Drip irrigation is the method for home gardeners to use to produce maximum yields of quality vegetables for Mexican dishes with the least amount of water. Water is applied to the soil at the center of the row with great precision and economy. It is possible to reduce water usage in a garden by more than 50 percent with a well designed drip system. How does it work?

A system of plastic pipes with tiny openings called "emitters" delivers the water, drop by drop, into the soil at the base of the plants along the row. The water soaks in immediately when the rate of drip irrigation is adjusted correctly. Because there is neither flooding nor runoff, there is no waste. Home garden drip systems operate at very low pressure in the range of 4 to 10 pounds per square inch. Most gardeners quickly learn how often and how long to operate their drip systems to satisfy the water needs of their plants.

Even when a drip system is on, the middles are dry enough to walk on which permits harvesting and other garden work to go on during irrigation.

Sprinkler and furrow-irrigated gardens are too wet to walk in for a day or two after each irrigation. Drip-irrigated plants are more productive. Water is not sprayed over the leaves as with sprinkler irrigation thus reducing the chance of disease. The soil is not waterlogged as with furrow irrigation so more oxygen is available to the roots at all times. The entire soil surface can be mulched without interfering with irrigation. This stops the loss of soil moisture by evaporation.

At the current rates for city water, savings in water cost alone can pay for a drip system in less than two growing seasons. A 1,000-square-foot garden, irrigated twice weekly for a month in midsummer, requires about 10,000 gallons of water via furrow irrigation. This same garden, drip irrigated, will use less than half the water for a savings of at least 5,000 gallons of water. When considering a full season of gardening, one can begin to see what conserving water by the "drip" system can mean to a budget.

Drip system costs vary widely, but they are reasonable for the home gardener. The useful life is at least 4 to 10 years, depending on the care given the system.