watering

Wet and Wild

This extraordinarily dry weather of late reminds me of one particular day in July, when we were laying sections of irrigation pipe in our vegetable fields. 

The pipe was about 20 feet long and 2 inches in diameter, but since it was made of aluminum, it was lightweight. And, with a bit of practice, one person could easily move each section and hook it up without any help. 

I remember, one day, when I picked up a section, it seemed just a little heavier than normal. But I attributed the extra weight to a bit of soil that must have somehow gotten wedged into the pipe. But as I walked with the pipe down the rows of cabbage, I could hear a rather strange sound that was reminiscent of fingernails scraping on a blackboard. 

When I looked in the pipe, I could see a couple of beady eyes staring at me and I realized that a gopher (Richardson’s Ground Squirrel to be technically accurate) had made the pipe its home.

Now, I naively assumed that a gopher in a pipe was no big deal. I reasoned that if I stood the pipe vertically and gave it a few good raps, the gopher would come sliding out. Boy, was I wrong. It seemed that the harder I hit the pipe on the ground, the more determined the gopher became to stay put. 

I should have realized that any animal that spends its life tunneling in soils would not find digging its claws into aluminum pipe all that challenging.

So after many futile and frustrating attempts at dislodging the gopher, I decided that the only way to safely get the grippy gopher out was to hook the pipe up to our irrigation pump and let the little rodent enjoy a free "waterslide".

 Sure enough once the pump was fired-up, and the water started flowing, the gopher shot out of the pipe like a kid on a waterpark slide. The gopher looked more like a startled wet rat when it popped out of the pipe and with a rather surprised and indignant look the saturated gopher scurried off to our shelterbelt and disappeared.

I gained a new respect for gophers that day and I think that while the gopher was a little miffed at me, getting out of that hot pipe with a refreshing shower must have felt pretty darned good.

~Jim Hole

A New Way To Water

Best advice on watering: Water in the morning, water thoroughly, water less often.

As you will see when you read this article, nothing drives me crazier than seeing water being wasted. That’s why the development of a new drip-irrigation system gave me such pleasure – at last, an easy-to-use watering method that will help people conserve this precious resource. I hope you’ll consider giving it a try too!

Few things irritate me more than the sight of precious water pouring out of the tap and straight down the drain. A childhood spent in a small, drought prone Saskatchewan town taught me how precious water is. Gardens in particular consume plenty of water, especially during hot spells in July and August. Thankfully, reducing our consumptions is not difficult.

When people think of watering the flower or vegetable garden, they usually picture water wands, hoses, watering cans, sprinklers, or rain barrels. What doesn’t immediately come to mind is drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is a very efficient method of distributing water to plants – one drop at a time. This is not new technology, but it is almost unknown to home gardeners; it is much more common in large-scale operations. In our greenhouse, we use hundreds of metres of drip tubes to irrigate crops like hanging baskets and geraniums. In California, thousands of kilometres of drip-irrigation tubing are used to water strawberry fields.

Drip irrigation saves water because the pipes are laid on the ground in rows close to the plants’ root systems. The water has less opportunity to evaporate, since it is not being sprayed into the air and onto foliage, as is the case with overhead sprinklers. Not splashing water onto the foliage has one major side effect: the incidence of leaf diseases is greatly reduced. I remember ruining one string bean crop by aggressively irrigating it with overhead sprinklers. Almost overnight, all of the leaves were covered with bean blight, a rust-like disease properly referred to as Xanthomonas phaseoli. Sprinklers tend to splash mud laden with soil-borne diseases right onto the stems and leaves of plants. When the leaves are left dry and clean, fewer bacteria and fungi have the opportunity to become established.

With drip irrigation, patience is a virtue. Since the water is applied a drop at a time, irrigation in unspectacular and often seems interminable. But it does work, and well. As the water drips out of the emitters, it seeps into the soil vertically and horizontally. (Sandy soils have the least horizontal movement, while clay soils have the greatest.) Drip irrigation is best suited to plants that have been established for several weeks, rather than seedlings, since the root systems of many seedlings are too small to reach the moisture.

