We need water. When we moved on to the farm in August of 2002, the eastern seaboard was in the midst of a drought. One similar to the one we are under now and our crops are showing wear. It makes sense that we are in a drought, because I just added (this spring) the capacity to collect six thousand more gallons of rainwater. This brings our ability to collect a total of twelve thousand gallons.
This year we connected the tanks earlier than normal to collect water. I had the tanks hooked up by March ready for the first rain or snowmelt. In previous years, the tanks would be over flowing by July, which is why we bought more tanks. There have been years past when we had to dump thousands of gallons of collected rainwater at the end of the season to winterize the tanks.
We are also using drip tape with the openings spaced every twelve inches, which is how far we spaced our plants. Give or take an additional twelve inches. We have been able to conserve water use and precisely apply water to the vegetables. Yet, we still need water. We never did get a full twelve thousand gallons. As of the last precipitation, the total collected for this spring was six thousand gallons. Since then we have been watering weekly in an attempt to conserve water.
We need the corn to get deep taproots so we have to water them slowly and for long periods. Corn is a heavy feeder on the soil and the water table; the deeper their roots go the better the corn. Our backup plan has always been to pump water out of the stream that runs through our property. This increases our carbon footprint but is something that will need consideration if we do not get rain soon. With drip irrigation at least we can almost micro-manage water distribution.
Nothing on a farm is easy and that includes irrigation systems. Ours’ uses drip tape, which is a vast improvement over soaker hoses or overhead watering. Not only does it conserve water, you lose less water to evaporation and those plants that need pollination stand a better chance of getting pollen when it is dry and a breeze comes along.
It is not easy running drip tape thousands of feet and having three different zones to keep track of, but collected rainwater is a precious commodity and we treat it as such.
No surprise, watering has great affects on the look of the fruit and vegetable. Just like humans, plants can go for a time without food, but without water, they expire. With tomatoes if you water inconsistently it will develop cat facing and blossom end rot. Too much water and you can split the tomato. Therefore, being steady and consistent with all tomatoes gets them into a pattern they can live with. Trimming them has also been a way for us to increase yields and help the plant through drier then normal times. Less leaves means water intake can be reserved for the important parts, the tomato.
Our theory is to get rid of most of the leaf structure that does not support fruit bearing branches. This way the plant has more nutrients available to send to the fruits instead of feeding unnecessary branches and leaves. There is a point of no return so trimming needs the utmost care and discretion. I guess we could have spent thousands getting a well put in but it seemed like a better idea to capture free water falling from the sky. I have not regretted the decision but we do need rain.
We ran totally out of water and ordered four thousand gallons of water Friday. I told the farmer who went in on buying this year’s tanks and he thanked me profusely. “Why?” I asked, “Because we will get rain now.” “Oh wise one,” I said, “That is why I only purchased four thousand so I would have space to collect the rain that I was bringing”. Moreover, yes he was right, Saturday morning it rained and we got four tenths of an inch. Not much, but when you need rain you will take what ever you can get.
Buy Local: Support your local farmer, your community and your health.