The Crop Report: Week 14 | Water Works
- Apr 08, 2021
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Ironically, I chose to write about water this week as I have a well company here scoping out our setup while I type this out. All is fine, I'm just upgrading our pressure because we use a LOT of water systems on the farm to take care of our crops. There are very few things plants need to grow and survive. Water is top of the list. I also think this is the biggest issue in crop failure when growing flowers. Too much or too little can ruin a plant pretty quickly, and knowing how to read the moisture level is important in identifying the sweet spot.
At the farm, we use a few different methods to water our crops, and each for specific reasons. When we water our trays to germinate, we hand water with a fine mist setting. This is to make the water droplets as small and gentle as possible. We have to be careful with tiny fragile seedlings because water can easily wash them away!
For new plantings in the ground and freshly planted crates of bulbs, we hand water using the shower setting. This is a stronger stream that gives a larger volume of water in a focused spot compared to the gentle mist we use on new trays. We count out a few seconds per plant when hand watering so that we can establish soaking patterns that mimic mother nature's rainy days. This type of slow watering creates stronger root systems for the crops and helps in the natural chain of growth that makes sturdy flowers.
We use TONS of garden hoses. Like an obscene amount. With a team of hardworking girls and acres to cover, the Zero G hoses have quickly become our favorite. They are so lightweight that we can carry a 100ft hose from one stretch of the farm to the other without help or getting out of breath (or cursing the fact that we still don’t have a golf cart.) The one tip I will offer is to be neat with your hoses. Yes, it's easy to scoop up and carry as a knotted mess, but it’s hell to untangle. Always keep these hoses neatly wound and they are a breeze to work with.
Once our in-ground plantings have been hand-watered for a week or so, we switch to a more general approach. In some of our larger fields, we supplement natural watering (reads: rain) with impact sprinklers. This allows us to provide quick, large-scale coverage for watering, though it tends to be a bit wasteful if run frequently. We try not to use sprinklers on crops in bloom as overhead watering at that point can lead to water-damaged flowers. Yuck.
Pretty much EVERYTHING on the farm is set up with drip tape irrigation. This is my preferred method of watering although it's still not perfect. We have every high tunnel and field on its own drip irrigation system. The drip tape system consists of a mainline at the top of the property that brings the water from the hydrant and feeds individual lines for each bed. Our beds are three feet wide, so we use two lines of drip tape per bed. This drip tape has small splices evenly spaced down the length that allow water to seep out and slowly water a field.
This system operates off of a pressure regulator and filter at the top of the mainline and manual shut-off valves at each bed line. Each zone builds up water that is filtered through a tight mesh with enough pressure to fill the lines and bleed out water. There are always leaks with this system. It's not perfect, but it's SO much better than sprinklers when comparing water waste.
We do things a little different with our irrigation system than most farmers because we run our water lines on top of our fabric not under. We always have lines that need to be repaired due to mishaps with sharp tools and small critters looking for a drink. The aggravation of trying to blindly make repairs underneath fabric where plants are growing in was enough to make me throw in the trowel (pun intended).
Since the landscape fabric is a woven material, we find that the water runs into planting holes and doesn’t affect the saturation. This method wouldn’t work with field plastic, but since we ditched that stuff a while back, this is just an added benefit and one less headache to deal with.
I also really like tidy rows, and if left to its own devices, the lightweight drip line would end up looking like Mary’s hair when I braid it. A mess. To keep the lines in place, we use our sod staples that tack our fabric to secure the lines. We tack down a few places on each line, careful not to hammer the staples flush and pinch our lines and block the water.
A few times a season, we use a chisel to check for pinched lines. While we’re at it, we pry the staples up a few centimeters to loosen them and pull lines taunt at the end of the rows. It's not a hard job and also helps us identify any issues or lines that we should replace.
If all of that wasn’t enough, our water obsession continues. We have barrels that catch water runoff from our studio gutter. We use this system to water our trial garden where we test new crops. It’s on my (very long) to-do list to set up the same system for the bank barn. One day.
Water conservation is really important in farming (also in this family as my husband formerly worked for our local preservation department), so we try to be creative and watch our water usage closely. The farm is located on a natural spring that is a major feeder to a local waterway, so we need to treat the natural water system with respect.
The point is, how and when you water your plants and how you take care of your water sources are critical for sturdy flowers and land longevity. I have a feeling this year’s crops are going to be super hydrated and happy. Which reminds me, don’t forget to drink your water. Eight glasses a day, people!