Thursday, June 24, 2010


The digging never ends in the Ancestral Diggins. I'm still digging up the old irrigation stuff, tearing it out back to the base level, and adding new automation for the 21st Century. I automated my last garden just a season before I moved to the DaveCave.

Out in the wilds of Truckee, there's extra considerations when it comes to water, pipes, and such. Add freezing temperatures and water grows an IQ. Freezing water can travel uphill, and ice does not play nice with valves, pipes, drip emitters, or sprinklers.

I designed my automated irrigation system so that it would survive the frigid winters with a minimum of damage. My big innovation was to build the valve manifolds to be portable. When the harvest was nearly over, and the first hard freeze imminent, I would unhook the manifolds from the water supply, drain the water from the valves, pipes and hoses, and store the manifolds in the laundry room until spring.

My other genius innovation was to use soaker hoses instead of drip emitters and drip tubing. Drip systems are far from frost hardy! I heard someone on Mr Vegetable's Garden Talk Show recommend burying the soaker hose as the water will migrate down from the hose, thereby depriving weed seed on the surface of the garden of the water needed to germinate. I gave it a shot, and the results were spectacular! I weeded once a season...with a snowmaker's torch!

Weed Burners have long been in the snowmaker's arsenal...a hand-held wand with a big tube at the end makes a big flame...ideal for thawing frozen air and water valves on snowmaking hydrants...and for smokin' weeds when they're just a couple of seed leaves!

I lived on a flat, and I mean flat, lot made of clay. Once the snow melted in the spring, the meltwater hung around for a few weeks...I realized the only way to get a decent growing season would be to put in raised beds. My garden started with a greenhouse built to shelter a pair of 4x8 foot raised beds.

My room mate salvaged a bunch of windows from the old Echo Lake Lodge. I rounded up a 3-0 6-8 entry door that was mostly tempered glass, and an unused corrugated fiberglass greenhouse roof from a garage sale. I bought the 2x12's for the raised beds, and imported the soil. The first season, I harvested tomatoes and two of the cutest little softball-sized watermelons you ever laid eyes on.

In the Fall, I had to buy a 2 inch paddle bit to drill holes to plant my daffodil bulbs in front of the greenhouse! I drilled two dozen holes and tossed the bit! The daffodils pushed through that clay like nobody's business, but I understood that any productive gardening would have to be in raised beds filled with imported soil. By the time I moved to the DaveCave, my garden had grown to eight 4x8 foot raised beds...with 2x12 "boardwalks" everywhere.

The boardwalks protected the hose runs between the manifolds and the beds, and gave me a place to walk before the meltwater finally evaporated. Three of the beds had perennials in them. Delphiniums in one, one bed of Alpine Strawberries, and one bed of Asparagus. The hose runs stayed out all winter...with both ends open, ice could do no damage.

I found that once I was freed from the hours of watering, I was free to do the really fun gardening stuff. Pinching and shaping the plants, picking the Chinese Pea Pods, turning the compost, and picking the tiny weed starts that somehow germinated.

About the time I was inventing my Automated Garden of the 21st Century, My Dad was spending his retirement years upgrading his garden to drip irrigation, and ridding the yard of the last vestiges of lawn. He automated two drip irrigation circuits...around the backyard perimeter, and the South Facing privacy hedge. He mounted the timer in the garage, and the control valves were the expensive All-Bronze Anti-Siphon type.

Even without the News-Making Truckee Temperatures, those bronze valves suffered frost damage...they're junk now. It turns out that drip irrigation is far from "Set and Forget" as it was sold in the early days.

Drip systems need maintenance, just like any mechanical system. Filters need cleaning a couple of times a season, drippers need flushing, and the whole system needs flushing at the beginning of each season. Shirk this maintenance, and your drip system will be junk in a decade.

Enter TruckeeDave's 21st Century Irrigation System!

I've added extra hose to the end of each Soaker Hose Run, to accommodate seasonal flushing. The old drip system at the Diggins is shot. It's getting replaced by Soaker Hoses. Out front, the overhead sprinklers will get the portable manifold treatment.

After looking at the Ancestral Diggins Wishlist, I realized that I'm looking at a project that will unfold over a couple of years. Step by step, I'll update and automate. It turns out I'll be doing some remodeling too.

The hottest spot in the back yard has some shade-loving azaleas and an orphan hydrangea that would rather live under the redwoods in the front yard. There's a rhubarb plant that needs a different home, and once the old cedar deodara stump is gone, an Improved Meyer Lemon tree will command that hot spot!

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