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.
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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.

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