Friday, March 4, 2011

What's New at the Farm? It's March

Welcome to March!

At least that’s what the calendar says, and yes it’s true, the spring season is creeping up on us. It’ll be here in no time, and not a minute too soon either. Being a person who likes to grow things, it’s the best time of year, or at least one of the best times of the year. They’re all pretty good except for the one we’re trying to get done with.

The farm is starting to get busier with each passing day. We started planting yesterday and will start many things this month. We’re getting our trials in order so we’ll know what we’re going to plant where. Materials are arriving daily now to help us grow the best seedlings and the best crops we can. An exciting new tool we have purchased is a moisture meter along with moisture sensors to determine when to irrigate our crops. This will give us a better sense of exactly what the moisture content is in varying depths in our crops. The deep-rooted crops have less of a time with water stress as do the shallower rooted crops. Hopefully this will help us grow better crops.

Proper water management can often determine whether a crop will thrive, survive or die. Knowing the water demands for the crops is a useful tool in determining how and when to irrigate. Here at the farm we use drip irrigation on most growing crops but use overhead on some small seeded, just planted crops like onions and carrots. There are pros and cons to each watering system and I will try to outline just a few here.

Overhead irrigation pros:
• Helps small seeded crops like lettuce, carrots, onions and greens grow up through crusted soil
• Helps shallow rooted crops rehydrate, like lettuce and cabbage on warm windy days right after transplanting
• Can help stave off frost damage
• Best choice for seed broadcast like lawns and cover crops, can help set seed depth when underseeding

• Wastes water; not an efficient use of water at all
• May help spread diseases
• Equipment may be expensive and of high maintenance
• Water in sufficient quality and pressure may be an issue
• Leaks may waste large amounts of water over a short amount of time

Drip irrigation Pros:
• Extremely efficient, waters root zone only, water seeps in and doesn’t evaporate quickly
• Reduced weed growth – areas between rows not watered
• Can be set up on timers for automatic watering
• Inexpensive and easy to set up and maintain
• Fertilizer can be directly injected into water lines

Drip irrigation Cons:
• T tape makes weed control and cultivation more difficult must be held down so it won’t blow away
• Water needs filtering
• High Maintenance – system needs monitoring, tape clogs, pressure fluctuations
• Can’t see drip working so moisture meters are a valuable tool
• May need irrigation design research to develop ideal system

Of course there’s a lot of information out there and everyone has an opinion of what the ideal system is. My stance is quite middle of the road – each system has its advantages and drawbacks. Here at Johnny’s farm we use both systems, on both large and small scales, with successes and failures. I guess the point I’m trying to make is do some research to find out what best works for your own situation.

Next week, I’m on vacation – time to get some things done before the busy spring season starts. I’ll look for a volunteer to write next week’s column.


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