Written and lived by Stephanie Dayle
A low pressure drip system is a homesteader’s and prepper’s dream irrigation system. There are so many advantages to them, but the one that preppers usually find very attractive is that they are powered by ‘low water pressure’ and with a little bit of research one can be designed that can be disconnected from the water spigot and reconnected to a couple rain barrels or a water tank – to water the garden independent of a public utility. Plus you can design it and install it yourself.
Why is this helpful to preppers and homesteaders?
Because it furthers our goal of “self -reliance” meaning, it is one less thing we have to depend on someone else (like the government) for. If the electrical grid were to go down for a long period of time most cities and public utilities would only have water for a couple of days maybe less. This would pose a major problem for anyone trying to grow their own food in an area where gardens require irrigation. If a rain catch and storage system is already in place a low pressure drip system gives a person a way to efficiently water their garden without packing buckets of water around all day. Also most solar powered well pumps (and hand pumps) tend to provide lower water pressure than their “on the grid” counterparts, this would not be a problem at all for a drip irrigation system.
Other benefits include watering only what needs to be watered, plants as opposed to the weeds in-between rows (therefore the weeds don’t like to grow there), water conservation, and saving money. When most people who are on public utilities install a drip system, it pays for itself in one season, and will only continue to save money as time goes on. By adding fruit trees, containers, fruit bushes, raised beds and flowers all to the same system, everything can be watered at once, saving you a whole lot of time.
Can I purchase a Drip System Kit for this?
While there are drip system kits available on the market I have not found many that include all the parts one would need to customize a kit for preparedness or homesteading purposes. Because each garden is unique, some planning is required prior to purchasing parts when designing your own drip system. However, if you would like to give a ‘kit’ a try click here to see a gravity drip system kit – that is meant to be connected to a rain barrel.
For the purposes of this article I will be discussing a low pressure drip system that anyone could immediately use and benefit from, meant to be connected to a normal water spigot. I will be including tips along the way on how one may go about using this system to irrigate from a rain barrel, or water tank. This system is easy to install, exceedingly affordable, super easy to rollup and put away for winter, and best of all…it does not require PVC pipe! Each item is linked via blue text to where you can buy it.
The video above is a tour of our own low pressure drip system that we use to irrigate with. It’s a good example of how you can put a whole farmstead on a drip system, save money and save time. Below you will find all the parts you need to construct your own drip system and where to buy them. Is it worth the time to do this? YES.
Timers (pictured above) are handy to have, not only do they save you time and prevent over watering, they also protect your investment. Many drip system components will not hold up under constant pressure, therefore they should be installed after a shut off valve or timer.
Back Flow Preventers (below) are installed after the spigot or just before the system to prevent debris and contaminants from being sucked up the main water supply when the system is turned on and off. Many counties require such devices to be installed on sprinkler and drip systems to protect the main water supply. Check with your local city or county for any existing rules that may effect you.
There are inexpensive back flow preventers such as this one above, but again, they are not meant to be kept under constant pressure – so install them after a shut off valve or timer. There are also more expensive anti-siphoning valves like this one (below) that can be kept under pressure and are meant to be a more permanent fixture with your gardens water source.
Screen Filters remove sediment and other particles big enough to clog a drip irrigation system. They are installed AFTER timers and/or shut off valves because, unless specifically stated, most screen filters cannot handle being under constant pressure (pressure from the water). This means you should not hook them up directly to a spigot and leave the spigot on for long periods of time. If you do so and they break, the manufacture will not replace the part. The higher the mesh number, the finer the screen. Most drip irrigation systems require filtration of 120 – 150 mesh.
Drip tape (commonly used in low pressure systems – featured below) usually requires the finer filtration of a 200 mesh filter. These filters need to be cleaned out periodically but they are easy to clean with a little switch that flushes water back through the filter or by simply unscrewing the filter and spraying it out with water. This is important to know if you are using a finer mesh screen with a rainwater or pond water source as one may use in a gravity or off grid system. If you are connecting to a pressurized water source – a ‘pressure regulator’ is installed after the screen filter (explained below).
Pressure regulators (pictured above) reduce incoming water pressure to a ‘set’ pressure making it usable by a drip system, otherwise the whole thing would blow apart. A pressure regulator is used when the incoming pressure is too high for the emitters or fittings. When installing a low pressure drip system, a pressure regulator is a must if you want to hook it up to a pressurized water supply, such as the water from your house. Most drip irrigation systems require a pressure regulator because drip systems tend to run on 30 psi or less (because they drip). Your common public water source is going to supply water to house spigots at 50-70 psi, so you can imagine how this high pressure would damage a low pressure drip system. If your whole system is outfitted with drip tape and emitters that are rated for 10 PSI and less you will want to purchase a regulator that matches the system. Pressure regulators are installed after the screen filter.
Drip tubing (below) is what most drip irrigation systems are made from, it comes in 1/2 inch, 5/8 inch, or 3/4 inch tubing hose. This supply line tubing can be fitted with tiny plastic nubs, called emitters, that allow water to drip out at a regulated pace without clogging. It can also connect up with drip tape to water rows of veggies.
