Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Irrigation Meditation

I spent most of two days running each of our 24 irrigation zones to find out just exactly where the water is going.  Each zone is controlled by a separate valve.  All the valves are controlled by a master controller, that opens each valve for a set period of time.  Our controller can set each valve individually.  One zone may run for four minutes (drippers for Agaves), while another may run for 20 minutes (drippers for citrus trees).  

This irrigation stuff may be old news to Southern Californians, but we must remember that there are places where it rains, where gardens don't have in-ground sprinkler systems.  Yeah, I know.  Amazing.  In some places, it rains in July.  No, really!

I took the cover off the water meter at the street, and recorded the numbers before and after running each zone.  That gave me the amount of water used for each zone.  The water meter measures in CFs:  cubic feet.  One cubic foot of water is 7.48 gallons. 
Getting to know you, Mr. Water Meter, getting to know all about youuuuu...
Some of the water is going here:
 And some of it's going here:

Where we don't want it is here:
 I got valuable information doing that tedious work, though wandering through the garden taking pictures of flowers while each zone ran more than made up for the tedium.  I now know exactly where to cut.  While I was at it, I was able to note indoor use:  we're at fify gallons per person per day, which is fairly resonable.  Go "navy" showers!  That fifty gallons includes two loads of laundry--not something we do every day.  The laundry water will soon go into the garden on a regular basis.

The Agave zone along the driveway uses one cubic foot, about 7.5 gallons.  There are nine Agaves, so each Agave gets a little over two quarts of water.  I can run that zone once a week and have very happy Agaves.   
Plants are not the enemy!
 The rose zone around the (empty) fountain take 1.67 cf, twelve and a half gallons.  There are ten roses in that zone, so they are getting about 1.25 gallons each per irrigation run.  In very hot weather, a rose needs about five gallons of water a week.  In moderate summer weather, maybe half that.  So I need to run that zone twice a week most of the summer, and more only when it is super hot. 


Do you think five gallons a week is a lot of water?  One of my roses, taking up five square feet of space, needs five gallons of water per week in hot weather.   Do you know how much water five square feet of lawn needs in average weather?  Thirty one gallons.  

Recording all twenty four zones, it became clear that a few of the zones, drip included, are using most of the water and getting too much for the plants--now I know which ones they are.  I'll work on those first and get my 36% reduction.  I will, I will.
Knowledge is power, but blue is beautiful:
Sprinkler problems:  leaks, overspray, blockage of spray by the plant closest to the spray head.  That's what I ran into here:  the single Aeonium I planted became a large clump, and it was blocking the water to the rest of the area, keeping 90% for itself.  The sprinkler was also leaking a little bit, which, while not a significant amount (a few ounces), looks wasteful.  Because the sprinkler head was right next to the curb (pink X), it was not possible to keep spray from hitting the concrete and asphalt, so overspray was another issue.  For now, I capped the sprinkler head off.  Where it really belongs is where the blue "X" is.
While capping that head off, I poked around at the others on the zone and found a small leak that was completely invisible--the water must be going under the curb.  There was no indication of wet soil, an overly happy plant, runoff...
Talk about tedious work...
Sprinkler location is a real problem.  They are usually always placed at the edges of an area, right next to pavement;  thus preventing pavement from getting wet is always an issue.  Putting them 6 or 12" in from pavement can prevent some waste, but who actually does that?  
I'd really rather be thinking about Dahlias
I very vaguely remember my Dad installing sprinklers right in the middle of the lawns at my childhood home.  Edges of our lawns were dry, but there was no waste.  The issue he ran into was the mower hitting the sprinkler heads, and little knees falling and hitting sprinkler heads, perhaps.  Mower, bad.  Little knee, aw, it will heal.  Quit crying.  Go get a band-aid from Mom.  
Running zones 8 and 9, a Towhee kept peeping at me as I walked by a rose near the gate.  Investigated...well will you look at that!
The main problem with drip systems is clogging due to hard water, and to a lesser extent, tubes cut by rodent teeth or trimmers.  
Yes, you:
 Drip irrigation is not perfect; one must be alert for clogging, and sharp-eyed to see a thirsty plant or an overly happy one.  In lawns, roots can invade and clog the tubing. 
No clogging here:
 The Netafim product I now prefer (no, they ain't paying me) recommends some kind of chemical application if drip systems are used under lawns.  There's always something.  

