Growing Water

The Reuters news service is running a story about a California almond farmer who spent $7 million to grow a very different crop: water.

With the San Joaquin Valley into its third year of drought, this farmer spent money to essentially turn his land into a giant rain barrel, holding water that he can use to irrigate his orchard and that of other nearby farmers. But Reuters says that if the area has three more years of drought, even this farmer’s strategy will not be enough. The drought emergency already declared in the state is likely to cost it thousands of farm jobs and billions of dollars in lost farm product sales.

At Upper Meadows Farm, we rarely face the same dire water situation as California, which some attribute to climate change. Even so, I manage my water use with the same intensity with which I manage the rest of the farm. I consider a living soil the foundation of my farms’ health. Here we have hydric soils that remain submerged at times, sandy soils that drain quickly, clay soils that retain water to some extent and stoney, gravelly soils that are somewhere in between. All of which are complex communities of life from microscopic in size to trees and cows. Water is vital to all and certainly the most dynamic input for growing plants and animals. Nothing does well with too much or too little water. Balance is critical to ensuring the best possible production.

I use drip irrigation in the fields that we irrigate. This is accomplished by laying out a specially formed plastic tape that allows water to drip out along the length of the line. This puts the water we use right at the soil location the plants are growing in and is as much as 90% efficient. I manage the irrigating that I do to maintain an optimum soil moisture for the plants we grow. One inch of water over one acre is slightly more than 27,000 gallons. By using drip irrigation we save tens of thousands of gallons during the course of a season.

The water that we use to wash the veggies is captured in cisterns I installed and reused on the fields as irrigation water even furthering the efficiency of our water use. The surface water is also of great concern and so our livestock are managed to protect the quality of our brooks. The White Brook that runs through our farm (more than 1/2 mile) flows into the Delaware. It has always tested at the highest quality of surface water identified in NJ.

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5 Responses

  1. […] This low tech pursuit can be both therapeutic and fun. All you really need is a shovel to turn the soil, a garden rake to smooth it out and your seeds. I know that this doesn’t sound exciting if you are into GEAR  but you don’t need all the bells and whistles to garden successfully.  It is best to start with a small area, even mixed in along your foundation with your ornamental plants or a small spot with good sun. It is best to start with easier things to grow so I would suggest summer squash and peas, radishes and maybe some greens like kale or bok choi. OF course, don’t be afraid of trying to grow your favorite veggie. You will be motivated to do a little more if the reward is likely to be a favorite. There are some wonderful resources for starting home gardens at your library and on line. Of course if you would like we can add a home garden forum for folks to share ideas and tips. Here is where we buy seeds to help you get started; Fedco, High Mowing Seeds, Seeds of Change, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Johnny’s Selected Seed. I must say that seed catalogs make me want to buy more and plant more but a garden is truly where less is more. Make sure to leave twice as much room as you think you need between those nice little seeds and cute plant sets that you put in or you will end up needing to tear something out for any of them to do well. Water is a critical part of gardening and many of the home gardening catalogs also have drip irrigation systems that are a smaller version of the one we use here on the farm. […]

  2. […] by Dust Bowl refugees, which gives it an interesting perspective on California’s current water crisis. Lundberg’s own Web site has lots of recipes for their rice, by the […]

  3. After reading this article, I feel that I really need more info. Could you share some more resources please?

  4. H2O Conserve is a non-profit devoted to water scarcity issues. It has a highly informative Web site, http://www.h2oconserve.org .

  5. […] all the digging and piping? Water. Leonard has noted before that, unlike farms in California, Upper Meadows Farm is usually well supplied with rain. But there […]

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