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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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Drip Irrigation Check Valves & Soil Temperature in Containers

Soil Temperature in Containers Measured with Soil Thermometer

Soil Temperature in Containers

Drip Irrigation Can be Tough During a Texas Summer

The Texas Summer heat is brutal and most of the plants are suffering.  To add insult to injury, my irrigation system for flower boxes and container gardens failed at the drip irrigation check valves and faucet connection as well.  Drastic action was needed to stop the drip irrigation system leak.  Furthermore, I finally figured out that my fertilizer system wasn’t working properly either!  Needless to say, with this comedy of errors, some of my plants just did not make it through June.

The soil temperature in the containers remains in the upper 90’s or lower 100’s every day during the day.  Night time temperatures in the soil can drop as low as the mid 80’s (yes, I set the alarm to get up and check them) but this is not enough to withstand the punishment of the daily heat.

Soil Thermometer on Ground to Compare to Soil Temperature in Containers
Soil Thermometer on Ground

In contrast, the soil temperature on the ground, even in a sunny spot, remains in the mid 80’s during the day and mid 70’s at night.  My plant shades are not working as well as I expected.  While the temperatures are lower than last year without the plant shades, they are not shielding the heat enough.  My plan is to try some insulation boards cut to fit inside of the plant shades and see if that has an impact.

Drip Irrigation Liquid Fertilizer and Stopping Drip Irrigation System Leaks

Drip Irrigation Liquid Fertilizer Problem at Half Full and Not Working with Drip Irrigation System
Drip Irrigation Liquid Fertilizer Problem

I noticed over two successive weeks that my automatic fertilizer system that uses drip irrigation liquid fertilizer on my inexpensive drip irrigation system did not need to be refilled.  That means that it is not siphoning off fertilizer and feeding it into the irrigation system for flower boxes and container gardens.  To confirm the problem, I emptied the fertilizer container and filled it just half full.  When the drip irrigation system for container gardens is working properly, the only visible change is the change of the color of the water in the fertilizer container from brown (when it has fertilizer) to clear when it does not have any fertilizer.  It should remain full of water all the time.

Drip Irrigation Attach to Faucet Y - Cheap Method Caused Continuous Problems
Drip Irrigation Attach to Faucet Y – Cheap Method

This is my second year using inexpensive AND expensive hose bib adapters to provide multiple outlets at the single hose bib on my deck.  I have three devices that I need to connect

  • water hose to fill the wading pool for the dogs
  • water hose to the automatic waterer for the dogs
  • drip irrigation attach to faucet which starts with the drip irrigation system timer and drip irrigation system check valves

I’ve tried inexpensive plastic Ys and expensive bronze Ys.  They all eventually begin leaking and then break off completely.  With the scarcity and high cost of water, it is very important to stop drip irrigation system leaks.  There doesn’t appear to be much pressure applied by the hoses or drip irrigation system to the Y adapter but there must be just enough to put an unnecessary strain on it.

New Drip Irrigation Attach to Faucet

Drip Irrigation Attach to Faucet in Custom Application for Three Hose Bibs
Drip Irrigation Attach to Faucet in Custom Application

So, I had a plumber come out and create a specialized hose bib system for me to eliminate this problem.  This allows me a direct drip irrigation attach to the faucet.  It cost about $170, which is about 30 times the average cost of the Y adapters but, more importantly, eliminates the surprise of the plants not having water for a couple of days and the cost of the wasted water that just spills on the ground.

Drip Irrigation Check Valves Remounted on Short Hose After Drip Irrigation Attach to Faucet
Drip Irrigation Check Valves Remounted on Short Hose

The new hose bib arrangement presented a problem.  The orientation of the hose bibs did not make it easy to put the drip irrigation system timer and drip irrigation system check valves back the way it was in the past.  So, I used a short hose to connect the drip irrigation system timer to the hose bib and just let the timer unit rest of the deck.  This, and the separate hose bibs for each device actually proved to be very beneficial!  When I used a single hose bib with Y adapters, the flow/pressure control was very tricky and had to managed across the hose bib itself AND the flow regulator valve on the Y adapter.  I found that the system seemed to work best at a lower pressure for the drip irrigation system.  Sure, I had some leaks from the drip irrigation system check valves, but who doesn’t?  When I changed the setup to the new configuration, I tested it by applying full pressure from the hose bib to the drip irrigation system.  Two things happened that pleased me.

