My wife and I grow 30 or so types of vegetables, organically, on our three acres of ground in rural southeastern Ohio for our 50 member CSA.
Our operation is and has been totally organic, employing crop rotations, green manuring, mulching, chisel plowing and so forth. We’ve been farming this way since 1993.
PROEJCT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The goal of this project was to demonstrate the feasibility of unconventional approach to irrigation of vegetable crops.
I surveyed the farm for water resources. We had two wells drilled in the past that failed to produce adequate water. In 1997, during the drought, I located small amounts of water in a low lying area. I researched the French Drain technique of gathering water and made a plan to develop the “spring” I had found, using that technique. I hired a back hoe operator to dig a four foot deep trench across the slope of the ground where I had found water. The trench was v-shaped with the point of the v on the down hill side. From the point of the v, I continued the trench down hill another 100 feet. At the end of that 100 foot trench, I buried a 1300 gallon concrete cistern. I then installed a perforated 1 ¼” black poly water line in the bottom of the trench, which “feed” into a non-perforated 1 ½” line at the point of the v. the non-perforated line ran down the 100 foot trench to prevent water from following outside the line. I then filled the entire trench with river gravel to within a foot of grade, then I laid 6 mil sheet plastic on top of the gravel and back filled with soil.
I buried an 1800 gallon cistern uphill from the crop fields, and then curried a black poly water line from it to the 1300 gallon cistern below.
I installed a 12 volt Shurflo water pump in the lower cistern and connected it to a single 53 watt solar panel mounted on a post nearby, using 8 ga wire. I buried a water line from the upper cistern down into the crop fields, installed several valves at key locations, and finally installed a drip irrigation system in the crop fields.
The results were good. The French drain system began filling the lower cistern right away, at a rate of 30 gph. That slowed down to 15 gph during the drought of the summer of 1999, but picked up again in the fall. The drip irrigation turned out to be tremendously effective especially during the drought.
The single 53 watt panel proved to be inadequate for our water needs; the Shurflo pumped a maximum of 60 gph using that power source. Adding another panel would double that amount.
I learned that good, adequate water can be obtained in the rural regions of southeastern Ohio, despite rumors to the contrary. Being open to unconventional or alternative approaches to solving a problem is important, especially for farmers. We no longer tremble in fear when we hear the word “drought”. The main disadvantage of this system would be the initial cost. Solar equipment is still very expensive. The 53 watt solar panels cost $350 each and a good 12 volt submersible pump costs around $700. that $1400 right off the bat. Drip irrigation supplies, on the other hand, are not too expensive. However, there were numerous expenses that popped up all along the way, which I did not anticipate. I ended up spending a lot more money on valves and other plumbing supplies than I had originally anticipated. In the end, the total cost of the project was $4163.50, just about twice what I had figured. In other words, I ended up putting around $2000 of my own into it. Still, I would say it is definitely worth every penny. Where before there was no water, we now have plenty! I would enthusiastically recommend this system to anyone, in spite of the moderately high initial cost.
We had several farm tours during the 1999 season, which we advertised in our CSA newsletter and by word of mouth to area farmers. The project was mentioned in the OEFFA newsletter and in the Green News of Columbus, OH. Turnout was fairly low at each of the above mentioned gatherings, though knowledge of this project was widespread in our local community of farmers and interested others. There are a large number of vegetable farmers in our area and an active OEFFA chapter, and awareness of our project is high. Several farmers in our neighborhood have expressed interest in the project and will likely call on us for more information.