Tiny farming: irrigation

When the well runs dry

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[From 2-Jul-2012] End of the line: what it looks like when your well bottoms out and the water stops flowing. Just like a power failure… We’ve  been watching the level in the dug well we’re using, and the refresh rate is pretty dismal. Today, while watering in newly seeded beds, the water finally stopped. After last fall’s failed well drilling, figuring out short and longer term water solution is big here now. The water will come back eventually in this well, but the water table drops as the winter reserves go, and at this point, the well won’t refill high enough or quickly enough to be useful even for seedlings. Water barrels filled from the house well and distributed by watering can is a possible labor-intensive emergency measure. And of course, there is always…rain.

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Watering cans

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[From 14-Jun-2012] Good tool! These watering cans have been all over—seedling room, greenhouse, field—for the last few years, near perfect for hand watering missions. Five bucks, plastic construction means they’re lightweight, two gallon capacity is decent amount of water that’s still easy to handle, even with one in each hand. The spout cap pours a nice, heavy shower for speed and unscrews for cleaning and for filling smaller containers. I cut square holes on top for quick plunge filling from open barrels. Great!

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Working on water

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At work on water: Rochelle changes an shutoff valve—a tap!—to the 1″ header pipe that runs from the well through the field. Not exactly a big pipe by irrigation standards, OK for our low volume use. You could call it a hybrid setup, a mix of commercial and home garden gear, with a healthy amount of manual labor thrown in to make it all go (dragging around hoses to where they’re needed and the like, hand watering from 55-gal barrels when necessary). Full drip irrigation has been on the to-do list for years, all the gear has been here, but I’ve never quite got round to it, which sounds odd, I’m sure, but we’ve done well relying on rain, and working with minimal gear when the rains don’t come. Kinda…satisfying! :)

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Saved by the barrel

Water barrels

No luck with the dug well—at this point, the standing level has dropped around 10 ft. since spring, and the replenish rate is barely a foot in 24 hours—so it’s on to other water sources and delivery methods. As with most things on this tiny farm, the ultimate fallback tends to be something really labor-intensive. (Hahahahaha. I have to laugh.) In this case: WATER BARRELS. In a thankfully typical seek-and-ye-shall-find situation, there is a supplier of used barrels just down the road. Who’d have thought! These are standard 55 gallon, available in steel or plastic, and only about $10 a pop, with optional lids for a couple bucks more. Of course, they’re food-grade, which means, coated on the inside and used only for food, with those weathered white labels telling the story: pickles, perhaps. Strategically located around newly seeded beds, the barrels are filled from the house well (via the former dead well pipe) and then, 2-gallon watering cans do the final job. We still need rain as things grow, but this will work for germination and seedlings. Whatever it takes!

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Rain watch begins

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The season’s weekly rain watch begins. Weeks start on Monday. The big 25 on the rain gauge is the magic 25mm/1″ mark, the rule-of-thumb ideal for a week—an inch of slow and steady rain over a few hours, and of course all the rest, sunshine, that’s just…beautiful. A 1/2″ is an OK minimum for a bit. More than an inch a week ongoing for a while can be troublesome, depending on the crop and stage its—disease, small seed washed out, bigger seed rotting, whatnot, it is all possible :)—and it does occasionally happen. So far this week, 18mm here and 20mm total, so, doing fine!

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Water, water, everywhere…

Irrigation: setting up water pipe in the field

It’s getting dry! A few parts of the field are still wet below the surface, but most of it has gone from pretty well waterlogged a month ago, to dry a couple of inches down, and there’s no rain in sight. The forecast is for heat and sun for the next week at least, with a 60% chance of “showers” on just one day—no holding breath for that. So it’s time to think about spot irrigation.

Step 1, finished this afternoon, is to run a water pipe from the well right through the L-shaped garden. Our watering methods are quite slow and labor-intensive, by hand and with soaker hoses, but on the upside, there’s no huge volume requirement , so the 1″ black plastic pipe already on hand will do fine.  Part of the line was already set up, and I added the last 200′ today, for a total of length of about 800′. Taps with quick release connectors are spaced along the line:  just  plug in a hose as close as possible to where you want to go, drag it out, and there you have it, a little water…everywhere.

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