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Timed Watering

Anne Jaeger

Five o’clock in the morning and a carefully choreographed dance begins like clockwork all over Portland. The movement is instrumental to life itself; you’re doing it, your neighbors are doing it and yet, most of us never give it much thought. Maybe that’s because there’s nothing sexy about automatic sprinkler systems until summers heat scorches unwatered lawns like so many burnt offerings to the sun gods. That’s when we give thanks to the advent of the automatic sprinkler. Where would we be without it?

Yes, we’ve eliminated a daily gardening chore but we haven’t a clue as to how it works. We avoid the sprinkler control box at all costs. The thought of trying to change the timing, days or zones— in other words, controlling the control box is worse than setting the clock on the VCR or programming your phone. So we go on letting the sprinklers come on when they don’t need to, douse parts of the yard that don’t need it or worse yet, water the drive way. NO more. Nada. Zip.

I’ve stopped the madness, finally. Yes, right now as we speak, my garden is being watered from outer space. A brand new automatic sprinkler system, completely high tech is controlled by a weather satellite. That’s right. No watering when it’s raining, no under watering, no over watering. This is a huge step for me because until this summer I’ve hauled the hose from one end of my acre garden to the other every day, watering it from an impulse sprinkler atop a rain tower. A big job to say the least. Now, the Smart Controller® satellite sprinkler controls everything. The satellite system measures rainfall, soil and air temperature, solar radiation, humidity and wind. That information is calculated to determine how much water is evaporating and how fast plants are losing water (transpiration) from their leaves to cool off. People perspire, plants transpire. Anyway, this ET (evaporation/transpiration) is fed to the satellite which in turn programs my control box based on local weather conditions.

The Smart Controller® is a new product distributed to contractors from United Pipe and Supply. Bryan Cassagneres of United programmed the controller once and it’s been good to go ever since. Cassagneres measured four main factors, fed the stats into the controller— which then beamed it to the satellite “I looked at the type of soil you have in different area’s of your yard, the micro-climates, the slope of the land and how much water the sprinkler heads are capable of distributing.”  That’s it. The satellite then tells the controller how long the sprinklers will run and how often. Slick, huh?

The good news for those of you with an existing automatic sprinkler system is that you can replace your antiquated controller with the new satellite system (less than a thousand dollars) and save money on watering. The endeavor wasn’t quite that simple at my home. My front and back lawns were splayed open like the victims of a vivisection as guys from Drakes 7 Dees dug trenches for the underground water pipes. Not only was the weather miserable with snow in December, so was the land. Piles and piles of rocks flew out of the ground (or had to be dug out) as the trenchers’ blade scraped, hit and then stopped dead in its tracks with a squealing whine. Anyway, the guys did a fantastic job and now my plants are enjoying the fruits of their labors and I’m taking a vacation. Finally, watering my garden is out of my hands and finding much better answers from the sky.