John Vars, Owner/Irrigation Supervisor/Father of Naima
As the we transition out of the wettest winter in memory, irrigation becomes as critical as ever on the farm. With so much winter rain, we can be confidant that the perennial creeks which provide our fields with water will run strong all summer long. This is a big swing away from the nail-biting drought years of 2014 and 2015. Nevertheless, a lot of work goes into getting that water on to our fields at the right time and in the optimal quantity to best promote plant health.
I am very excited to announce the completion of a large scale irrigation infrastructure improvement at the Back Forty Flats. The Back Forty, which we started leasing in the early spring of 2016, contains about 35 acres of farmland. We grew dry beans, winter squash, and potatoes there last year. With the exception of the dry beans, we were not super successful over there. No small part of our struggles was due to irrigation woes. A rickety old behemoth of a diesel pump, that we were renting from a neighbor, sputtered dry at a crucial time and I scrambled to replace it. Meanwhile, the crops struggled, I lost sleep, and the creek water passed by our field on the way to the ocean completely unconcerned with our carefully crafted plans.
Frustration mounted, in part, because we had already established an ambitious Conservation Plan with Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). We were approved to receive grant funding to build a system that would use water and energy more efficiently while minimizing our impact on the stream ecosystem. However, it took a full year to jump through the necessary hoops to get an electrical drop next to our pump site.
But now we finally got it done. Each night when other stream water users aren’t active, an electric pump pulls water from the stream through a fish safe intake valve at low flow rate which allows plenty of water to pass by and remain part of the stream’s ecosystem. The water fills a sizable bank of 5,000 gallon storage tanks that are all plumbed together to act as a single reservoir. The stored water is then pumped out into the field during the day at higher flow rates that maximize our irrigation efficiency. Using a specialized electrical control panel, we can adjust the pressure in the system depending on whether we are watering with overhead sprinklers or with drip irrigation and thereby reduce power usage.
A lot of water has flowed under the proverbial bridge since I did almost all the watering on the farm myself. It takes a team now to manage the various fields and irrigation systems. Esteban (pictured) is most definitely that team’s MVP, while I have come to resemble more of an opinionated court side coach. But I am grateful to everyone at Fifth Crow who do all the necessary work of growing our produce from nurturing greenhouse starts to packing the trucks and all the steps in between. With out all their support, I would never have had the time to see this new project through, a project that I hope will in turn support the farm’s continued success, both in production and stewardship of our natural resources.