Drip Irrigation is a great way to get kids outside and interested in gardening! Although setting up an irrigation system is best left to the adults, there are many pieces to a drip system that kids can be involved in! 

The three activities we included in this article are; how to check the flow rate of the water source, how to check/determine your soil type, and how to make a diagram for your system. All of these activities will require an adult to assist. 

How to check the flow rate of your water source:

First and foremost, we know one of the most important aspects of any irrigation system is the water source. Whether you have a rain barrel, IBC water tote, standard hose bibb, or are even converting a sprinkler head to a drip system, it is important to check the flow rate of your water source. That way, you know what you’re working with! 

Why is this important? Well, if your water source provides 200 GPH (gallons per hour), and your irrigation system uses 300 GPH, unfortunately, you will over-tax your water source, which can result in uneven watering. Staying within the capacity of your water source is important, as this will ensure there’s even and adequate water distribution across the entire system. 

How to check the flow rate of your water source (will need adult assistance)

You will need:

  • A bucket you know the size / volume of (typically 1 gallon is recommended)

  • A stopwatch 

  • A notebook and writing utensil (optional)

  1. Head out to your water source with your bucket, stopwatch, and writing materials

  1. Turn the water to fully "on" before placing the bucket under the water and starting the stopwatch. (Try to do this at the same time).

  1. Time how long it takes to fill the bucket

  1. Write down the total number of seconds or minutes and the size of the bucket

  1. Use the flow rate calculator by filling in the blanks with your findings! https://www.dripdepot.com/irrigation-calculators/flow-rate-calculator

For a challenge, try to calculate the flow rate without the calculator! You can do this by taking the number of seconds or minutes and converting it to hours, then multiply the volume of water by the same value. See the three examples below, easiest to hardest:

Example One - 1 gallon of water in 60 seconds

First: Convert seconds to minutes. 60 seconds = 1 minute. This means the water source provides 1 gallon of water in 1 minute.

Second: Convert minutes to hours. 1 minute x 60 = 1 hour. 

Third: Multiply 1 gallon of water x 60 minutes = 60 gallons of water in 1 hour (60 GPH)

Example Two  - 5 gallons of water in 30 seconds

First: Convert seconds to minutes. (30 seconds = .5 minutes) This means the water source provides 5 gallons of water per .5 minutes, or 10 gallons of water per 1 minute.

How to determine gallons per minute? We know there are 60 seconds in one minute, so; 30 seconds x 2 = 60 seconds / 1 minute. Since we multiplied the number of seconds by 2, we also need to multiply the number of gallons by 2, so 5 gallons x 2 = 10 gallons. 

Second: Convert minutes to hours. 1 minute x 60 = 1 hour. (10 gallons per 1 minute)

Third: Multiply 10 gallons x 60 minutes = 600 gallons of water in 1 hour (600 GPH)

Example Three - 2 gallons of water in 45 seconds

First: Convert seconds to minutes (45 seconds = .75 minutes). This means the water source provides 2 gallons of water per .75 minutes. 

How to determine the gallons per minute? We know there are 60 seconds in one minute. 

Use the smallest number divisible by 45 and 60. 45 seconds x 4 = 180 seconds. (180 seconds/ 60 seconds = 3 minutes.)

Since we multiplied the time by 4, we must multiply the flow rate by 4, so 2 gallons x 4 = 8 gallons. So now we know the water source provides 8 gallons of water in 3 minutes. 

Second: Convert minutes to hours. 3 minutes x 20 = 60 minutes, 1 hour

Third: Multiply 8 gallons of water x 20 = 160 gallons of water in 1 hour (160 GPH)

How to check/determine your soil type:

Once you’ve checked the flow rate of your water source, you can move onto checking the soil type you have in your garden. There are two different methods to determining your soil type; a simple method and a more advanced method. 

The simple method:

  1. Start by grabbing a handful of dry soil from the area (or areas) you plan to water. 

  2. Make a tight fist while holding the soil, then gently open your fist. 

  3. Assess the outcomes: 

Sandy soil will crumble in your hand without hesitation. 

Loamy soil will hold together, but slowly fall apart

Clay soil will hold its shape

If you already have your system installed and in place, you can still check the soil type and the wetting pattern of your soil. To do this, allow the system to run for approximately 30 minutes, then wait another 30 minutes to let the capillary action happen, then go out and dig into the soil below a dripper to see how far the water traveled, both horizontally and vertically. This will allow you to see exactly how the water moves through the soil, and make any adjustments if necessary.

The advanced/ scientific method:

You will need:

  • A Shovel or spade/ digging tool

  • A mason jar or similar container & lid

  • Non-foaming dishwasher detergent (1 tsp)

  1. To get a good sample of your soil, dig down at least 7-8 inches into your soil. (A shovel or spade helps to make this task easier).

  2. Take a scoop/slice of soil. It is important to try to get all of the soil layers

  3. Place soil in a shallow box or container and allow to dry. 

  4. Once dry, remove any debris, such as rocks, sticks, roots, and other foreign matter.

  5. Pulverize the clumps and clods so the soil is very smooth and fine. 

  6. Fill the mason jar or container about one-quarter to one-third full of soil.

  7. Add water until the jar is about three-quarters full

  8. Add about a teaspoon of non-foaming dishwasher detergent.

  9. Put a tight-fitting lid on the jar and shake hard for 10 to 15 minutes. (This separates all the particles.)

  10. Set the jar where it will not be disturbed. The soil particles will start to separate and form layers. 

  11. After a couple of minutes mark the level of the sand particles (these settle first). 

  12. After a couple of hours mark the level of silt particles (this will be the second level). 

  13. When water seems to clear (maybe one or more days) mark the level of the clay particles (the top level).

Measure the thickness of the sand, silt, and clay layers and the total thickness of the soil level.Thickness of sand deposit     _____ %

Thickness of silt deposit        _____ %

Thickness of clay deposit      _____ %

Thickness of total deposit      _____ % 

How to create a diagram of your system: 

After you have determined the flow rate of your water source and the soil type in your garden, the next step in designing a drip system, will be to make a system diagram. A diagram is a great way to help account for all the materials you will need, and ensures even the smallest of details aren’t overlooked. 

You will need: 

  • Writing materials; notepad (graphing paper works best) and pen or pencil. 

  • Ruler

  • Measuring tape (optional)

1: Together you can locate the water source.

  • How far away (in feet) is it from the furthest point in the system? A measurement may need to be taken. 

2: Determine the path the mainline will take to get to the different areas you want to water. (You might try walking the path of the mainline together). Have your little helper draw the path as you walk it!

3: As you determine the path of the mainline, you’ll want to take into account where you turn or change direction. Every time you turn, have your helper draw on their diagram where 90-degree turns (elbows) will be included and anywhere you need to run tubing in two different directions (tees). 

4: Draw in all of the places the mainline tubing ends. Each end will need an endcap. 

5: Count up how many plants you plan to water (try to be as accurate as possible). Make sure to mark any plants that are especially water-hungry. (This may be taken into consideration later).

6: In places where the mainline tubing is close to the plants, a dripper can be inserted right into the sidewall of the tubing using a hole punch. (No extra pieces needed here!) 

7: In places where the tubing is too far away to reach the plant, ¼” micro tubing and ¼” fittings can be used to bring a dripper to the plant. Have your helper draw in all of the micro tubing and fittings needed.

8: Using the diagram, add up the total number of fittings, drippers/watering devices, and end caps needed. Add up the total number of feet in mainline tubing and micro tubing needed. You should now have a list of materials needed to set up the system!