Desert Planter Setup

Early May - sea of tomato plants
Early May – sea of tomato plants

This planter, populated with dirt from my rainwater project, and supplemented with composted vegetation from the company cafeteria, is now brimming with tomato plants – some purposeful and some volunteer. The planter soil probably benefited from being “fluffed up” as part of the process of being removed from the back yard, and not being subsequently walked on. But the greatest improvement we’ve made from previous desert planting ventures is to insure a reliable, consistent supply of water to the plants.  That is the lesson of this page.
In the desert, tomato and pepper plants can last (and produce) multiple years, which seems strange to a former Hoosier.  But the intense summer sun tends to drain them of energy so without sufficient water, they struggle to stay alive and produce little. The key to this new regime is to deliver consistent doses of water. Thanks to the shade provided by the plants, the water has a chance to soak in.

Basic water timer
Basic water timer

The water-hose timer is attached to the outside faucet which is left on all the time. The timer is set to turn on for 10 minutes per day. Maybe this summer will bump that to 15 minutes per day. The timer cost somewhere in the $15-20 range.
The water is delivered by hose to the soaker hose that sits on the top of the soil and soaks the ground. Over time, the plants grow and shade the hose.

Soaker hose - on soil under canopy
Soaker hose – on soil under canopy

Problems with Vigoro Soaker Hose and Home Depot!

In January I bought a soaker hose at Home Depot. It is from Vigoro (made in Taiwan) and looks like it might be recycled rubber. The hose is “flattened” with holes on one side, the idea being if the holes point up, the water sprays upward and outward to water lawns and if pointed down, will soak the soil. I pointed it downward and started my spring crop – tomatoes, spinach, lettuce and arugula. About 5 or 6 weeks later I noticed the hose was failing – specifically some “fatigue” caused cracking in the hose and water was gushing out of the cracks in the hose (see photo).

Vigoro soak hose fails when used
Vigoro soak hose fails when used

This caused much overwatering where the leak occurred and underwatering in other parts of the bed. Okay, nothing is perfect, so I decided to bring the soaker back to Home Depot. The hose had a 7 year warranty and it was maybe two months since purchase, and it was being used in a vanilla, residential setting.

At Home Depot I was informed that if the purchase was over 90 days old, I would have to resolve the issue with the manufacturer. This in spite of the fact that the hose’s packaging clearly states “to obtain warranty service, please bring your proof of purchase to the store”. The clerk at Home Depot said that the receipt from Home Depot at time of purchase changed the terms of this warranty.  That seemed a bit shady to me, that you would buy something with one written warranty and in the fine print on the way out of the store, it could be changed. Since the purchase was within 90 days, I was given another soaker hose, but must make a note to bring my lawyer with me when I go shopping at Home Depot.
But the problems did not end there.  Within six weeks the second Vigoro Soaker hose failed in the same way – cracks forming in the side. The inferences one can draw:

1) the design is flawed,

2) Vigoro does not test their products,

3) they rely on making a profit by folks losing receipts and not putting up with the hassle of replacement.

Vigoro product warranty
Vigoro product warranty

My best guess as to what the problem is: the flat design flexes as daily use and water pressure go thru the hose, and the material fails within 100 cycles. The pressure the hose received was normal residential hose pressure, and the hose is protected from the sun by the shade of the growing plants.

The Vigoro soaker hose was replaced with one from Lowes. The material claims to be recycled rubber, but the hose is round (not flattened) so that will test the “flexing” hypothesis. Also it was manufactured in New Jersey. Its warranty clearly states one needs to mail the receipt, bar code and 2 couplings and 12 inches of hose to Ohio – which is in itself pretty much of a disincentive for the consumer to make a claim. If there are no updates to this page by July 2009, consider the Swan’s/Lowes product as still working.

Swan soaker hose from Lowes
Swan soaker hose from Lowes

If that also fails, the next iteration will be to fashion my own soaker hose out of some flexible black irrigation pipe we have left over from another project. That pipe, some small drilled holes, and some couplings should be workable, though somewhat more work to get set up.

The value of good soil — black eyed peas
The planter has native Arizona soil, fluffed by shoveling, and improved with a thousand pounds of vegetables. We also have a small kitchen garden outside the back door; this garden has been improved a little with peat.

Kitchen Garden Struggling Plants
Planter Garden Vigorous Plant

In the kitchen garden we planted black-eyed peas. They have struggled all summer long, producing a little. The kitchen garden photo is on top. A couple weeks later, black-eyed peas were planted in the planter. Their photo is on the bottom. They are thriving and very prolific. Both get regular water. Every other week I throw a little fertilizer on the kitchen garden. The soil seems to make a difference.