Farm Focus: Prepping For Our First Irrigation

 
 Tall grasses on the orchard floor

Tall grasses on the orchard floor

 Micro sprinkler in our young mandarin orchard

Micro sprinkler in our young mandarin orchard

 

The orchard is abuzz -  not just with bees, but with the steady hum of weed whackers.

As you may have read in previous newsletters, we LOVE our cover crops. Instead of bare ground under our trees, you will find a dense covering of grasses and legumes in the orchard understory.  Our understory is beneficial in myriad ways, among them in sequestering carbon, adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil, retaining water, reducing dust mite populations and creating habitat for beneficial insects.  

In the spring the understory is beautiful. Spring rains bring tall green grasses that ripple in the breeze under the trees and between the orchard rows.  When these grasses get too tall, though beautiful, they interfere with our irrigation system.

Our ground team has been working fast and furious to prepare the orchard for our first irrigation of the season so we don’t waste any of the precious water that issues forth when we turn on the pumps. The majority of the farm uses micro sprinklers to irrigate our trees. These micro sprinklers are mounted to a small yellow stake under each tree. Each sprinkler sprays water directly around the root zone of the tree to conserve water.

Since many of the grasses around the trees are up to three feet high, we have to cut them down before irrigating to ensure the root zone is clear to receive the water from the micro sprinklers. The majority of this is done by our ground crew on foot using weed whackers. The crew needs to be extra careful when weed whacking so as not to damage the irrigation system.

During winter months, our crew is busy replacing low yielding trees within established rows. When they plant a new tree, they move the sprinklers out of the way, but they often forget to put them back.  These forgotten sprinklers may then subsequently be damaged by a tractor, a ladder or a weed whacker.

Following our weed whackers, we have a crew of eight guys walking the orchard with a bag of tools and parts to repair lines and emitters.  These guys do about 40 acres a day during this sweep. So our ground team stays fit, walking a few miles a day whacking weeds and repairing lines to prepare for the arrival of water we so gratefully receive from the Sierras by way of our irrigation canal…. but that’s another story.