Sunday, July 28, 2013

Drip Irritation

In looking back at the blog, I noticed that the last day we had appreciable rain was on July 9th, almost 20 days ago. Our fields have gone from swampy and muddy; to wet, but workable; to a little dry; to dusty and parched. Along the way we have had some very hot weather and we have watched our plants slowly develop water stress. They send us little messages asking for water.

We walk the fields and we notice that the onions are starting to size up. They are healthy plants, with onions about the size of a racquet ball. I know that if they get a timely soaking rain, they have the potential to get to softball size, or at least a chunky baseball. So the first sprinkler we set up was on the onions. They asked first.

The potatoes protested. They said "We need water too. Give us water right now, or you will get only small potatoes!" So the next in line were the potatoes. It took a while, because the potatoes had the audacity to be very far from the faucet, so we had to gather every working garden hose together. But then we gave the potatoes their due. And there was much rejoicing.

In the garden, when we thinned the beets, we noticed hard dry dusty earth. Yikes. We cannot make beets without water! Nor carrots! Nor cabbage! Nor green beans! And certainly let us not forget about the lettuce. Cried the vegetables. So along came the sprinklers. Everything breathed a collective sigh of relief as the first sprinkler started its rhythmic song "tsch...tsch...tsch...tsch...tsch...tsch..." It is a beautiful sound. Like sweet music.

But the lonely tomatoes had been asking nicely for a long time, to no avail. We had watched as they grew prolifically during that hot spell. In one week, they doubled in size. The next, they did it again! And then last week on Monday they sent us mental pictures asking for water and more. One night I could not sleep because the tomatoes were asking, asking, asking. First they asked nicely for some copper sulfate to protect them from the late blight that could come any day in August. Then they asked for a second helping of turkey compost fertilizer. They pointed out that they are loaded full of green tomatoes and if we wanted big tomatoes we needed to give give give them fertilizer (organic please!). Then they suggested that once the fertilizer was down, we should water it in. Finally they pleaded for a little straw mulch.

I heard all of this last Monday and I promised them that on Friday we would give them all they asked for and more. NOT SOON ENOUGH! They virtually screamed. But I could not offer them an earlier date. With all they wanted, Friday was our first full day to give. So on Friday morning we started by lifting the branches and tying them up with twine (something they did not even ask for, but they will thank us later, when the improved air circulation keeps them dry enough to resist the blight). Then Maddie sprinkled organic fertilizer (THANK YOU!) and hoed it in. Katie and I started pulling stray weeds and adding straw mulch. Audible pleasure streaming from tomato plants. But then we ran out of straw. Dah Dah Dah. I said to the tomatoes that I would do my best to scrounge some more straw next week. Then Maddie, put on the backpack sprayer and sprayed the blue copper. Finally, Maddie and I started to set up the drip irrigation.

Drip irrigation was invented by the Israelis (I think), and they have used it to green the desert, using as little water as necessary. Water is forced through a plastic hose that is perforated at regular intervals. The hose is folded such that the holes are protected and you can actually bury the hose and the water will still come out. It is pretty cool. The water goes right to the roots and nothing else gets watered. At the Land School, we don't actually bury our drip tape; instead we just lay it on top of the soil and sidle it up to the plant rows.

In theory we love drip. It conserves water, and we also don't get the flush of weeds that comes with overhead sprinklers. But drip has its own issues. It gets in the way when we want to tractor cultivate. And we dislike throwing away plastic, so we try to use it year after year. Where do we store it during the winter?

On Friday, we got out a pile of spaghetti-style convoluted bundles of old, used drip tape. We hooked up the first piece, next to the the first row of tomatoes, and there were mini geysers everywhere. Yuck. Mice love to eat through the drip tape to get to the leftover water in there (can they SMELL water? Hmm). Soon Maddie and I were splicing the tape wherever the geysers showed themselves, and adding sections of tape until we made it to the end. That was one row. On the end of the second row, we found a partial roll of brand new tape. Huzzah! And the final two rows seemed easier, even with old tape, because we found some long un-holey sections. In all, we spent two and half hours, just on the drip irritation for the tomatoes, I mean irrigation. It was a full day with the tomatoes. Finally! They said.


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