You're My Favorite Mistake...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

With all due apologies to Cheryl Crow, I think she wrote "My Favorite Mistake" on my behalf. Why? Because no matter how much I learn when it comes to gardening and landscaping, I keep on making: My Favorite Mistake.

This weekend was a real doozy.

PVC Drip Line Anchored to Fence

My father-in-law, many years ago, taught me a rather unique and ingenious way of running drip irrigation line to meet my watering needs. Rather than bury the drip line, as many landscapers will do, he would run it around the back fence, using a series of clamps to hold it against the fence board.

That line, would then be covered with decorative rock or bark when the final landscaping finishes were added and VoilĂ !!! No more drip line. The decorative rock or bark covered it completely! Plus, if you ever needed to add to it, or run another line, you weren't required to dig through layers of mud to find it.

Ingenious! I've used variations of the father-in-law's invention (he's a retired rocket scientist doncha know), with all of my landscaping efforts since. And, for the most part, it's worked wonders.

But, with the larger yard, I ran into a bit of a problem that I wasn't expecting. I have a fenceline that runs some 450 feet. I knew that I would need at least two drip systems, and installed both during initial landscaping efforts two years ago. But little did I realize that stretching a drip line more than 450 feet would result in a drastic drop in pressure at the end of the line.

Two years later -- I learned the hard lesson. No matter how great the water pressure is at the source (beginning) of a drip line, it's going to drop as irrigation water traverses the length of a drip line. And, at 450 feet, what was coming out at the end wasn't nearly enough to provide for my watering needs.

New Valve for the Bird Back 40
But there was a solution! Yes indeed! If I were to locate and hack into the "PVC Hot Line" that I installed first years earlier, then I would be able to install a NEW valve, with NEW and IMPROVED water pressure right where I needed it! There's a picture of that new valve to your immediate right. I already had the parts on-hand from previous landscaping projects, so why not put those extra parts to good use?

Problem solved!

Or so I thought.

Hot Line and Manifold Done Right (not by me)
The "PVC Hot Line" is the first, initial line that I install to bring water into the backyard. Most "hot lines" end at a row of irrigation valves, which is also referred to as a Manifold. The individual valves that make up the manifold then run water to different parts of a common backyard and serve as either sprinklers for the lawn or drip systems for vegetable and flower gardening.

But, in my case, I extend the PVC Hot Line past the manifold and run it through the yard. Why? For one, you just might need to hack into it someday. Secondly, bringing the "hot line" into the yard allows you to install as many water faucets against the fence as you need. You can never have enough faucets or hose bibs in my opinion. In my case, I set up four of them -- one for each section of the yard.

So, installing a new drip valve on the existing Hot Line should be as easy as locating the line that I installed next to the fence and then buried two years ago, right?

Yeah, um.....

I knew I was going to face one eensy, teensy, little problem. I knew that I had buried more than one PVC line along with the Hot Line. In some cases, the lines were marked. In some cases, they weren't. And when I located and uncovered these buried, hidden lines, I'd dug into a section where the lines had NOT BEEN MARKED.

There were two lines. One was the Hot Line. Another line served a large, raised planter bed on the other side of the yard. But which was which? I needed to break into the Hot Line ONLY -- not the PVC line that served the large, raised bed on the other side of the bed.

Have you ever seen those movies where the "star" is confronted with the task of cutting a wire to a nuclear device that is about to explode? And it always seems like there are two or three wires to choose from? In every single movie I have seen this plot played out (think Ed Harris in "The Abyss"), our hero ALWAYS manages to cut the RIGHT wire -- saving the world from nuclear destruction.


BOOM! I Cut the WRONG Line!
Let's just say -- had the situation I faced this past weekend been a nuclear device -- anyone living within 150 miles of North Natomas would be nothing more than atom particles.

That's right. I cut the wrong line. And here it is for you to gawk and laugh at. A big hole in a line that had NOTHING to do with what I was trying to accomplish.

Well, at least I knew where the Hot Line was.

