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Keeping it moist: Hand watering vs bucket irrigation

Now that Summer is over the garden is surging into growth and abundance. But this option will soon enough be contained by the fact that as the months tick over here in the sub tropics the rain will thin out so that by July, August and September we should be in dry.

Last Winter was particularly dry and keeping water up to the vegetables was a daily and frustrating challenge.

I have installed a Leaky Hose system  but I have found it cumbersome to manage as I water the garden from the one large 100 litre water barrel and keep shifting the hose that runs from that to hook up to hoses on pairs of garden beds. It takes so long to fill and if I am distracted the water will overflow before I turn off the tap to the hose that fills the barrel.

Since my 'soil'  remains quite sandy despite my loam-ing efforts, I  think that I'm losing a lot of water to seepage despite my attempted efficiencies: trench and sheet mulching .

So of late I have been hand watering instead.

Accepted wisdom is that you need to always water long and deep  but then...that may not be the case:

According to an American Water Works Association (AWWA) Research Foundation study, manual watering with a hand-held hose tends to conserve more water than other irrigation methods. If you are going to have an in ground system, make sure it is a drip system as it uses the least amount of any automatic system – but still 16 per cent more than watering by hand. In-ground spray systems used 35 percent more water than hand watering, and an automatic spray system used 47 percent more. If you are going to have an in-ground system, drip irrigation is best . However, even drip irrigation uses 16 percent more water than hand watering. (link)

The problem is that you can't spend all day hand watering the soil.You may get to know your plants that way individually and  intimately -- but it takes time to  wet all of what you've got growing. And besides the more concentrated and speedy is your inundation on sandy loam like mine, the quicker it will seep to a depth below the root line.

And I'm a busy man.

So I'm thinking of adapting what I've got -- the Leaky Hoses -- and adding a few smaller buckets around the garden instead of relying on the one 100 litre tank. If I am doing  my sums correctly I need allocate only 10 litres per 5 metre long bed each time I irrigate.

I may have to bucket each bed daily or maybe twice per day during drought -- but the savings as per the water budget make sense.

So instead of moving along the garden beds squirting H20 at botanicals I stand at one end and fill a bucket with the liquid instead.

My notion is to in effect deploy both methods: hand watering and bucket irrigation. I need  get a couple of extra buckets and some hose adaptors; use the barrel I've got to water 5 garden beds at once ( at 10-15 litres at each irrigation) instead of two..and Bob's your uncle! 

My problem was that I was caught up in a schematic  approach and was trying to force the garden to adapt to my technological wishes instead of addressing the challenge of watering more from the point of view of actually doing the job of just wetting soil and hoping to water the roots it contained.

Bucket Irrigation: Uganda
Afterward: The other option is to embed terracotta pots into the soil and fill those with water as required. But who wants to be squirting water into small flower pots sealed at both ends? Some times the simplest and cheapest options make the most sense.

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Comment by Rob on April 23, 2012 at 19:33

I like the trench mulching approach with the leaky hose & bucket set up.. Is this the first year you have tried it ??
Another option that worked really well for us was Wetpots but they are a tad expensive... These are based on the olla style irrigation method but work under pressure from a line connected to a barrel or carboy... We were using less than 60l per week in our 3x3m garden many years ago using these.. I still have them & shall be using them in our front garden once the layout is finalised.. They tend to self regulate the water flow once roots envelope the pots... Far more efficient than drip or hand watering once they settle in.. The big downfall is the cost IMO... I was lucky to get mine when they were first offered for sale..Inground wetpot enveloped by roots from our bay tree from memory...

Large wetpot (left) covered in roots from salad greens..

Just thought the info helps..

Comment by Dave Riley on April 23, 2012 at 18:21

I have all my annual veg beds fed with buried Leaky hoses. They work OK but my soil is sand and that frustrates their efficacy. I don't move the buried hoses around but I have been changing the connections from my tank  and filling the tank/barrel and moving the hose connections is a burden. 

I suspect that by using smaller systems -- 'buckets' -- at the end of each bed I am in greater control and I will need to spend less time fiddling about while using less water. I can also be very selective as to where the precious water goes.Large scale irrigation -- watering  x number of beds at once may not be so effective. Thats' my feeling now. Better to have several smaller barrels/buckets which I selectively fill rather than one water source/reservoir...and run them into Leaky hoses...

I've been hand watering, as I used to do,  and I am impressed with the efficiency despite all the stuff we get fed about watering deep and long.I have to water more frequently but I appreciate the opportunity to mix it with the garden.

Under Leaky protocols you water maybe once or twice per week. Fair enough: but my sandy soil won't hold water that long. It doesn't work for me. So I have to adapt to my circumstance. Thats' why I am getting great results from trench mulching ( a sort of Wiking variation on my part too as I run plastic strips under the mulched pathways ) to hang onto any rain that falls and using the same technique to water fruit trees. But for annuals, esp shallow rooted vegetables, growing on sandy (loam) I still gotta keep the water a'comin --despite the mulching and whatever. 

So while I use slow flow (slowest I can manage)  on the Leaky system the water still seeps away despite the regulated flow. 

But as I say the problem is the mindset: why be either/or when what counts is irrigating the plant so taht it grows best. It can't help its thirst.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on April 23, 2012 at 12:32

The length of the one I tried was about 2 or 3 metres only and it leaked on its length and not just one spot. I wasn't aware of the need for regulation so that would make quite a difference.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on April 23, 2012 at 8:29

I figured that leaky hoses would be the answer too but I found that a 30 litre barrell was emptied in just a few minutes. One hundred litres wouldn't last long at that rate! Peter Wetpots sells, well, wetpots ... he adapted an Indian idea of using terracotta buried into the ground and made them (he's a potter) to take micro-irrigation fittings. If you search 'wetpots' you'll find them. They are exxy though for your size of garden but perhaps you could figure out some way of using a similar system. Personally, were I young and strong enough I would dig up my above-ground beds and make wicking beds. They really do help with water management and especially so on sandy soil which my artificial mix more or less resembles. You will never have enough organic matter!

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