Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Drought, the Heat, the Irrigation and the RAIN!

By Nina Berryman

People always joke about talking about the weather and how it’s a mundane thing to discuss. Around here, its life and death for our plants! It preoccupies our minds and dominates our conversations as if it were the breaking news of presidential election results. At the end of last season we would say, “After a season like this I hope it’s the driest, hottest season ever next year!” Then we would nervously look at each other and wonder if we were unknowingly cursing ourselves. Well, for a moment there it seemed like our superstitions almost came true!

The combination of hot weather and low rainfall has been an especially tough combination recently. It poses different problems for different crops in various parts of the farm. Across the street from where you pick up your vegetables is a small field where we grow mostly potatoes and leeks. This area has absolutely no irrigation hooked up as it’s quite far from any water source. Because of this we specifically put our hardiest crops over there. Plants were definitely beginning to wilt over there (in fact even the weeds were wilting!), but the rain came in the nick of time.
On the main part of the farm (where the U-pick has been) we have irrigation on all the annual vegetables beds. We have three different methods of watering on this side of the field. First, after we transplant something, we water it in by hand, meaning with a hose or a watering can. This deep soaking ensures the transplants can have all their water needs met as they go through the shock of being transplanted.
The second, and most heavily used type of irrigation is called drip irrigation. This is a network of tubing that starts at a water spicket and connects to each bed. On the vegetable bed we lay a specific type of tubing that is called drip tape and has many tiny holes in it, much like a soaker hose. We regulate the pressure of the water so that is it enough to squeeze through the holes in the drip tape. This type of irrigation conserves water as it goes directly to the soil instead of evaporating in the air. Up until the rain last Friday, our drip irrigation had been on almost constantly for the past few weeks. One downfall of the drip irrigation is that it is sometimes is not far-reaching enough to water some of our more crowded beds, like our carrot beds for instance. In an average year, there is usually enough rainfall that nature keeps these plants alive. However this has not been the case this year!

This brings us to our third type of irrigation- sprinklers. In the past two years we've used them infrequently if at all. In the last week before the rain, we rotated a sprinkler around different parts of the field all day and all night. Sprinklers are less water-efficient than the drip irrigation because much of the water evaporates in the air before it hits the soil. However, because of their oscillating movement they are very effective at watering the entire bed.

In addition to the lack of rain the heat has been an added challenge. Many of our beds are covered in white row cover, called Remay. Remay is a physical barrier for pests such as insects and groundhogs. However the Remay acts just like a blanket, and heats the air underneath it, surrounding the plants. It’s been so hot this year, this extra heating has resulted in having to replant eggplant and cucumbers multiple times, and caused some of our lettuce to bolt and go to seed, making it inedible.

Let’s hope the rain we’ve gotten continues!

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