Notes from Windward: #68


Irrigating the Fruit Trees

Jen uses a simple technique to help the new trees


     Over the past few years, we've been focusing on getting our silvaculture program going forward since part of our goal is to use trees as a no-till way to produce food, fuel and fiber. Each year we've planted a few fruit trees, but this year we've put in more than a dozen new trees--chestnuts, English walnuts, plums and cherries. Two of our new chestnut trees are more than six feet tall and came as gifts, but others are the result of work done last fall by Lindsay who gathered chestnuts to overwinter and germinate this spring. As a result of the success of her work, we're looking forward to gathering black walnuts this fall for planting next spring.

     Back when we started developing Windward, we lost most of the bare root trees we planted, but over time we learned better ways such as giving them a few months in a five gallon bucket in Vermadise to regain their strength before moving them to their final location. So far, the main challenge has been to find ways to enable the newly planted trees to survive our summer dry season. This summer Jen took on the role of Water Master and has conscientously worked with the young trees to ensure that they had the regular and sufficient supply of water they needed to get established. Her work has made a huge difference, and our young trees are thriving better than ever before.


     The thirst for water is hard to quench as the summer becomes progressively hotter and drier during the middle hours of the day. However, our community (plants and livestock included) are very dependent upon this resource with its temporal and geographic limitations. In striving to use our water most efficiently, we devised a management technique for some of our especially water-intensive residents: the fruit trees.


     It used to be that I would drag the running hose to the cherry tree at the top of the hill, skim through a book or finish a chore for five or ten minutes, return to the hose and drag it to the next tree. This method was problematic because the trees received inconsistent and unknown amounts of water from one day to the next, which made it difficult to manage our water resources. In addition, the water inundated the hole quickly, causing it to puddle and sometimes runoff around the burm. Clearly, we needed a new plan.

     Our recently improved irrigation system relies on a rather primitive technology, that is, buckets. I drilled 1/8 inch holes in the bottoms of 5 gallon buckets and placed one at approximately the drip line of each of the 14 fruit trees. Now when I water, I just fill each bucket to the brim and let the water drain slowly through the small hole in the bottom.


     The original watering system was unreliable in the sense that the trees were receiving an unknown amount of water from a running hose. The new system, however, is more practical because we know exactly how much of our resource to reserve for the trees. Therefore, we can better manage our water usage elsewhere and, provided that the water table doesnít drop too low, be confident that the trees will still have an adequate supply. What Iíve learned is that good information is necessary for good management practices.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 68