Dear Fellow Survivalist;
Gardening is a great way to augment your family’s food supplies; but in a situation where there is a breakdown of society, it might be the only way you can manage to keep eating. Food shortages caused by drought or a breakdown of the infrastructure could leave everyone looking for something to eat. When that happens, we’ll probably see a lot of other problems at the same time, such as the city water going down.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t relish the idea of carting water a half mile from the closest natural water source, just so that I can keep my garden growing. But unfortunately, the alternative is worse. If I don’t cart that water, I might not have anything to eat.
As I see it, the problem is being able to water my vegetable garden in such a time, with the minimal amount of work. That’s why I’m not all that fond of using sprinklers or a garden hose to water my garden. Both of those are very wasteful, especially the sprinkler. I live in a hot climate, so a portion of that water evaporates, before it even hits the garden. In addition, most of the water which lands on the plant’s leaves evaporates as well. Only a small portion of the water actually gets to the roots, where it can be absorbed by the plants.
That’s why I think a complete garden needs to have a good automatic watering system installed in it. There are two basic ways of doing this: soaker hoses and drip watering systems.
Soaker hoses work extremely well with raised-bed gardens, as you can bury the hoses in the garden bed, right where the plant roots are going to be. Two runs, down the length of a three foot wide raised bed ensures that all the plants in that bed will be watered. Since the watering is underground, evaporation is minimized, so the garden uses less water.
Drip watering systems put water outlets (drippers) at each plant, focusing the water right where the plant is. If anything, they are more efficient than soaker hoses. However, they are also a lot more work to install, as they require setting up the drippers each planting season. I find drip watering excellent for individual pots, vertical gardens and large plants in my raised beds that need more water.
To make the system more efficient, have it water your plants at night. That way, the plants have an opportunity to absorb the water before it can evaporate, reducing further the amount of water lost to evaporation.
The problem with all this goes back to where I started, with a loss of infrastructure. How can you keep this system up and running, if the grid goes down and the city water stops flowing? That’s actually not that hard a problem to solve, if you design your system correctly.
When most people install soaker hose systems or drip irrigation systems, they depend on the water pressure from city water to provide the power to run their system. That’s fine, as long as it lasts, but it’s not sustainable in a grid down situation or one where the city water is out of service. To accommodate that, we need to modify the system slightly.
To start with, build your system so that you are watering out of a tank, not from the home’s water supply. A 55 gallon plastic drum is an adequate tank, as you won’t be wasting as much water. Put the tank on a low stand and draw the water out of the bottom of it, using a small pump. The kind of pumps that are used for landscaping fountains are just about ideal. That will get the water to your garden, without using the city’s water pressure.
Now, let’s take that one step further. The pump you are using needs electrical power. In a grid down situation, that could be a problem. Of course, if you have a solar power system on your home, that’s easy to solve; just attach the pump to that system for power. However, if you don’t have a solar power system for your home, that won’t work. But there’s nothing saying that you can’t install a small solar power system, which provides enough power to run your pump and keep your garden watered.
Perhaps you’ve seen some of the lighted speed limit signs on the highway, which have their own solar panel. This is essentially what you want to do. All you need is a small solar panel and a battery. By using a pump that operates at the same voltage as your battery (usually 12 volts), you eliminate the need for voltage inverters. You really don’t even need a battery charger, as connecting the solar panel directly to the battery will charge it.
Remember, your battery needs to be big enough to run your pump for a few nights of watering, just in case you have cloudy days and can’t recharge it. But those pumps don’t draw a lot of power, so that shouldn’t be a big deal. You also want to make sure that the solar panel you choose is large enough to recharge the battery every day. But with those two precautions, you shouldn’t have any problem.
A system like this will make it possible for your garden to be watered, pretty much no matter what happens. The automatic controller and the pump will do the work for you, leaving you with only the problem of filling the tank. You can even make that easier, by attaching it to a rainwater collection system.
Personally, I like systems like this, which are as automated as possible. That makes the task of gardening easier, freeing me up for other things I need to do. One precaution though; don’t assume the system is working… check it regularly. Otherwise, your garden could die off and you not realize it.
So, time to get back to work on the garden. Until next time… keep your powder dry and your survival equipment close at hand.