Drip irrigation systems are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. The pipe is surprisingly lightweight. I’ve picked up a 150-m roll of pipe and I’m sure it didn’t weigh any more than 5 kg. To illustrate just how simple this stuff is to use, imagine a vegetable garden with dimensions of 6 m by 6 m with 10 rows of vegetables. The drip is laid down along each row, so that there are 10 6-m lengths of tubing. At one end, all of the individual lengths of tubes are plugged or just folded and clamped. At the other end, they are all connected together. Barbed plastic connectors are simply pushed into the tubing. No tools or clamps are required, and even someone who is severely mechanically challenged (like me) will have no problem hooking the pipe together. Connect the system to your outside tap, and voila, you’re on your way to conserving hundreds of litres of water per year. One tip: before you begin, leave the coiled tube in the sun to heat up for a while to make it soft and pliable. Otherwise, it jumps around like an angry snake when you’re trying to install it. Drip tubing is especially convenient to lay down alongside rows of crops like carrots, onions, or corn, or even in beds of annuals and perennials, providing that it’s installed early, before the plants have become too dense to allow tubing to slide in between. Dependable and relatively inexpensive water timers can be attached between the water faucet and the drip tubing to set the frequency of irrigation: once a day, once a week, twice a day, or whatever you prefer. Duration can be set as well: two minutes, ten minutes, and so forth. If you know what the flow rate is in litres per minute and what the water requirements of the crop are, you can calculate exactly how long you should leave the tubes on to meet the plants’ needs. Removal in the fall is simple. Just pull it up, pull off the connectors, and store.

Of course, there will always be times when conventional watering will be more efficient than installing drip irrigation. If I use a hose to water, I always attach a water wand rather than one of those dreadful gun-like nozzles. Water wands deliver a focussed but gentle spray, and if you’re careful and hold the wand close to the plants, little water is wasted. And of course, sometimes low-tech solutions are still effective. Water collected in rain barrels and distributed with a trusty watering can is still one of the best ways to irrigate your plants while also being a conservationist.

-Lois Hole

 

For more information on drip irrigation systems, please visit us at Hole's Greenhouses

The Most Important Job

watering-edmonton-stalbert-alberta

I’ve always said that in a greenhouse or garden, watering is the most important job. To a plant, water is everything. If you water it too much, too little, or inconsistently, you’ll have real problems. You’d better do it right.

In the beginning, I did most of the watering myself. Later, as the job became too big for me to handle alone, I always made sure that I had confidence in the people helping me.

People have this strange idea that just because a job appears menial, it doesn’t requite any brains. In my experience, though, intelligence can express itself in almost any task. We used to hire teachers during the summer to help thin and weed the crops. I’d explain the basic principles once, and they’d grasp them right away. After a couple of days, you’d swear they’d grown up on a farm.

Watering is much the same. Anybody can point the business end of a hose, but it takes real skill to do the job right. I have employees who can look along a row of flowers, sense the temperature and humidity, and know just how much water the plants need. They can tell at a glance when a plant needs moisture, long before it actually begins to wilt.

I was once at a bedding-plant conference and had signed up for a special luncheon. The keynote speaker was Nancy Austin, who had co-written the motivational bestseller In Search of Excellence. She told us that as greenhouse managers, we should ensure we put our time to its most productive use. “You people shouldn’t be out there watering. That’s the kind of job anybody can do. You’ve got better ways to spend your time.”

At the end of her talk, she asked if there were any questions. I just couldn’t stand it any longer. I put my hand up and said, “I’m afraid I have to make a small criticism. You may be any expert on time management, but I’m afraid you don’t know a lot about greenhouses or plants. You made it sound as if watering were a menial job, one that doesn’t take any skill. That’s just not true. Watering is the most important job in the greenhouse.” Well, the audience practically gave me a standing ovation. They knew it needed to be said.

I’m surprised at how often I have to set people straight on this issue. I remember a friend of mine who called me one afternoon with an extra ticket for a theatre matinee. I said, “Oh crum, I can’t go. I have all this watering to do.” She said , “Why don’t I get Susan to come out and do it for you?” Susan was her twelve-year-old daughter!

If your plants aren’t properly watered, they simply won’t thrive. They’ll grow unevenly, they won’t produce very good blooms or fruit, or they could very well die altogether.

In fact, some plants die before they can break the surface of the soil. People put seeds into dry earth, sprinkle on a little bit of water, and wait. The seeds germinate, dry out, and die. A few times each year, somebody will tell me, “I planted a whole patch of carrots, and not a single one came up.” In almost every case, poor watering is the reason.

For goodness’ sake, plant your seeds early in the season, while the ground is still moist, then hope for rain. If it doesn’t rain, you’re going to have to get out there and water thoroughly, every single day.

In fact, that may mean watering even after a rain. Unless you’re hit with a real soaker, the rain won’t penetrate more than an inch or so beneath the surface. If you just leave it at that, the rain actually causes more harm than good. The roots will grow where the moisture is: near the surface. Without deep roots, your plants will be much more vulnerable to drought later.

