Finding the best garden sprinkler–build your own with parts from the irrigation department, not the garden department–by David Brown
Today’s article was written for Johntheplantman by David Brown who lives somewhere sort of on the road to Subligna, Georgia. Dave is a writer, handyman, farmer, and guitar playing storyteller among other things. He finally figured that if he could rebuild a flintlock rifle, he should be able to find a sprinkler that worked. So, he called for information. Here is Dave’s story as I received it:
Someone once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If that is the case, then I’ll have to admit I have been close to the brink of madness when it comes to my attempts at getting water to my vegetable garden.
When we started putting in a vegetable garden out here in the boondocks about 20 years ago, it measured a modest 20 X 40 feet, and it was no big deal to stand out there on dry summer evenings and spray water on it with a garden hose and a nozzle. We were young and had time on our hands.
As time has progressed, my agricultural aspirations have grown, and so have the dimensions of the garden. A few years ago, I bought a bang-up garden tiller at the Homey Deep-O. With the advent of the tiller, I decided that I would henceforth plant my rows far enough apart to allow me to run the tiller between the rows and thereby keep most of the cockleburs and crabgrass at bay without having to bend, stoop, and otherwise muddify myself. We try to grow our vegetables organically, without the benefit of chemicals or poisons, so we are constantly in combat with opportunistic weeds, and the tiller has been a godsend in that effort.
The garden now measures about 30 X 90 feet, and we generally plant beans, corn, okra, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, maybe some gourds or pumpkins, and a few culinary herbs. With the bigger garden, my need to get water on it when the rains fail has become more problematic.
I admit that I have kind of slowly backed into this problem without giving it much in the way of critical thought. Early on, I would just pull a hose out there, water the tomatoes and peppers directly, and then set up some kind of cheap sprinkler and try to get the row crops dampened enough to make it until the next scattered thundershower. This sort of worked.
The problem with cheap sprinklers is that they are cheaply made. I tried a simple rotary sprinkler with the spinning arms, but these eventually clog up and slow down and ultimately stop spinning and just sit there and dribble. You go out an hour later and find that you’ve created a bog in the middle of your garden and your boots sink down to your ankles. Plus, even when they’re working right these little sprinklers don’t cover much area, so you have to wade out there into the mud and move them several times every time you want to water.
So, OK. I remember when I was a kid I used to go with my father out to the UGA Agronomy farm to visit his experimental plots and they would have these brass sprinkler heads with the little flicking arms that went ‘tick-tick-tick’ and then would reverse direction and go ‘ticka-ticka-ticka’ and then start back across going ‘tick-tick-tick.’ I went to the hardware store and bought one of these that was just attached to a spike that you could stick in the ground and attach a hose to it. When I found it was too short, I drove the spike into a piece of pipe and drove this into the ground. These work OK until they don’t, and then you have to fiddle and mess with all these little springs and levers and adjusting screws, and meanwhile you’re getting sprayed in the face and all soaking wet and finally you just fling the thing as far as you can throw it.
Then I decided I’d use one of those sprinklers with the bar with a bunch of little holes in it and the adjustable gear drive that spews out a nice fountain of water and waves back and forth. These cover a large area and work great until they stop working, and they always stop working. I should know, I’ve bought three or four of them.
Mid-season this year I came face-to-face with my approaching madness and admitted I needed professional help. I ruled out soaker hoses because these would be in the way of the tiller. I ruled out burying permanent irrigation lines because, hey, I’m lazy and I’m cheap. Finally, I consulted my good friend John Schulz (johntheplantman) the Literate Landscape Artist.
John turned me on to a type of sprinkler head the pros use, called an adjustable pop-up sprinkler. They can be adjusted to cover any angle of attack from 0 to 360 degrees. They put out a consistent plume of water so your plants are watered evenly. They have a minimum of moving parts, and they are inexpensive.
You can get these at Homer’s D-Po, but you (voice lowers to a whisper) don’t go to the Garden section. You go to the area labeled “Irrigation,” and immediately you realize you’ve made a significant upgrade in consciousness and class. Eureka.
The pop-up sprinkler heads have pipe thread on the bottom, and you’ll have to educate yourself a little bit on the skill of welding PVC parts together, but it’s all pretty much there in front of you– in the Irrigation section. Cool, huh? Get a fitting that threads into the head and glue this to a piece of PVC pipe; make a 90 degree elbow at the bottom; and then attach one of the adapters that threads onto the pipe and allows a garden hose to attach to your thingy, and, voila’, you’re in business. Just read the directions printed on the sprinkler head and a new heavenly light will shine down upon you. No more crappy inadequate sprinklers that cost too much and don’t work for long anyway.
Here are photos of some various parts, before and after assembly, and the sprinkler head I chose. I like the Rainbirdã 42SA (S.A. stands for Simple Adjustment). Right now, I have one of these heads set on a movable tripod left over from an earlier sprinkler debacle, and I’ve found I can just about cover the whole garden with just this one head. Ultimately, I plan to set out three heads on PVC pipe and strap them on metal fence posts that can be driven into the ground and moved when need be. Maybe one day I’ll bury a permanent water line out to the garden and attach all three in sequence, with separate cut-off valves, and a timer and……..well, maybe not.
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