Making better soil; a direct watering system

An important part of gardening is watering in a method most beneficial to the plants.  In the post, Improving Soil Using Chickens, I talked about how we split our current garden in two and gave half to the chickens as part of amending the soil. The other part of our soil issues is our water.  It has a high level of sodium in it so when it is sprinkled on our clay soil, it seals the top so no water can get to the roots of the plants.  We use a direct watering system in our vegetable garden to put water directly to the plants roots.  This has helped to solve the problem.

We Don’t Get Much Precipitation

In our part of the world, water doesn’t often fall from the sky.  According to usclimatedata.com in our area, the average annual precipitation as rainfall is 12.41 inches and average annual snowfall is 29 inches.

2018 was an exception. Snowfall between January 1st and the middle of May when it finally stopped snowing was almost 100 inches.  In the last 2 weeks my rain gauge has measured 10 inches which is almost the entire annual rainfall amount.  In order to get water to our lawns, gardens, crops, and animals around here in a normal year, we have to rely on ground water.

Where Our Water Comes From

Some folks live near a river and can divert some of that water for irrigation purposes.  We happen to live between 2 rivers so the irrigation ditch runs from one river and empties what is left over into another after running past many farms along its way.  When these ditches were first dug,  property owners paid in, like a co-op, for the building and maintenance of the ditch.  These payments are called water shares.  Your water usage is based on the amount of those shares.

As properties are split up and sold off, sometimes those shares are sold separately.  Subsequent property holders do not have the right to use the water from the ditch to water their property.  We only own 1.3 acres and so we fall into that category.

We do have underground water rights.  That means wells were drilled on our property so that water comes through our pipes for use in our house and to water our property.

WHEW!  All of that means in a normal year, we haul hoses or install underground sprinkler systems to water our grass and gardens.

Our well water has a higher amount of salt in it, often referred to as alkaline water.  When it is sprinkled on our lawn and garden it packs the soil and leaves a white powder on everything.  We can’t change the water but we can change how we use it.

A Different Method of Watering

We have worked so hard to amend our soil and make it looser and easier for plant roots to move and live in.  Next, we needed to find a different method of getting the water onto the gardens.  We still sprinkle our lawns because there isn’t a more effective way to water that much ground. The problem was we needed a kinder way to water our tender little plant buddies.  Cameron is a fantastic researcher and he has done a lot of studying into a system that would solve our soil+water problem.

What we started using several years ago is a watering system is referred to as “drip irrigation”.  The water runs down each garden row in perforated hoses.  The perforations drip the water directly onto the ground at the base of the plants.

The Drip Irrigation in Action

Montana Bowl of Cherries
The filter system and beginning of the direct watering system is attached to the chicken coop.

This is where the watering system for the vegetable garden begins.  It is a long way from the faucet at the house to this setup on the side of the chicken house.

The white PVC pipe brings water underground from the faucet at the back door to this faucet.  From this faucet water can go 2 directions.  To the right, is a garden hose that we use to sprinkle the lawn and water the chickens.  To the left, the water goes through a filter system and into the hose that takes the water through the garden.

This black hose is the same diameter as our other garden hoses. It runs perpendicular to the garden rows.  The perforated hoses hook into the black hose and run parallel to the rows in the garden.

 

 

 

Montana Bowl of Cherries
This is how the water gets from the hose to the row of corn.

We lay the drip hose out before we plant the rows so that the hose marks the row.  When I make the furrow to plant the seed, I just follow along the tape.  We plant bush beans and peas in a double row, so we put a furrow on either side of the drip hose for those rows.  Everything else is just planted on one side of the hose.

As soon as the seedlings are up and we have started weeding, we cover the ground between the rows with grass clippings when we mow.  We also cover the drip hose.  This helps keep the weeds at bay but also keeps the ground from drying out so fast.

 

 

 

 

Montana Bowl of Cherries
Look at the abundant garden we got from last year’s chicken yard.

How the Direct Watering System Has Helped

We began researching, amending our soil and changing our watering style because we had such a problem with our clay soil.  However, all soil needs amending to stay healthy just as it needs a rest from nutrient depletion.  Everyone that needs to supply water to a garden also needs to also conserve water usage.

I think that

  • using the chickens as gardeners
  • direct watering
  • carefully mulching the bare soil

would increase the production of any garden in any soil.  In many towns, a small number of hens are allowed inside the city limits.

In our case, we have found that we can harvest as much produce off our garden as we did when it was twice the size it is now AND enjoy growing root crops once again.  We think this idea would work on a smaller or larger scale than ours.

Think about it and let us know what you came up with.

Happy Gardening

About Rhonda 41 Articles
Rhonda Brown lives in rural eastern Montana, surrounded by her family, chickens, gardens and dog. When she isn't writing or weeding, she loves spending time with her family, baking, and all things CHOCOLATE.

2 Comments

  1. i really enjoy your well researched and information packed column. I will enjoy seeing the summer results of your soil building efforts. Bet they are spectacular.

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