Water is vital to a garden. Too much or too little water can affect your plants considerably. This is one of the great advantages of SIPs (sub-irrigated planters). The water variable is pretty much taken care of – as long as the water reservoir stays full and the potting mix does not dry out, your plants get just the amount of water they require.
This theory is all well and good if you’re around to fill the water reservoir. In the summer heat, large plants can easily use an entire reservoir of water, sometimes two. If you plan to travel at all; you’ll need a back-up plan.
Some people use irrigation drip methods, timers, or even a Hudson valve in a central water reservoir. All of these applications can work and I looked into them for my system but fortunately, Earthbox took away some of the guessing and work with their proprietary system.
Here’s where the Earthbox’s Automatic Watering System (AWS) saved my garden. I installed it a few weeks before two back to back weeks of travel – one for personal and one for work. I knew I wasn’t going to be around and needed something to get water to my plants.
I have 12 boxes and Earthbox sells a 12 box kit for $160.00. Seems a little expensive but I took in account trying to piece something together and the time it would take and thought it was well worth the price. The kit includes one regulator, 12 sensors with fill tubes, eleven black t-connectors, one white t-connector, two reducers, 100 feet of ¼ inch tubing, and 25 feet of 1/8 inch tubing. The instructions were pretty minimal but it was easy enough to figure out. This system is expandable to up to 30 boxes.
First, I installed a splitter on my water spigot so that I could have a dedicated line to the garden. I used a 25 foot RV hose, which is safe for potable water, and attached the regulator to it. I made sure to raise the regulator so that it is higher than the sensors on the boxes (picture).
Then, I ran the ¼ inch tubing along my boxes, cutting wherever I needed a break and installing a black t-connector. Then I connected the 1/8 tubing from the t-connector to the sensor that sits in the fill tube. The sensor works on pressure. If the tube is in the water, it’s happy. The moment the water level drops, the circular sensor on the top of the fill tube drips water into the box to the desired level. It’s that easy.
One thing I learned along the way was that you should use hot water to soak the tubing before attempting to install t-connectors. The hot water softens the plastic and allows you to fit the tubing over the barbed part of the connector. Once connected, the tubing cools and shrinks over the connector, forming a water tight seal. The instructions recommended oil or petroleum jelly but I would recommend against that since the ends could end up being too slippery to work with.
It works great and I don’t have to worry a bit about over or under watering, especially when I’m out of town. Another added benefit is that you won’t waste one drop of water. How’s that for conservation?