Rain is a lovely, lovely thing and so simple.  Imagine it falling in July.  

33 comments:

  1. You said it: Rain is so simple. You've put a lot of work and and a lot of thought into this post. I think it is excellent and well worth your time and is very sensible and very helpful to the rest of us with similar problems. Your photos are particularly gorgeous this time. You have brought up some good questions like why are (were) sprinklers set so close to the edge, how soon will hard water clog the system and what can you do about it. I'm glad to know the figures you came up with such as 5 gallons per week for roses vs thirty-one for lawns, fifty gallons per day per person vs filling my bath tub which is about 30 gallons every other evening even though it is used as gray water. This is real stuff, just what people should know to make them believers in saving and for making intelligent decisions. Most excellent post, and a great big thank you.

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    1. Thanks! Taking action is a way to feel less helpless about the situation. That's a good thing!

      Oh, does a hot bath sound good. I was outside digging all day.

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  2. I'd love to hear how things get adjusted over the summer. Two quarts per Agave seems so stingy -- how do you know if it's not enough, or too much?

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    1. They've been on 4 minutes since I planted them, and they've grown and look great. They are in afternoon shade--that makes a difference.

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  3. Very methodical research into your water use. I hope you now get to cut with minimum of impact.

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  4. Wow, that is a LOT of work. We only have six stations (five of them active) and I've never done that kind of work. I should. You've certainly inspired me.

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    1. You might find it helpful. I did. My actions will be more focused and effective now. I will re-measure after making changes and can see for myself if they work or not.

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  5. Now feeling deeply, deeply thankful for what I've taken for granted my whole life* -- rain in almost every month of the year. Many years, there'll be one month with almost no precip, but it seems to happen at random.

    *Except for the 1986-1993 period in L.A. and S.F. Which coincidentally enough were drought years, but not on the scale of your state's current situation. The restrictions in S.F. instilled some household water saving habits it took another ten years to lose once back in my native ecosystem...

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    1. Next time you get a good rain, think of us, and enjoy it for us, okay?

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  6. That's daylily 'Indian Giver' in the next-to-last image, yes? I have that one. I'd love it (even) more if it were taller, but it has the excellent habit here of opening three to five blooms every day it's in flower, so that it puts on a real show during its moment. Which is in, um, July....

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    1. Yes, that's it. It is so pretty--wish it had a different name.

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  7. You are a good citizen Hoov, and so patient to have monitored the water action--36 percent is a big number. Here in Napa our conservation standard is 20% . The biggest challenge is the length of time it takes the water to heat up in the house -I now have a 2 gal watering can filled each time in the kitchen and use that to water my containers and any newly planted stuff. I'm hoping for one or two more rains , but the closer it gets to June the less we can count on that happening.

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    1. 36% is such a big number I had to get methodical. 20% sounds better than 36%. Let's hope for a cool summer!

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  8. I smiled when I read your first paragraph – I still don’t have an irrigation system :-) Although I have been THINKING of getting one for ages, for the few months in the year where it would have been nice to have one. But setting one up in a garden like I have had would have been a nightmare, with all the plants I have. Maybe I should do it in my new garden, before I start planting anything – but timing it to all the individual plants must be very difficult. I have thought about getting a soaker hose – that’s usually what people over here use. Not sure how that will work with all the different requirements the plants in my garden have though. I think it will be a trial and error and a lot of moving the hose around to get it right. Maybe I will, maybe I will think about it a bit longer…. I can always hope for rain in July :-)

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    1. Well, based on the beauty and health of your plants and soon-to-be former garden, I'd say what ever you are doing--keep doing it. Good luck on the 14th, that's the big day, right?