  1. The system leaks disappeared
  2. The fertilizer system started flowing

I’m not sure if stopping the drip irrigation system leaks and the fertilizer system flowing are due to the new, higher pressure or from the new orientation of the timer unit on the deck which relieves some of the pressure it was causing on the hose bib and Y adapter.  Nevertheless, several problems were solved!

Gravity Drip Irrigation Kits?

On a side note, I would love to have a gravity drip irrigation kit to try.  My next project will be capturing rain water and creating a dedicated deck container garden drip irrigation system using a gravity drip irrigation kit. If you know of a good gravity drip irrigation kit, please let me know.

Drip Irrigation Liquid Fertilizer Fixed for Testing with Drip Irrigation System
Drip Irrigation Liquid Fertilizer Fixed for Testing

I’ve refilled the fertilizer system with drip irrigation liquid fertilizer for testing this week – I have high hopes for a return to successfully fertilizing my deck container garden.

Planter Box Irrigation Cucumber Nasties
Drip System Cucumber Nasties

My cucumbers suffered mightily.  They developed some sort of nasty looking fungus on the young cucumbers and then failed to produce any cucumbers at all.  I suspect the very high heat in the container contributed to this problem.

Deck Container Garden Cucumbers are Gone
Planter Box Irrigation Cucumbers are Gone

So, never one to beat a dead horse, I pulled up the cucumbers and let the weeds grow.  I suspect that, if I want to grow cucumbers, I need to start them much earlier or later and not try to grow cucumbers in the middle of the summer in a deck container garden.

Drip Irrigated Cherry Tomatoes Suffering from Soil Temperature in Containers
Drip Irrigated Cherry Tomatoes Suffering in the Heat

The tomatoes are another story.  While they aren’t producing tons of fruit, they seem to be doing OK and producing enough for a small salad every day across 3 plants.  The cherry tomato plant is struggling the most out of all of the tomato plants.  Some of this may have to do with the very sporadic watering they received during June when I had drip irrigation system problems.

Drip Irrigation System Patio Tomato Plant Enduring Soil Temperature in Containers
Drip Irrigation System Patio Tomato Plant Enduring Summer Heat

The patio tomato plant is the winner by far.  No matter the heat or water it just continues producing very nice and tasty 2-3″ tomatoes.  Probably the biggest weakness for this plant is it’s apparent inability to fully support it’s fruits.  Even though the stalks are very thick and short, it has problems with stems bending and breaking approximately half of the time.

Deck Garden Patio Tomatoes Ripen on the Vine
Drip Irrigation Patio Tomatoes Ripen on the Vine

The patio tomatoes are absolutely the most delicious of the three.  They are sweet with thin skins and a tangy after taste.

Deck Container Garden Yellow Pear Tomatoes are Thriving in Hot Soil Temperature in Containers
Deck Container Garden Yellow Pear Tomatoes are Thriving

The Yellow Pear tomatoes continue to produce but struggle.  These tomatoes are also very delicious and very very sweet.  They start out with approximately 10-12 little tomatoes in each bunch but only 3-6 will survive to ripening.

Peppers Fully Matured Using Drip Irrigation System for Container Gardens
Planter Box Irrigation Peppers Fully Matured

The chile pepper plants are abundant and love the deck garden setup.  That said, I’ve determined that I have little or no interest in the peppers in my daily diet.  So, I’m letting them ripen fully and then dry and die just to see what happens.

Deck Container Garden Strawberries Gone
Deck Container Garden Strawberries Gone

The strawberries are gone.  My daughter was sad but asked me to continue watering it and let the weeds grow as some sort of cemetery for the departed strawberry plant.

Summary of an Inexpensive Drip Irrigation System

June was a tough month in the deck container garden.  Drastic action was needed to stop the drip irrigation system leak at the drip irrigation check valves.  Two of the six plants did not make it.  Two of the six plants are thriving and two of the six plants are surviving.  The heat is expected to continue through at least August.  My next experiment is to try some insulation board on the inside of each plant shade to see if that can reduce the brutal heat.  The dramatic, if expensive, improvement to the hose bib  where the drip irrigation attaches to the faucet and inexpensive drip irrigation system should stop drip irrigation system leak at the drip irrigation check valves and ease the suffering of the plants and resume regular fertilizing.

