Monday, August 16, 2010

Watering on the Farm

Rain, Rain, Come Back To Us by Chris Kaplan-Walbrecht

This summer has had two parts for us – a drought in June and July, then 2 weeks of normal rains, and now another drought period. Do you have houseplants? You know what happens when you forget to water them. It’s the same for us – except we have 40 acres of plants, probably over a million plants all growing at the same time. If it doesn’t rain for long enough, no matter how many resources we’ve put into seeding them, transplanting them, and caring for them – they will die. And watering is a LOT of work on a farm.

Watering plants at Garden of Eve farm is done in many different ways based on crop type, potential for disease pressure, transplanted or direct seeded. We’d like to get rain once a week, equal to one inch of water on the ground. We hope for gentle rains that also waters cover crops which are things like clover, wheat, buckwheat, peas, vetch, and many others. These crops need water too but we don’t have the time or money to provide the water at the rate they need during dry times. If we don’t get those rains, we have to put down one inch on our crops, using our irrigation.

We use drip irrigation tape under the plant roots that provides water where the plant needs it and mulches cover the wet zone so weeds have difficulty growing through it. This is the perfect year for most of these crops. They like water and heat. Dry leaves on these plants usually mean less disease. Drip irrigation is a great match for these crops and that’s why you are receiving large amounts of tomatoes, peppers and melons this year.

Overhead watering is used at Garden of Eve Farm to get water on cooler weather crops like lettuce, beets, carrots, kale, broccoli, and cabbage. These crops prefer to grow in the cooler spring and fall. We are planting seed and transplants now for fall harvest. Growing and starting them requires first that transplants be started in the greenhouse until they are big enough to plant out. In the greenhouse it’s easier for us to provide water and sometimes shade in a wind, insect and disease free environment.

But once they are planted out in the field, keeping these little guys alive is a big challenge. Especially this year due to the hot and dry conditions. The flea beetle is one of our worst enemies and this year it has been extremely bad. Smaller than a pin head, this bug thrives in these dry conditions and its favorite food is arugula, cabbage, Kale, broccoli and turnips. They hop around and then feed on the leaves poking holes until the leaf is completely eaten. That is why arugula, bok choi, and many others in the “brassica” plant family often have holes in the leaves when they come to you. We aren’t happy about this, but we do our best to prevent it and sometimes even that is not good enough. Some people say, the extra air from the holes in the leaves makes them low-calorie greens!

Keeping the soil and leaves cool and wet helps but there is no organic approved spray that controls or reduces flea beetles’ population. Covering these crops with fabric sheets called “row cover” provides a barrier if placed immediately after planting. Finding time to manage these tasks of planting, watering, covering and then uncovering to weed and cultivate is a challenge during time of tomato harvest. Watering these plants requires an overhead source in our system. This is done with aluminum pipe with sprinklers we lay by hand (they are very heavy!) and then moved (also by hand) to the next location after 2 hours of watering.

Preparing the fields for planting is also challenging without rain or water. Since we use cover crops to loosen soil and build organic matter we first need to mow them down and mix it in the soil so it can decay. If there is no rain, the micro organisms in the soil can’t do their work of breaking down the dead leaves of the cover crops we have tilled under. If the cover crop doesn’t decay, this can delay planting. Even once the field is ready to plant into, we usually try to encourage the weed seeds to germinate before we plant, so we can get rid of them. This requires water too.

Of course, dry conditions are good for a few things. Dryness is good for preventing the fungal diseases that struck down so many crops last year, including the tomato blight. Some weeds grow slower without water… but some don’t! It’s good for farmers market sales on Saturdays. That’s about it though. The bottom line is, we’re growing living things, and they need water!

Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht

Garden of Eve Organic Farm

www.GardenOfEveFarm.com

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