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  9. I'm lucky. My husband conducted the evaluation of our irrigation system, collecting and recording data on each and every valve and presenting me with a chart, like the good scientist he is. (Of course, he's been known to present me with charts showing my garden expenditures too, which is not so wonderful.) We've made some of the same adjustments to our system you have. I still have concerns about the effectiveness of my various drip systems - many of the succulents in my street side bed are clearly stressed (and not in a good, colorful way) and I think the system in the veg garden, inherited with the house, needs to be replaced. Do you think you'll get any rain tomorrow? Weather Underground says we can expect 0.11 inch but something is better than nothing! My new rain barrel is in place and ready for action!

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    1. Chart of garden expenditures?!? That's the scariest thing I've heard lately. Tell him, "Happy wife, happy life". ;^) Do you suppose the street side bed drippers might be clogged? Perhaps that's where the rain barrel contents should go. I don't ever expect rain any more, I just wildly over-appreciate whatever we might happen to get.

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    2. Scariest thing besides "reduce water use by 36%", that is.

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  10. With our rainfall at 50% of normal and the worst snow pack on record people are starting to say things around here about drought and conservation. And in no way am I comparing your situation to our's...yours is the real deal. Reading your wonderfully detailed post a few things came to mind. First of all my poor agaves don't get nearly that much water, at least not in the dry season (July-September) when rain is rare or non existent. Secondly I never cease to be amazed at the statistics of what people dump on their lawns, both water-wise and chemical-wise. And third, you are an amazing human being and gardener.

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    1. The Aloes and Agaves out front have sprinklers that emit 3 gallons per hour, and they only run for 10 minutes (1/6th of an hour), so those plants out front basically live on winter rain alone, though they must somehow make use of the ounce or so of water that hits their leaves. If only I was so efficient!

      Your Agaves looked great at the Fling. 3 months without water for an Agave--no problem.

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  11. Well worth doing what you have just done, you'll get the most out of your irrigation especially at a time that you'll have to ration your usage a bit.

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    1. More than "a bit", unfortunately. :( I'm sure knowing the numbers will have positive results, tho.

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  12. Two days well spent, Hoov! My agaves etc. in the front garden pretty much subsist on rainwater alone, but it's heavy clay and not on a slope like yours which is so free draining. Every time I plant something new in the front garden I unearth remnants of an experimental subterranean drip system we installed over 25+ yrs ago, when a little lawn for the kids seemed a good idea. I don't think the lawn lasted a year -- the only ones who seemed to make use of it were the dogs, and they got over it when it was ripped out. Amazing times, no?

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    1. Also you are in Sunset 24? That helps.

      Are you loving this cool, overcast weather? Heaven after last week's heat.

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  13. The work you have put into this is a great resource for all of us. Yes, eventually all of us will need to think in these terms and give up laissez-faire gardening practices. You could be in demand as a consultant.

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    1. Gardening is a big adventure, always educational! :^)

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  14. What are those gorgeous pink flowers in the last photo?

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    1. Those are Delosperma, a type of ice plant native to South Africa. They bloom brilliantly for a few weeks each spring, and then become an unobtrusive ground cover the rest of the year.

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  15. I challenged my students to come up with a family plan to conserve water and they really struggled. Virginia is a fairly moist place but they were shocked at what CA is going through. Gardens are not the enemy.

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    1. Darn right gardens are not the enemy! Yet our Governor has declared war on them. An LA Times columnist pointed out yesterday that lawn and garden watering uses 6.5% of California's water. A real shocker: 5% of that is for lawns. So 1.5% of California's water goes to non-lawn plants. Grrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!! I have no lawn.

      While I don't agree about the columnist's support for lawns (boring!), that number (1.5%!!!!!!) is a revelation.

      http://www.latimes.com/local/politics/la-me-cap-drought-lawns-20150507-column.html

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  16. So, these imaginary places where it rains in July, do you see them in your dreams or while you're awake and it's very hot and dry. Dreams, mirage, or mental health issue? Hmmm. Do you hear voices as well? From what I've been hearing, toilets are the real enemy so I'm wondering about a resurgence in the popularity of outhouses. Just think how fertile the soil would become...

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    1. Hmmm....outlaw thoughts on outhouses?

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