How To Take Advantage Of Drip Irrigation Systems For Tomatoes

On the farm, water is usually lost through evaporation and drainage. Drip irrigation is a controlled watering system. It allows you to release droplets of water to the root zone of your crop.

The water release is slow, which allows you to conserve water by reducing wastage. Because of the slow release to the root zone, the soil around the roots absorbs moisture. Thus, there is little left to drain or evaporate. This is especially critical if you are farming in an area where water is scarce.

A drip irrigation system, also known as a trickle system, distributes water on the farm. It does this through a network of valves, pipes, tubing, and emitters. Drip irrigation systems are the most efficient in the market and affordable too if done well.

To get a good design and proper installation, you might need some expert help. However, you could do it on your own with the right guidance (such as this website!). Also, ensure you know your way around the operation and maintenance to get the most out of it.

Before designing a drip irrigation system, you have to study a couple of things. These are the terrain, soil type, water, climate and the type of crop to be grown. This will determine the type of irrigation system and the parts to use.

Advantages of drip irrigation systems

  • Every plant receives about the same amount of water every time
  • The labour cost for irrigation is lower compared to other methods
  • You can accommodate any shape of a field
  • You can use recycled water that otherwise not treated for domestic use
  • You can maintain the moisture around the root zone
  • There is little or no water runoff which reduces erosion
  • You can use fertigation to reduce fertilizer wastage
  • You can regulate the use of water
  • It can serve any soil type. Soil type has little effect on the frequency of irrigation
  • Because water drips in the root zones, there is little room for weeds to grow
  • The risk for disease is low because the leaves stay dry most of the time
  • The energy cost is low because it operates at a much lower pressure than the other methods

How does drip irrigation work?

A drip irrigation system begins from the reservoir or water source. If you get water from an overhead tank, that will be your source. If you are pumping water from a ground-level reservoir, the pump will be your source. IIf you are looking for a simple homemade system. You can recycle used bottles to make a bottle drip irrigation system.

In more advanced systems, you may find the valves and pumps controlled by computers. Here, the filtration system employed is quite elaborate. Although essential, domestic drip irrigation systems do not always have a filter. This is because the water comes pre-filtered from the water treatment plant.

The last line filter is the better option and can work in conjunction with any other filter system you have. This is because the debris or particles may find their way into the pipes before the drip tape.

You can save more water with a well-designed drip irrigation system. It conserves more than sprinklers and flood irrigation. But you must consult an expert to install and manage the system. Most of the irrigated water loss is by drainage and evaporation. Because drip irrigation releases water right at the root zone, this type of water loss is low.

Practising drip irrigation in very dry areas will help manage the use of the water. As a result, you get more out of your crop.

In a drip system, it is ineffective to use traditional timed-release fertilizers. They may not dissolve completely because water only drops around the roots. The current trend is mixing fertilizers in the water also called fertigation. The mixture drops at the roots during irrigation.

Another variation of this method is chemigation. Here, you add pesticides into the water instead of fertilizers. They kill the pests and diseases in the soil.

Chemigation also works to clean up the irrigation system. You add chlorine or sulphuric acid instead of pesticides. It passes through the aspirator and diaphragm pumps.

Unlike timed-release fertilizers, research shows fertigation has about 95% savings on the fertilizer.

You not only save on the water and fertilizer also on disease mitigation costs. Most diseases are spread by water coming into contact with the leaves. Thus, drip irrigation delivering water to the roots means your leaves will be dry.

The drip irrigation system releases water at about 1 litre per hour per hole. Some are of the opinion that this is still more water than they would have wished. As a result, research into pace limiters is currently underway. The aim is to create emitters that reduce this rate. One such method is pulsed irrigation which is still quite expensive.

Emitter pipes come with pre-installed emitters from the factory. Spacing is as the crop spacing and flow rate per hour desired by the buyer. The emitter is able to create friction before release to release the water as droplets. The emitters or drippers can be between 15cm to 60cm apart.

Some manufacturers make the drip tapes fused with emitters. Others make them then fix them at the end of the production line.

Where can drip irrigation systems be used?

Drip irrigation can work in large and small farms. It can also work in commercial greenhouses and kitchen gardens.

Drip irrigation is especially useful in areas where water is scarce. You can use it to grow tomatoes, grapes, onions, beans, peas, strawberries among others.

The home kits are also popular among kitchen gardeners. They come with a timer, hose, and emitters.

Common parts of a drip irrigation system

There are various components that make the drip irrigation system possible. Let go through these parts.

You first need a…

A water source supplies the system with water at enough pressure. You can meet the required pressure using a pump or raising the water reservoir (tank).

A water filter or filtration system removes all the debris and sediments from the water. These particles may clog the drip tapes if let in the water. At this point, you can have the fertigation and chemigation equipment. Fertigation refers to adding fertilizers to the water. Chemigation refers to adding pesticides before they get to the drip tape. These methods, although optional, have proven more effective in delivering these chemicals. This is compared to manual fertilizer application. This is especially true for drip irrigation systems. They might allow for proper soaking and distribution of slow-releasing fertilizers.

A backflow regulator blocks water from going back into the tank once it leaves. It also prevents disease-causing pathogens from getting back into the main tank.

A pressure regulator or control valve works to reduce water pressure. Sometimes water might go into the drip system from the source at too high a pressure. Sometimes the pressure may be so high that the drip tape may get damaged.

Distribution lines to get the water from the reservoir to the plants that need it. Here you have your main lines which are bigger and the lateral lines which are smaller. Here, you also have the smaller pipes including the drip tape. All the fitting also falls into this category.

Safety and hydraulic control valves can be mechanical or electronic.

Emitters are water release points placed at the root zone. It may be a simple drip hole or an elaborate micro spray head or an inline drip tube.

Drip tape is a thin-walled polyethene tube of about 0.1mm to 0.6mm thickness. The thicker walled tapes work better as subsurface drip lines. They are a little tough and can stand the pressure. The thinner-walled ones perform better on the surface because they are disposable. They are good for growing high-value crops. Drip tapes can be recyclable into other products.

What you can expect from drip irrigation technology in the future

In recent years, there have been many developments in drip irrigation systems. Subsurface irrigation is one of these developments.

As the name suggests, the driplines run under the surface. They are becoming popular in areas with limited water supply. It is also where recycled water is the water used for irrigation.

Another development is the micro-spray head. It sprays water in a small area from many openings. They are good for tree planting and growing vines.

Last but not least, the disadvantages…

  • It is quite expensive to set up compared to other overhead irrigation systems
  • Exposure to the sun results in polymer degradation. The drip tapes end up with a reduced lifespan
  • The system may end up clogged if filtration was not done
  • The water may get wasted if the system is not installed
  • It may result in the accumulation of salts around the root zone. This may occur when the salts are present in the water.

Conclusion

Drip irrigation systems offer many benefits for farmers especially in the reduction of labour when watering. The drip system releases water at the root slowly concentrating all the water at the root which conserves water. All this comes at a time when the world is focused on sustainability with the advent of climate change. Not only does it prevent water wastage and reduce labour, but it also reduces disease incidences and spread. Unlike sprinkler irrigation, water from drip irrigation does not touch the leaves which provides a perfect environment for tomato diseases.

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