Water regularly and water thoroughly. Nothing is more essential to growing a beautiful garden. And if you drop by our greenhouse one of these days, don’t be surprised if I’m bust gardening.

-Lois Hole I’ll Never Marry A Farmer

Beat The Summer Garden Heat!

The weather is heating up outside in Alberta, and taking the risks of sun exposure and heat stress seriously, and protecting yourself from these dangers, is just as important in the garden as at the beach or on a construction site. Here are a few consideration and precautions from the Prudent Gardener that you should take when gardening in hot weather. 

The human body is amazingly adaptable, but it doesn’t happen immediately. Air conditioning allows us to live our lives in comfort, but keeps our bodies’ natural cooling ability “rusty” because it is not often used. If you spend much of your time indoors, be especially mindful of gradually training your body to work in hot weather. Spend a little time each day moving and sweating outdoors so that by the weekend it won’t be such a shock to be hot for a few hours at a stretch.

Avoid Gardening In The Hottest Part Of The Day

The best time to work in the garden is the last two or three hours of daylight. At that time, you can do any chore that needs to get done without having to endure the brutal midday Alberta sun. Early morning is nice too, if you don’t mind being dew-soaked.
 

Stay Hydrated

You can’t sweat/cool yourself if you are low on fluids. It is important to begin the day hydrated by drinking two cups of water before heading into the heat. While working, drink another 1/2 cup every half hour. Your urine should be transparent (and plentiful!).

Cover Your Skin

Wear long sleeves, long pants and a broad-brimmed hat to shade your ears. You can also keep a wet towel on the back of your neck as well to help you stay comfortable. If you just can’t stand the long clothes, be sure to use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen.
 

Take Breaks

Work hard for an hour at a time, but make sure you take at least a ten minute break in the shade (with a cool drink) after each hour of work. This will allow your body to cool and your muscles to recover for a more productive, less injury prone day.

Garden With A Partner

Two gardeners can watch out for each other’s heat safety by drinking and breaking together. They can also watch out for signs of heat stress, and administer first aid if necessary. If you go it alone, make sure someone who will check on you knows you’re out there.
 

Know The Signs Of Heat Stress

Heat exhaustion is a serious warning to cool yourself, and is closely linked to the heat index. When it’s hot and humid, sweat doesn’t evaporate easily, making it difficult for your body to cool itself and so the risk of heat exhaustion increases. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Confusion
  • Dark colored urine
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Pale skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you experience one or a combination of these symptoms, get into a cool place as soon as possible. Loosen any restricting clothes. Drink cool water. Take a cool shower. Symptoms should abate within fifteen minutes or so.

Heat stroke, also known as sunstroke,  is a medical emergency, requiring immediate medical attention. It often occurs as a progression of untreated heat exhaustion. Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness/light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating
  • Red, hot, dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat (either strong or weak)
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Behavioral changes (confusion, disorientation, staggering)
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

For cases of suspected heat stroke, immediately call 9-1-1. While awaiting arrival of paramedics, administer first aid to cool the victim’s body temperature. Cooling tactics include: cool water immersion (or an ice bath); placing ice packs on areas where the blood vessels are close to the skin such as the back of the neck, armpits, groin and back; and fanning the victim while wetting the skin.

You Plant A Tree For Your Grandchildren

About 10 years ago, my neighbour’s spruce toppled in a windstorm and smashed into our fence. The middle section of the fence was obliterated, but at least our house was spared.

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These past couple of weeks I have visited a number of homes that have trees with structural problems. One was an apple that had a large branch snap during a snowstorm. A couple of weeks ago, an acreage owner had a poplar topple during a windstorm resulting in a severely damaged roof. Finally, a young couple with small children, were asking me about what should be could be done about their neighbour’s large poplar tree that was leaning, precariously towards their house.   

As a certified arborist, I’ve seen a lot of trees with a lot of problems. While many people tend to focus on insect and disease problems on the tree’s foliage, the major of a tree’s problems (about 80%) originate in the root zone. Preventing a tree from becoming ‘hazardous’ is not difficult if the proper steps are taken beginning with something as ‘simple’ as transplanting. Incorrect planting depth, poor soil, improper staking, and inadequate or excessive watering are mistakes that are often made during transplanting that have a huge impact on trees years later.

As the saying goes, ‘You plant a tree for your grandchildren’. It’s important that they have the opportunity to enjoy it…safely!

~Jim Hole