Irrigatia Solar Automatic Watering System (SOL-C24): Product Review
A nice automatic, solar activated drip irrigation system for small to medium sized gardens.
Available on Amazon
In the desert Southwest, rain barrels are essential for saving water in the garden. But when we use our barrels, we have to fill watering pails, haul the pails around and then refill. The exercise is a plus, but the time investment, not so much.
Irrigatia came up with a smart, sustainable solution to combine drip irrigation with rain water. Even better, they’ve matched rain barrel irrigation to the weather so a gardener doesn’t have to worry about overwatering when clouds form or under watering on hot sunny days. The Irrigatia SOL-C24 Weather Responsive Solar Automatic Watering System from Irrigatia Ltd. sells for between $105 and $124. I tested the system in our high desert garden in New Mexico.
SOLAR POWER AND DRIP IRRIGATION
I received the IIrrigatia Solar Automatic Watering System in good condition. Its attractive package included the solar-charged control panel with a pump inside, a water level sensor, filter, tubing and more than 12 drippers and stakes, along with a few tools for installation, such as a syringe to siphon air from the tubing. Irrigatia, located in Selby, North Yorkshire, UK, really included everything needed to use drip irrigation with a rain barrel.
The product is much more efficient than hauling water and helps gardeners use a drip system to deliver rainwater. Drip irrigation is the most efficient and effective way to water plants because less water evaporates than in spray irrigation, water doesn’t hit leaves, and dripping moisture moves through the ground slowly, giving roots time to take up water.
I’ve tried attaching drip to a rain barrel before, and the problem is that barrels don’t have pressure like a faucet. That’s especially true if you have to send water uphill or into containers. Irrigatia solved that problem with a small but strong pump. And with solar power for the pump, there’s no need for electricity.
The solar control also does some of the thinking for you. By nature of how the batteries charge, the pump doesn’t run when it’s cloudy.
The water level sensor detects when water in the barrel is low, or just about pump level. When this happens, the controller emits a series of warning beeps, letting you know you’ll have to take over watering until the next rain.
The booklet that comes with the Irrigatia Solar Automatic Watering System includes some photos and diagrams to assist with installation. Most of the steps were easy to follow, although I would advise watching the video on the company website before starting.
Measurements, such as how low to drop the pump filter, are in centimeters, but a quick Google search led me to the conversion in inches (1 inch equals roughly 2.5 cm). And our friends across the pond call rain barrels “water butts,” so I had to look that one up…
I was determined to install the controller and drip system by myself but had to consult my husband, mostly because of a problem with our controller. Although the installation went fairly smoothly, the system never dripped. We waited for the solar panel to charge the batteries. At one point, we heard a whirring sound and assumed the pump was running, but no water came out. Turning to the instructions, we tried all kinds of troubleshooting, including siphoning air from the input and output tubes.
I finally contacted the company through their website, and I received a response that evening with a solution and instructions. From my message, they assessed that the printed circuit board (PCB) was defective and shipped me a new one, which I received in about a week. That’s not bad for international mail.
The PCB replacement was easy enough, and both the old and new boards were labeled for the five components I had to unplug and reattach. I put the controller back outside and it began to drip by the end of the day.
EASY DRIP ATTACHMENTS
Installing the drip system was easy in terms of work and simplicity. I simply cut the small tubing and added an included “T” to attach a short amount of tube to the dripper and continue the flow through the hose. The stakes are really helpful, holding the drippers slightly above the ground and helping to place them in the best spot. The hose is tiny enough to run up and over a raised bed and then down into the area needing water.
I’m using it to water some edibles in my rock garden, which need regular water, whereas most of the ornamental plants are xeric. So it’s a big help. I placed two drippers on a tomato, and they should keep it sufficiently watered.
The genius is that the system runs often, but uses little water each time, so the soil stays moist but doesn’t alternate between soggy and dry, as it can when watering by hand. It also is more efficient than me placing the pail under the rain barrel nozzle, getting impatient watching it fill, turning to deadhead a plant and then realizing the pail is full and I’m wasting water!
The company touts Irrigatia as a patio irrigation system. I can see that working because the pump can handle some tubing running up and into containers or hanging baskets. The tricky part might be placing the controller so it gets good summer sun and can reach containers without running through traffic areas. The first place I hung mine was too far under the roof overhang of our house to gather enough charge while the sun is higher in summer.
OPTIONAL IRRIGATIA RESERVOIR
If you have no “water butt,” you can hook the Irrigatia Reservoir to a faucet or sink it in a pond (with some sand in the bottom) to water plants. The reservoir has a float that measures water level and then refills from the inlet valve. Its lid has a pre-drilled hole for the input line that can run to the same controller used for rain barrels. This is a great solution for patio plants or small garden beds, especially when homeowners need to be away. You do need to cut your hose end to clamp on. Mine leaked badly while filling because the provided cap that attaches the hose would not screw down more tightly. We have high water pressure from our well faucets, however, and I would recommend turning the faucet on low to fill the reservoir.
FEATURES I LIKE
The Irrigatia system has saved me lots of time I used to spend watering by hand or dragging a hose to hook to the soaker hose that I used in the edible/ornamental bed where I now have Irrigatia drippers. The small drip tubing does not show as much as the soaker and requires no adjusting once set up. I love the solar panel, which is attractive enough and takes advantage of the sun for both power and water management. I also love that the pump can force water uphill into a raised bed or containers.
FEATURES THAT COULD IMPROVE
Obviously, it was disappointing to have a defective PCB. We spent hours trying to figure out what I might have done wrong. But the company’s response and product’s performance once I exchanged the PCB made up for some of that. [Editor’s Note: There have been reports from other customers that they’ve had similar problems with the pump and have had it replaced by the manufacturer. This may be a quality control issue.]
Now that the pump runs, it is a little loud. It’s certainly not intrusive or loud enough to block out conversations, but we placed ours right outside a living area window, so another caution.
Rechargeable batteries typically are not included, so gardeners also must invest in those.
I haven’t stored the pump yet (which is essential during winter frost) but noted in the instructions that there can be problems with air in the lines when it starts back up.
A few spots in the tubing have popped off the T connectors, which could be critter (or gardener!) interference. Still, I would recommend checking the tubing every few days to make sure nothing has popped off, leaving plants past the break in the line dry.
Finally, it’s common in our climate to have rain one day and sun the next. So I found I had to turn the unit off to avoid wasting rainwater or overwatering plants on sunny days following a good rain. Irrigatia sells a moisture level sensor to measure soil moisture and prevent that problem, however. The sensor sells on their site for about $33.
Overall, the Irrigatia SOL-C24 is excellent in idea and execution. It’s replacing a soaker hose I had to attach to our faucet and most of the hand watering in a large bed. In smaller gardens or patios, Irrigatia would be ideal for vacation watering, assuming your rain barrel has enough water or you purchase the reservoir. I love that the controller waters only when sunny and can take care of plants when I’m away and during the hottest part of the day. I’ll assume that my defective PCB was just bad luck; with a properly-working PCB installation is really simple and quick.
The Irrigatia system has a 1-year warranty against manufacturer’s or material defects.
WHERE TO BUY IRRIGATIA
Irrigatia systems are available at The Home Depot, on Amazon and from the company’s website (but considering that this is an England based company and pricing is in pounds sterling vs. dollars, AND that there are shipping charges across the pond, I would recommend buying the products from a USA based outlet).
An extension kit of 12 additional drip heads plus tubing is available from Amazon. Also from Amazon Prime is a reservoir kit.
Now over to you – do you use rainwater for watering? Have you tried a solar irrigation system yet? Let us know in the comments below!
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