Waterwise Irrigation Audit

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on April 8, 2016

Since most of the country has been in a drought off and on for the last few years, cities are restricting watering the yard.  They are fining those who waste water by watering the street or watering too long.  This is an excellent time to audit your irrigation system to make sure you are using the water well.

The first step in an irrigation audit is to turn on the sprinklers in each zone of your yard, zone by zone.  Check carefully to see if any of the sprinkler heads are not providing water, are misting or are acting like geysers, shooting water straight up in the air.  Make a note of any problems you find and move to another zone.  Do this until you have covered every zone and made notes of any problems in each zone.

Repair any problems you found when you were checking your sprinklers.  You will easily save water by changing broken heads, adjusting water pressure so there is no misting, and realigning the spray as to not water on your hardscapes. These simple fixes can reduce the amount of water used by an average of 20%

Now, make sure that all of your plants are getting an equal amount of water from those sprinklers.  Again, turn on a zone of your sprinklers and check to see that every plant is receiving water.  You should also check to make sure that no plant is getting too much water from over lapping sprinklers.  If you find problems, adjust the heads until they are fixed.  Do this for each zone of the sprinklers.

Now you need to know how long it takes to water your lawn.  You may think you know, but this step is worth taking anyway.  Obtain several small containers, such as an empty tuna can or a small paper cup.  Place these in several places in the zone you are testing.  Turn on the water in that zone and leave it on until water starts running off the lawn or flower bed you are testing.  Mark the time this takes and turn off the sprinklers in that zone.  Check how much water is in your containers.  If it is not a full inch, wait to empty the containers.

Let the zone you are testing rest long enough to stop the water running off.  This may only be a few minutes or it may take a bit longer.  Check each zone as described above. Record how long each zone takes to run off.  Now, run the sprinklers in the first zone again until run off.  Continue this process until you have watered the entire yard long enough to put an inch of water in your containers.

Use an irrigation timer on your irrigation system and set it to run on each zone sequentially until just before run off.  Then let the system rest until the water sinks into the ground.  Usually, by the time each zone has run the first zone is ready to run again.  Repeat this however many times  you have to in order to deliver an inch of water to all parts of your yard. The last thing to do is to get a rain switch and install it.  This switch turns off the irrigation system if it is raining.  It does no good to irrigate when it is raining and it is a waste of water and of the money you pay for your water.


Unusual Garden Vegetables

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on March 25, 2015

Creating an unusual vegetable garden

Set yourself apart from other gardeners this growing season by planting unique vegetable produce. Add spice and life to your outdoor space and full flavor and exciting tastes to your dinner table with some truly delicious and original fruits and vegetables.

Strange fruit

Say goodbye to the humble carrot and potato and welcome the new breed of “glamor-veg” that is moving in to our garden plots. Why not consider swapping spinach for amaranth? Similar in taste to the favorite leafy green but with an elegant silhouette, this Bangladeshi native thrives in sandy soil and is best seeded in a sheltered, sunny spot after frosts have finished.

Or add a mouthful of the Andes to your dishes by planting up some oca. These pink tubers make a good substitute for potatoes and are certainly more exotic. What’s more, the plants produced by these tangy vegetables are pretty enough to earn a place in the flower border, with clover-shaped leaves and soft orange flowers. Oca should be planted in pots of compost in spring and kept in the greenhouse until frosts have passed. They are slow starters but patient gardeners are rewarded with delicious tubers in late autumn that add a mouth-watering twist to the table.

If you have a taste for Mexican food, why not grow some tomatillos to feed your passion? These little beauties are the key ingredients to perfect salsa. With their green or purple fruit, they are wrapped in a lantern-shaped papery case with lovely yellow blossoms. They are undemanding to grow and can be treated in the same way as tomatoes, planted in a warm sheltered spot in the garden or, even better, in the greenhouse. At harvest time, combine tomatillos with coriander, chili, lime and garlic for an authentic salsa to knock your socks off.

Good looks and good taste

Taking the exotic veggie path can be echoed in the design of your garden plot. The vegetables should taste good but the garden should be a pleasure to gaze upon from the kitchen window too. Install attractive wooden shutters that can be easily opened and closed for taking regular peeps out at how your charges are doing.

The bonus about the plants noted above is they offer beauty as well as bounty, with attractive foliage and flowers. A garden design that compliments the produce as it grows will have a pleasing, restful atmosphere.

Forget regimented lines and embrace curves and fluid shapes that give the garden flow. Raised beds make sense for small gardens as the soil can be adapted to suit particular plants. They are pretty, have good drainage and are easier to tend. For visual balance, don’t neglect an element of height in the garden. Exploit every growing opportunity by trailing climbing vegetables up trellis and fences. Underline the exotic theme with materials and accessories from far flung places: bamboo and cane matting work as a pergola sunshade; Andean textiles and mirrored pots add color pops and life to quiet corners; and Asian tiles and intricate wrought iron garden furniture offer a touch of Colonial-style luxury.

Live a life that’s more exotic with a vegetable garden of unusual produce. Today it’s tomatillos; tomorrow it could be edamame, kohlrabi, daikon or shungiku thriving under your green-fingered care.

This is a contributed post.

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Available in print or ebook from or other retailers, this book walks you from choosing the site of your garden all the way through what to do after the harvest. Buy a copy for yourself or a friend today!


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