Discover more from Love Off Grid
Some people have too much time on their hands.
I never would have dreamed that installing an irrigation system in my garden would be a controversial matter. Then again, no one in my life has said anything derogatory about it… perhaps because the kind of people who would be that petty aren’t in my life.
Life is good.
However, upon watching a YouTube video recently, I came to learn of the drama that surrounds the drip irrigation vs. hand watering debate. My goodness, some people seem to have a lot of time of their hands!
One comment I read went so far as to proclaim that people who use drip irrigation are the same lazy scumbags who drop their kids off at daycare so they can ignore them.
Do I sense some misdirected anger here? That person obviously has a serious bee in their bonnet about something else…
I won’t waste any more time on that so-called “debate”, only to say if your method of watering is getting water to your plants, good for you! If your plants are growing and producing, you’re doing it right.
Are there better ways to do it? Probably. No matter what you’re doing, improvement is continual and there is no end to knowledge. Our goal should always be to learn more, improve constantly, and grow a little wiser every day.
My Own Garden Lessons
This is our third year gardening here and we were fortunate enough to buy land that was formerly an organic garlic farm. That means while much of our land is grassland (and a lot of it is rock), a significant portion was already stone-free with rich, dark soil when we came here.
Like I said, we were very fortunate.
The first year, we tilled one of those stone-free areas. I planted our little garden in early June and it snowed on June 7th, killing all my little transplants. I planted again but the deer ate it all. Discouraging is an understatement.
We built a greenhouse and had a lot more success there, but I also grew several things we didn’t actually like to eat (beets, anyone?), as well as a few plants that suffered from too much heat in our environment.
We moved here in September 2020 so we were still learning about the weather.
The next year was better.
The second year, we built a deer fence around the garden and planted things we actually eat: lots of potatoes, squash, corn, tomatoes, herbs… and more. We planted broccoli and brussels sprouts, too, but learned they don’t really grow well in our soil. The juice wasn’t worth the squeeze, so to speak - all leaves, few flowers.
The root crops did great, though, as did the squashes. That knowledge gave us some important direction.
That year, we also struggled with vast numbers of plant eating grasshoppers and bees… bees that swarmed around our water spigots because there is no water here in summer other than the water that drips from our hoses.
At the height of summer that year, I was getting up at 4:30AM to hand water just to avoid the bees that would otherwise land on my hands, wanting the water.
We got stung a lot last year.
The next year is better.
This year, we added mosquito netting around the garden space to cut down on the numbers of grasshoppers jumping in to our garden. An unintended consequence is that we have more birds this year. The birds seem to appreciate the netting, as it traps grasshoppers for them to snack on.
We also added (“the controversial”) drip irrigation in the garden along the corn, squash, zucchini, and pumpkin rows. Not only does it save me time watering, but it gets the water directly to the plants’ root system, which is much more efficient than overhead hand watering. Because we live in a high-desert environment, saving water is huge!
We weren’t sure the drip irrigation would work for us, so we only bought enough for one section. As a result, I still water some areas by hand (potatoes and strawberries) but we’ll probably add on next year because it’s working well.
We also added a shade to both greenhouses so they don’t get as hot at the height of summer. As a result, the soil is retaining moisture longer and the arugula, lettuce and cilantro aren’t going to seed as quickly.
I’m experimenting with broccoli and brussels sprouts in the greenhouse (because I love them so I’m not giving up easily!). I’m also growing luffa, watermelon and Amish melons in the greenhouse just to see if I can.
This year, I’ve cut back on tomatoes because I have jars and jars of preserved whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, roasted tomatoes, chopped tomatoes… all from previous years. I only have 5 or 6 tomato plants and, when they ripen, we plan to eat them all fresh off the vine.
This year I’m growing from a mix of heirloom and hybrid seeds. I want to grow all heirloom eventually, but I’m not a purist. This year, I planted two kinds of brussels sprouts, for instance. I’m comparing the hybrids’ growth rates and fruit with the heirlooms. I’m comparing several vegetables and herbs, in fact. So far, the heirlooms are winning which is good news because I can save their seeds this fall... if I get around to it.
There’s so much to do around here! I’m sure you have a lot to do, too - we all do. So, if you’re starting out gardening, I’d encourage you to focus on the most important thing: Growing plants that produce food.
While it’s great to grow from seed (especially seed you’ve saved from your previous year’s heirloom plants…), it’s perfectly fine for that to be a goal for the future. For now, set yourself up for success by starting where you are and start small.
Be kind to yourself.
Don’t expect to start from nothing and become a perfect, crunchy, organic earth-mama instantaneously…
I think those kinds of people are an illusion anyway.
Speaking of compost… John built us a new compost bin which is a big improvement from the apple crate we’d been using! For at least a year, that poor crate had been overflowing and there was no good way to turn the contents. It was a constant source of interest for the dogs, but it wasn’t doing us much good, as was.
We discovered recently that the local lumber yard sells irregular lumber every Monday for $20 a bundle. John went early to get in line and they loaded his trailer with a hefty bundle of fir. Sometimes it’s cedar, sometimes pine… you never know what you’ll get but you can get a lot for a penny a pound! If you have a lumber yard near you, it’s worth asking whether they have deals like this.
John sorted through the lumber and found plenty of boards good enough to use for a compost bin. We decided to build three compartments: one for food scraps and yard debris; the middle compartment for further-along-but-not-yet-ready compost; and one bin for ready-to-use-in-the-garden compost. Obviously, we’ll be turning and sorting the piles as needed.
We dumped the contents of the old apple crate into the middle bin (it had been processing since 2021) and added a hardware cloth chimney in the center to facilitate the composting process. The chimney increases the airflow in the pile. Next spring, it should be totally decomposed and ready for the garden.
My Point… Finally.
I suppose I’m sharing our challenges with you to demonstrate that gardening well takes constant adjustment. We still have so much to learn and we’ll never have it dialed in 100%. We’ve accomplished a lot on our list of goals, but we still have a long way to go.
Everyone has to start where they are.
If you’re starting with plants you bought from Home Depot, go for it. The important thing is you’re doing something. You have your hands in the dirt and you’re learning. Next year, I challenge you to do it even better. Take another step forward.
However you do it, don’t intimidate yourself into thinking you need to start with heirloom seeds from your grandmother’s secret stash to be successful, or that hand-watering is the only way your plants will know you love them. Plants don’t know the difference, I promise you.
A gardener is constantly responding to weather variations, constant pest attacks, and numerous other input variables - not to mention your own energy levels! Your land is like no one else’s. What works for me may not work for you. Your little sphere of influence is your own; therefore, it’s up to you to discover what works and what doesn’t and then to act on that wisdom.
Don’t be ashamed of your missteps and failures. Learn from your mistakes. Get back up and continue experimenting. Perhaps most importantly in this day of social media one-upmanship, don’t give your time to the naysayers. The only thing they are growing for themselves is an ulcer.