This year had been about as good as a vegetable farm can hope for, in regard to the amount of precipitation we have had.  We have had very little rain for the past month, but nothing compared to last season’s drought conditions.

When our crops need more water than they are getting from rainfall, we use irrigation.  The majority of our water is pumped from wells; in a few of our fields we pump water from the stream.  Without irrigation we would not be able to consistently grow vegetables.  In seasons like we are currently in, irrigation is necessary to have a consistent, high quality harvest every week, but we would still have produce without it.   However, in years like 2012 our yields would have been almost nothing without our irrigation systems.

We use five types of irrigation:

  • The majority of our crops are irrigated using traveling guns (they shoot water not bullets).  We have five different traveling guns and it is not uncommon for three or four to be in use at once.  Our smallest is able to water half an acre in one run, while our largest can water over 6 acres in one run.  This type of irrigation is mobile and gets moved to the area that needs to be watered. The cart is put in place and the gun, which is a very large sprinkler, is pulled out.  The gun retracts using the water that is traveling through it.
The traveling gun irrigating cabbage on Tuesday

The traveling gun irrigating cabbage.

Tractor pulling out traveling gun to irrigate beets.

Tractor pulling out traveling gun hose to irrigate beets.

The hose of the traveling gun will mechanically be wound around the spool.  This is how the gun is pulled down the field, irrigating as it goes.

The hose of the traveling gun will mechanically be wound around the cart. This is how the gun is pulled down the field, irrigating as it goes.

  • We have a center pivot in one of our fields.  By center pivot standards ours is a small one, but it is able to irrigate 12 acres at once, large ones will irrigate over 200 acres.  Center pivot is the easiest type of irrigation since it never needs to be set up or moved and also does the best job of watering.  Its downside is that it needs a large, properly shaped field and is the most expensive for initial cost.  It is has a computerized control panel that can be programmed to irrigate according to our needs.
Center Pivot irrigating potatoes.

Center Pivot irrigating potatoes.

  • Last year we added a traveling boom to our arsenal of irrigation implements.  This is the same as the traveling gun, but with misters on a boom instead of one large sprinkler.  This gives a gentler spray, which is good for germinating seeds and gives an even soft irrigation like the center pivot.
Traveling boom irrigating lettuces in May.  The boom is pulled over the rows of vegetables while gently misting the produce.

Traveling boom irrigating lettuces in April. The boom is pulled over the rows of vegetables while gently misting the produce.

  • We use drip irrigation for all of our crops in raised beds, these include tomatoes, eggplant, melons and peppers.  We use drip irrigation in conjunction with plastic mulch.  We lay plastic tape which has small holes spaced every 8 inches, under the plastic mulch.  Water is pumped through the plastic tape and slowly soaks the ground.  This form of irrigation is very efficient since there is no loss to evaporation.
melons

Rows of melons grown in plastic mulch. Drip tape is laid under the plastic mulch to irrigate the melon plants.

drip tape

Drip tape connected to the hose at the end of a row of melons

  • We also use solid set pipe, we mainly us this form of irrigation to frost irrigate the strawberries and to germinate certain crops, like carrots.
Setting up frost irrigation in the strawberries in May.  The plants are sprayed with water at coldest part the night to prevent strawberry flowers from thawing too quickly.

Setting up frost irrigation in the strawberries in May. The plants are sprayed with water at the coldest part the night to prevent strawberry flowers from thawing too quickly.

Jesse and Jonnah