This solid tubing can be used to customize a system to an unusual layout or to connect outlaying sections of garden, plants or trees where you don’t need water in-between the areas. 1/2 inch tubing is the general size recommendation for home garden mainline tubing, 3/4 inch tubing is commonly used for commercial irrigation where much more water is required. To branch off of the mainline and reach specific areas or plants with individual emitters 1/4 tubing can be used with a 1/4 drip tubing take-off adapter or barb (see video).
Drip Tape (above) is an excellent choice for low pressure and gravity fed systems, it can operate efficiently with as little as 4 PSI but usually has a max capacity of 10 PSI, so the pressure regulator at the beginning of the system needs to match that. Drip tape is tubing with pre-cut slits or built in emitters and tends to be self flushing (so you don’t have to clean it out). Row kits can be purchased for Drip Tape or you can make the row heads yourself with the proper fittings, see below.
1 Gallon Per Hour Self-Flushing Emitter
Drip Emitters (above) release water to your plants from tubing where the emitters are installed. The emitters can be punched directly into the mainline or can be inserted into the end of a length of 1/4″ tubing for plants that aren’t close to the mainline. There are even “non-plugging” emitters that can be used when one is dealing with pond water, rain barrel water, or other unrefined water.
Punch and Cut Tools (above) are used for cutting tubing and making a precise hole in mainline tubing to install emitters, of course you can always use a utility knife for cutting tubbing as long as you are careful. Because heat will soften the tubing, it is easier to punch holes when it is cool outside.
Hold Down Stakes (above) are used to keep drip tubing neatly in place. If you own dogs, hold down stakes are a must. Kids that shuffle their feet also move drip tubing around inadvertently. Please note: drip tubing is irresistible to puppies, it looks like one big giant chew toy to them.
Fittings: (above) there are a variety of fittings and adapters available for purchase, any size difference can be over come with the appropriate adapter in the world of drip systems and fortunately, they are all inexpensive. Knowing how many fittings, splitters and adapters you’ll need to connect all of the parts is why planning is so important. What you will need depends on your unique garden layout. Click here for a drip tape take-off adapter and click here for a drip tape end cap.
The beginning of your system should look similar to this.
The only thing not shown here is a back pressure valve which can be connected prior to the garden hose or you can add it right after the timer. Once you have the parts – it only takes seconds to connect this together, and then you are ready to start laying out your drip system.
This photo (above) shows how a drip system using drip tape waters garden rows in a very targeted area.
Picture above shows how a row of drip tape connects to the main line tubbing using a drip tape “take-off” adapter. A hole is punched in the mainline tubbing, the adapter is plugged in, then the drip is plugged into the adapter. Run the drip tape the length of your row and crimp it or plug it at the end of the row. Secure the row of drip tape to the ground with stakes.
1/4 soaker line that splits off from the main line, this feeds two rows in my raised beds (pictured above).
More 1/4 line that runs self flushing emitters to each container.
As you can see a drip irrigation system can be anything you want it be. Our system also waters our chickens and tops off our stock tank. What to purchase and how much depends on what you want to get out of your drip system. Remember the larger your system the more time it will take for it to come up to pressure so that it is working properly. This time should be incorporated when you decided on how long you want to set your timer for. Example: I want to water the garden for an hour every other day but it takes our system 20 minutes to come up to pressure – so I set the timer for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
To plan your system, it is helpful to sit down and draw out a rough map of your garden, include a few simple measurements and then decide how much water different areas need, this will determine which tape and/or emitters to buy. A common period of time for the system to be turned on is an hour every other day during times of no rain.
Example of a Basic Gravity Fed System. Picture Courtesy of The Drip Store
Information to Consider Regarding Gravity Fed (rain barrel or water tank) Systems
Gravity fed drip systems are *not* infinite, meaning they are limited in size to how much water you have, and how high the water source is positioned. If a rain barrel or water tank system is the goal, great care must be taken when planting so everything is within the capabilities of your system, this will ensure maximum efficiency. Gravity fed systems do not require much pressure, but they do require some pressure, therefore, having your water source elevated and nearby is very beneficial.
People ask why we don’t run our gardens off of our rain barrels, this is because our gardens are so big it would require a much larger water tank than we can afford at the current time. If we split our system up into different zones for each barrel, all of our water barrels combined could only water our gardens ONE TIME, leaving us with no reserve water therefore we use water from a well. This is why water needs and garden size should be incorporated into your emergency preparedness plans. While something is always better than nothing, if you live in an area where irrigation for growing food is necessary, it would do you little good if the grid goes down and you don’t have enough water to irrigate the amount of food you need to grow to survive.
What about for the Winter?
In the fall after harvest I use an air compressor to blow out the system (but this is not completely necessary if you don’t have one the system will drain as you take it apart and roll it up) then I disconnect the row tape – roll them up and use zip ties to keep each row rolled together. I put everything I can easily disconnect into a box and stick it in the storage shed. If I am unhappy with any of the emitters I will pull them off in the fall and set them aside so I will remember to replace them next spring when I get the box out and have to find the missing emitters. The only thing I leave outside is the mainline tubing – remember to disconnect it from your water spigot, then as long as both ends of the tubing are open the water inside will freeze and expand unabated and will not crack the tubing during the winter. It takes a hour – maybe – to put it all away and the whole thing fits in one box.
I hope I have given you enough information to start planning your own drip system!