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Refreshing the Planter Boxes for Starting a Deck Garden

Spring time has arrived in Central Texas and it’s time to take all the lessons I learned from last year’s deck container gardening and apply them to a new round of education, fun and starting a deck garden.  I had some success last year and am excited to get started again and take advantage of everything I’ve learned as well as try a few new things for my container garden on the deck.

 

 

What I Learned Starting a Deck Garden

I’ve summarized what I’ve learned starting a container vegetable garden but here are my key learning’s from last year:

My goals for this season are

  • is to determine the ideal plant/water/temperature ratios for my deck garden
  • teach my daughters the benefits of having a regular container gardening project that produces real results
  • have fun, learn and enjoy fresh food from my deck container garden

The deck garden sat idle through the winter season so the first step in starting a deck garden is do do a quick inventory of what we have and what needs to be done to restart our container gardening.

 

Drip Irrigation for Container Plants

Faulty Container Gardening Backflow Preventer
Faulty Planter Box Backflow Preventer

 

I use a drip irrigation system to provide a regular a measured amount of drip irrigation for container plants to each planter box.  I tested the drip irrigation system and everything appeared to work fine except for a leaky backflow preventer.  I replaced it for about $4 and tightened all of the connections before starting a deck garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Potting Soil for Container Garden

Planter Boxes for Starting a Deck Garden from Last Year
Planter Boxes from Container Gardening from Last Year

 

Container gardening can be very tough on soil and planter boxes.  The soil in each of the planter boxes has become dry and hard and will need to be supplemented with some new potting soil for my container garden.  This is the first step in starting a deck garden.  Some of this is due to the very dry winter we’ve had and part of it due to the very high temperatures from last year.  I’m going to be much more rigorous measuring soil temperature in my deck garden with a soil thermometer this year.

 

 

 

 

 

Container Gardening on a Deck

 

Deck Gardening Planter Box Before Adding Dirt
Deck Garden Planter Box Before Adding Dirt

 

The planter boxes from last year’s container gardening on a deck remain in relatively good shape but definitely show some wear and tear.  They will probably last at least one more year but will need to be replaced after that if they continue to deteriorate and before I consider another year of starting a deck garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Potting Soil for Container Garden

Fresh Dirt for Deck Gardening
Fresh Dirt for Planter Boxes

 

I have some great potting soil for my container garden left over from last year’s container gardening when I filled the planter boxes but it is covered over with grass.  If you order potting soil in bulk, you can get it cheaper and it will always be ready when you are ready for starting a deck garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planter Boxes for Starting a Deck Garden

Freshly Filled Deck Garden Planter Box
Freshly Filled Container Gardening Planter Boxes

 

Each planter box for starting a deck garden is about 18 gallons and weighs approximately 125 pounds when completely filled with dirt.  I filled two planter boxes with new, fresh soil and lugged them to the top of the stairs.  It was tough but sometimes, starting a deck garden can be a challenge.  I then distributed the new soil across the 6 planter boxes to top them off.

 

 

 

 

Full Sun Container Gardens

Deck Garden Planter Boxes with Fresh Dirt for the Container Garden
Planter Boxes for Deck Garden with Fresh Dirt for the Container Garden

 

I filled the planter boxes for the full sun container gardens fuller with soil this year than I did last year.  Underneath the soil in each container is a set of empty plastic bottle as a space filler.  I have no idea about the condition of those empty bottles or what the temperature may have done to break them down.  Last year, I measured the temperature with a soil thermometer.  This year, part of my plan in starting a deck garden is to monitor the soil temperature much more closely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos of Container Gardens

Planter Boxes in Container Gardening Ready to Plant
Deck Garden Planter Boxes Ready to Plant

 

The planter boxes for starting a deck garden are filled and ready for planting.  This year, I’m planting

  • one planter box of cucumbers
  • three containers of tomatoes
  • one planter box of peppers
  • one container of strawberries

I’m a big believer of taking a lot of photos of container gardens – from starting a deck garden to the very end – to help me document my progress and learn from my mistakes.

