden use, you can consult rainwater tanks experts at http://www.supatank.com.au.

 

 

 

 

 

Harvesting Rainwater to Feed Garden Plants

Brown Soil with Green Plants Garden Irrigated from Rain Water Harvesting

Garden Irrigated from Rain Water Harvesting

Each square in my raised bed square foot garden has a drip irrigation emitter that is filled by harvesting rainwater from the roof of my house.  I can vary the flow of each emitter to increase or decrease the amount of daily rain water supplied to each square in the raised bed garden.  Some plants are doing very well but I planted some leafy vegetable seeds too early and the Texas Summer heat is not serving them very well. Harvesting rainwater can only solve a portion of the challenges with a raised bed garden.  The experiment with the rainwater collection system is working very nicely – a nice change from last year’s failed experiment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rain Water Harvesting Drives Drip Irrigation Emitters

Black Irrigation Emitters in Brown Soil with Green Plants Powered by Harvesting Rainwater

Irrigation Emitters Powered by Harvesting Rainwater

I use a drip timer at the end of the hose from the rain water harvesting system to control the daily water flow into the rain drip irrigation system in the square foot garden.  The timer is set to allow water to flow for a few minutes each day at 6PM.  I’ve measured the flow rate controlled by the emitters with a gallon jug and the pressure from the rainwater collection system is adequate to provide an accurate water flow into my rainwater collection system and out to each specific plant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of Rainwater Collection Powering Drip Irrigation in a Square Foot Garden

I installed a rainwater collection system to collect rain water from the roof of my house.  The rain water harvesting system feeds my rain drip irrigation system nicely and the water pressure is more than adequate to power my rain drip irrigation system.  I planted a mix of commercial plants and heritage seeds and they are performing nicely with sufficient water from harvesting rainwater.  The emitters in my rain drip irrigation system are variable and the flow check out accurately. This has turned out to be a very nice use of a rain water collection system and is saving me quite a bit of money on my water bill each month.

 

Container Garden | Rain Drip Irrigation | Rainwater Collection | Raised Garden Beds

 

Rainwater collection is key to developing a semi-sustainable garden. Read about our first forays into a deck container garden and why growing your own food is a great idea for anyone here.

Rain Drip Irrigation Installed in Square Foot Garden

I really enjoy my gardening and learning more with my projects – especially as it relates to rain drip irrigation and square foot gardening. There is always something to learn. Yes, the setbacks are disappointing but there are occasional wins and doing and sharing these with my daughters is really fun and provides us some time together. Square foot gardening recommends that I hand water the plants every day but my busy schedule doesn’t allow for that. I also installed a rain water collection system last Fall and I really want to see if it is useful for garden drip irrigation in my container gardening. I added some piping from my rainwater collection system to feed a drip irrigation system and built a rain drip irrigation system.

Permanent Piping for a Rain Drip Irrigation System

Green Water Tank to White PVC Pipe Rain Drip Irrigation Master Feed

Rain Drip Irrigation Master Feed

I tested my rain drip irrigation system with a long water hose to make sure that I sufficient water pressure at the hose bib to drive the drip irrigation emitters. Once I determined that the combination of approximately 6 feet of downhill slope coupled with 10 feet of water column volume was enough to drive the emitters, I installed permanent PVC piping down to the container garden to install a permanent hose bib. My water supply for my drip irrigation garden system is now fully implemented.

 

 

 

 

 

Rain Drip Irrigation Drainage Valve

Green Cover and White PVC Pipe Drip Irrigation Garden Drain

Drip Irrigation Garden Drain

We don’t often have very cold weather in Texas but it does freeze occasionally and I only buried my water supply pipe a few inches under the surface of the soil. I don’t want a freeze to burst my pipes and destroy my rain drip irrigation supply line. So, I put a hose bib at the end of the rainwater collection system supply line so that I can drain my rain drip irrigation system each Winter. There is only about 150 feet of pipe so I think this simple solution will be fine.

 

 

 

 

 

Splitter for Garden Drip Irrigation Options

White PVC Pipe and Green Garden Drip Irrigation Timer

Garden Drip Irrigation Timer

I installed a simple hose bib splitter at the hose bib of my rain drip irrigation system. I’ve had trouble with hose bib splitters in the past but I think I was trying to do too much with them. This arrangement is much more simple. I have one side of the hose bib splitter to feed my rain drip irrigation system and the other side feeds a very short hose for incidental watering as I need it. The hose bib needs to be full on to supply enough pressure to drive the emitters in the drip irrigation garden system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drip Irrigation Garden Details