But, all thoughts of cutting into the Hot Line to install the new drip irrigation valve suddenly vanished. The "improvement project" you were working on suddenly became an immediate repair project. Fortunately, I
Time Out for Emergency PVC Repair Job
had the connector I needed on hand to repair this mistake in judgement.

But, I had one and ONLY one. Screw it up -- and it's off to Home Depot for another.

My luck suddenly changed. I didn't screw this one up. And I did move onto the "improvement project" once the "emergency repair project" was completed. I managed to cut into the right line (this time). I managed to install the PVC T connector I would need without cracking the Hot Line, which was another huge accomplishment.

Hacking Done the Right Way
From that point on -- the project went as smoothly as it could possibly go. Of course, it got a lot easier. You weren't dealing with buried lines anymore. The only requirement was to make the right cuts, apply primer and glue to the correct places, apply the correct pressure, and the project of installing a new drip irrigation line was finished.

But that's not the best part. There is a satisfaction to "correcting" mistakes and completing a project to be sure, but the real satisfaction comes from testing your work. You can't bury those lines without a pressure check first.

New Drip Line Partially Installed
There are two things that can happen during a pressure check. It can work as intended -- or your entire project can blow apart in a massive shower of water explosion titled "FAIL....."

"My Favorite Mistake" was not to repeat itself. I didn't "FAIL." Not only did the line hold up to the pressure, it also worked better than expected.

The areas of the yard that had been suffering from a lack of irrigation water are suffering no more.

Hopefully, this will result in softball sized O'Henry Peaches later this summer.

Time will tell.


Fred Hoffman said...

Not that hindsight is perfect, but an easier solution, learned the hard way: run a larger diameter drip line to the proximity of the area you want to water, then reduce the size of the dripline (going from a 3/4" to 1/2", for example). There are reducer couplings available. I use this system on a run that extends about 500'. more info:

Bill Bird said...


No -- you're wrong -- hindsight IS perfect. I have a neighbor, two doors down, who had professional landscapers put the water in his backyard. And when I saw them laying one-inch PVC line, I thought they were idiots. What are they going to do back there? Plant a freaking vineyard (the neighbors in question do happen to OWN a Vineyard, Cooper Wines). But they obviously knew a whole lot more than I did. If I EVER get the opportunity to do this again on a larger piece of land? It will be one-inch PVC line. I learned my lesson.

Garry said...

irrigation is always a challenge - when you need to forward think 5-10 years on 'potential' needs for water.

my last house was a real challenge as i inherited an irrigation installation based upon 1/2 inch pvc - obviously lowest bidder won on that one. was always fighting dry spots, etc.

my current house, was new so i am responsible for the irrigation here. front yard has 11 valves running it. backyard - nt done so, tbd - but it will be over engineered. all airrigation is main fed w/ 1"pvc and stepped down to 3/4 for feeders to zones, drip hangs ff as 1/2 where installed.

current garden has drip into each bed and that seems to do well for the vege's needs.

oh - almost forgot; primer is key. also consider using the 'pvc hot glue' -its the blue colored stuff. at the last house, i had unprimered, not hot glue joints, just come undone - not good when it occurs when on vacation.

happy bday.


Roya Rose said...

My husband and I have built the irrigation system from scratch at a rental (for reduced rent and beautified yard) and rebuilt the system at our current house that we own. The rebuild is almost more difficult!

Bill Bird said...

We all learn with mistakes. Garry, if I ever get the chance to do this all over again, it will be done with a one-inch hot line, reducing down to three-quarters at key watering spots. Drip lines will never be extended more than 90-100 feet in length. And Roya, I have a good friend in Oak Park who had to install PVC on a Sears Craftsman built in 1921. You can only begin to imagine the root systems he ran into around trees, and one existing system consisting of all metal parts (he didn't even bother with it). Because his water pressure is so low, he was forced to install 14-15 different valves to water the lawn and all the plants on a plot of land that was less than a quarter-acre...But, one thing he has that I don't have? A thirty foot tall and thirty foot wide Meyer Lemon that keeps the entire neighborhood in margaritas for a full year.