 

 

 

 

 

Cucumbers in a Container Garden on Deck

Cucumbers in Deck Garden Planter Box
Cucumbers in Container Gardening Planter Boxes

 

Last year, I planted two types of cucumbers in the container garden on my deck and they did fairly well until the heat got them.  My mistake when starting a deck garden was that I over planted in two dense rows, one of each type.  This year I’m still planting two types – Sugar Crunch and Early Pride – but I’m planting them in two small mounds centered in the planter box with only 6 seeds in each mound.

 

 

 

 

Partial Sun Container Garden Tomatoes

Container Gardening Juliet Tomato
Planter Box Juliet Tomato

 

In my partial sun container garden tomato planter boxes last year, I planted four tomato plants and a pepper plant in each planter box.  The result was that the tomato plants tended to grow tall and stringy.  This year in starting a deck garden, I’m only planting a single tomato plant in each planter box.  I very much like the “grape” style tomatoes and the Juliet variety is well suited to this area.

 

 

 

 

Full Sun Container Garden Tomatoes

Patio Tomatoes for Container Gardening
Patio Tomatoes in Planter Box for Container Gardening

 

How could you have a deck garden without having a Patio variety tomato plant?  These prefer a full sun container garden so we’ll make sure they are placed on the end of the line.  Again, only one plant per planter box.  Last year, when starting a deck garden, I planted as many as four plants in a planter box and they were too over crowded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Pear Tomatoes in Container Garden on a Deck

Yellow Pear Tomato in Deck Garden Planter Boxes
Yellow Pear Tomato in Container Gardening Planter Box

 

My youngest daughter loves little yellow tomatoes in the container garden on the deck and she had the advantage of going with me when I purchased the plants.  So, she selected the Yellow Pear variety for this planter box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chili Peppers in a Full Sun Container Garden

Jalapeno Pepper in Container Gardening
Jalapeno Pepper in Planter Box

 

I love fresh Pico de Gallo – a typically Mexican relish with tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro.  It’s not salsa, which i usually chopped very fine and even cooked sometimes.  Pico de Gallo (chicken scratch) is a much coarser relish and made/served fresh.  I want to be able to make my own so I considered planting everything I needed to make it when starting a deck garden.  When I thought about it, though, I decided not to plant onions because they are soil depth intensive and I chose not to plant cilantro because it is so easily available at the store.  Neither of those appeared to be well suited for a full sun container garden.  So, I’ve only planted peppers and tomatoes.  This is a mild jalapeno variety.  Pepper plants don’t grow very large so I elected to plant two pepper plants in this planter box.

 

Cowhorn Peppers

Cowbell Pepper in Planter Boxes
Cowbell Pepper for Deck Garden

 

I’m not really sure about this pepper but the description intrigued me and I didn’t want two jalapeno plants and I wanted to try this one more than I wanted to grow my own serrano peppers.  This is a cowhorn pepper.

 

 

 

 

 

Drip Irrigation for Strawberry Plants

Planter Boxes Strawberry
Container Gardening Using Planter Box Strawberry

 

I’m not a big strawberry fan.  I like them but it seems silly to grow them when they are so easily available at the store.  They also seem to require enormous amounts of drip irrigation for container plants and that makes it tough to manage when you are starting a deck garden.  That said, my youngest daughter wanted one for “her” container gardening and she was with me when we bought the plants so she got what she wanted!

 

 

 

 

 

Drip Irrigation for Container Plants

Planter Box Drip Irrigation Watering Timer
Deck Garden Drip Irrigation Watering Timer

 

I set the drip irrigation system watering timer for twice daily, 6AM and 6PM for five minutes.  Each plant in the deck garden has a 1 GPH emitter.  Some planter boxes have two plants so they have two emitters.  I have not utilized any fertilizer at this point and I have not measured the soil temperature with a soil thermometer yet.

 

 

 

 

Starting a deck garden is fun but it can be a lot of work and hopefully, it will pay off with lots of learning, enjoyment and delicious vegetables.

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