Black Hose on Brown Sticks Rain Drip Irrigation Final Install

Rain Drip Irrigation Final Install

I used the separator lattice from square foot gardening as the supports for my rain drip irrigation master hose. Each square in my garden has a dedicated small hose and emitter. I can vary the emitter volume and count to supply a sufficient amount of water for each different plant type.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rain Drip Irrigation Full Installation

Green Plants, Brown Dirt and Black Hose Garden Drip Irrigation Working

Garden Drip Irrigation Working

The full rain drip irrigation system makes a very simple U shaped loop across the top of the square foot lattice and provides a dedicated drip irrigation garden feed to each square in the garden. I’ve come to appreciate simplicity in gardening as each time I’ve tried something complex, it seems to fail. Rainwater fills my collection tank and now provides daily water to my square foot garden through the rain drip irrigation system.

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of Rain Drip Irrigation Installed in Square Foot Garden

I tested my rain drip irrigation system with a simple garden hose and then installed permanent, underground piping to my square foot garden. I also installed a drain valve and a hose splitter at the garden hose bib for options in my garden drip irrigation system. I used the lattice boards from square foot gardening as a support for my master drip irrigation garden hose and then installed a dedicated feeder hose and emitter to each square. My rain drip irrigation is installed and working nicely with a timer controlling the daily watering times.

Container Garden | Rain Drip Irrigation | Rainwater Collection | Raised Garden Beds

 

 

Raised Garden Beds and Square Foot Gardening

I’m moving from my deck container garden to a raised garden beds using the square foot gardening technique. I’ve had raised bed gardens in the past but used garden soil from a local organic gardener. I haven’t used these raised bed gardens in almost 5 years so I’m going to replace the top six inches with the specified square foot gardening soil mixture. The square foot gardening book was quite specific about the soil mixture and depth so I’m going to follow that approach to implementing my raised garden beds exactly.

 

Cleaning the Old Raised Garden Beds

Excavated Raised Garden Beds with Green Hose and Brown Wooden Sides

Raised Garden Beds

I removed the years of weeds and top six inches of garden soil from my raised garden beds and saved the soil in a pile on the side. This is different and yet similar to the approach I used in my containers for my deck garden. This raised bed garden still has another six inches of soil and then six inches of river rocks and a drain pipe to help with drainage so that the soil does not get too moist. My raised bed gardens also have a water hose run to them and I will install my rain drip irrigation system when I’m finished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Soil Mixture for the Raised Garden Beds

New Soil Mix Packages on a Blue Tarp for Raised Bed Garden

New Soil Mix for Raised Bed Garden

The soil mixture specified in square foot gardening was very specific – especially with respect to the compost variety for us in the raised garden beds. This is very different from my traditional approach using garden soil for my garden containers. I had to go to several stores to find all of the materials and the large amount of vermiculite was the toughest and most expensive to acquire. I also sacrificed an inexpensive tarp, as instructed in square foot gardening, for a place to perform my mixing of the 3 soil components instead of mixing it directly in the raised bed garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoroughly Mixing the New Soil for the Raised Bed Garden

Mixing Brown and White New Soil on a Blue Tarp for Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

Mixing New Soil for Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

The compact packaging of the soil components expanded dramatically when I emptied them to prepare the soil mixture for the raised garden beds. Using the tarp helped a lot to preserve and use all of the square foot garden soil mixture in the raised bed garden. The mixture was surprisingly light as it consists of only peat moss, compost and vermiculite. It appeared very much like exactly what is in the little pots when you purchase plants from a nursery. It was a calm day and with a little water sprayed on the mixture, it was easy enough to mix thoroughly.

 

 

 

 

 

Revitalized Raised Garden Beds Ready to Plant

Refilled Raised Garden Beds with Newly Mixed Square Foot Garden Soil, Dividers and Cages

Refilled Raised Garden Beds

I filled the top six inches of my raised garden beds with the square foot soil mixture. I then added small divider rows to clearly mark out each square foot in my four foot by eight foot raised bed garden. I also went ahead and put in some support structures so that the taller plants in the middle of the raised bed vegetable garden will have something immediately to begin growing upwards on. Now we’re ready to plant seeds and young plants in the raised bed gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of Raised Garden Beds and Square Foot Gardening

Raised garden beds are ideal for implementing square foot garden techniques. I cleared the top six inches of old garden soil first. Then, I carefully mixed the specified square foot garden soil mixture on a tarp outside of the raised bed garden to insure that I got a thorough mixture. I refilled the raised bed vegetable garden with the new soil mixture, put in square foot marking grids and growth support structures for the tall and vine plants. Next, we’ll plant the seeds and young plants in the raised garden beds.

Container Garden | Rain Drip Irrigation | Rainwater Collection | Raised Garden Beds