Category Archives: Plants

FECO Water Conservation Grant – Step Three – Ollas and Perforated Pipe

March 19, 2018

Our efforts this year center on water conservation and we are attempting three different methods to deliver water to plants: gravity fed drip irrigation (coming soon), ollas, and deep perforated pipe. All of these methods will save water but they all will also minimize the time and physical effort it takes to water the plants.

Irrigating with ollas offers the following water conservation benefits:180318-sm-sue-olla-_20180318_0622

  • Less evaporation
  • Less runoff
  • Plant roots more directly targeted
  • Less over-watering
  • Promotion of deep roots
  • More consistent soil moisture

Ollas (also referred to as pitcher irrigation) are used in nearly all parts of the world and have been in use for at least two thousand years. (Research by Siyal)

Ollas are often handmade. The clay pots are porous because they are unglazed. The release of water by the pot into the soil is very low tech! When the water content in the soil decreases due to absorption by the roots and/or evaporation into the air, more water passes from the pot into the soil. The dampness of the soil stays more or less constant at all times; a huge benefit for the health of many vegetable plants.

Potters can increase the porosity of the pot by adding other materials to the clay and also by firing the clay at temperatures below 1000 Celsius.

(Note: Using liquid fertilizers in the irrigation water may cause salt build-up and clog the small pores. Hard water can cause the same problem.)

Our pots originated in Mexico and are made with Tecate clay, found in an area 25 miles wide that stretches from the Northern Baja border South 60 miles.

We have finer soil at FECO so water dispersion might tend to be more horizontal than if you had sandy soil. We loosened the soil well when we installed the ollas to eliminate air pockets.

Olla irrigation is reported to be most efficient for crops with fibrous root systems like squash, melons, watermelons, tomatoes, and chilies.

Sun, Apr 15, 2-4, Work Party
Sun, May 20, 2-4, Work Party
Sat, Jun 2, 10-12, Work Party
Sun, Jun 17, 2-4, Work Party

We also buried perforated bamboo pipes around dylan-and-pipe-wp_20180316_002the blueberries and up through the center of our new vertical garden.

We drilled a hole through each node but not through the bottom node. Then we drilled holes along one side of the pipe, for pipes buried next to a blueberry plant. Each bamboo pipe holds about 1/2 gallon of water. We buried the pipe vertical about two feet down and added a mesh screen at the opening to keep out debris.

Our hope is for the blueberry roots to reach down deep toward the water so the plant is more drought-tolerant in the summer. Perforated pipes are especially suitable for shrubs.

Our next challenge is the first part of the gravity fed drip irrigation system – the installation of 40 gallon reservoirs at each food bank garden bed.

Please consider joining us at the April work party or contact us if you can help on another date.

Ruth

garden-w-soil-and-pipe-20180319_190702_hdrother resources:

David Bainbridge, in his book Gardening With Less Water (2015), and
http://www.globalbuckets.org/p/olla-irrigation-clay-pot-system.html

Good Soil Biology – The Perfect Recipe For Plants

December 19, 2017sm-171119-big-nema-400x-worm-bin-tc_7

It’s time to honor our important volunteers who live in the soil – the nematodes, protozoa, microarthropods, fungi and bacteria. All these fellows work tirelessly underground, decomposing organic matter and pooping out the nutrients in the form that plants can use.

In fact, organic matter is the only food we have supplied for the orchard trees and shrubs over the last six years. And, now that we are using the thermal compost process (see Nov. 2017 blog), we will be regularly cooking up tasty treats our plants enjoy.

rc-plant-succession-slide-elaine-ingham-life-in-the-soil-oxford-keynote-2014Plants put out sugars in their root zones to attract the critters they most desire. Early succession plants, like weeds, desire soil with more bacteria (see Ingham slide). Late succession plants, such as deciduous and conifer trees, prefer fungal dominated soils.

When we make our compost, the types of inputs we use will determine whether the compost will also be bacterial or fungal dominated.

How do we test the characteristics of our compost? We can put the finished product under the microscope and actually count how many bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes we have and then convert the counts to biomass.

Sun, Dec 31, 2-4, Roof Work Party
Sun, Jan 21, 2-4, Work Party
Sat, Feb 17, 1-3, Pruning Class

Dr Elaine Ingham offers very accessible online classes in soil biology, making compost, compost tea the-soil-food-web-nrcs142p2_049822and using microscopes to test soil life. She discounts classes at various times of the year. If you take these classes, you will learn how to be a good land steward (see Ingham’s soil food web slide).

You won’t remember but, when seed plants arrived over 360 million years ago, good soil biology was already in place. Plants know what they need from the soil and how to get it. We can all play a part to improve soil quality by minimizing soil compaction and avoiding use of inorganic fertilizers. The importance of soil is the subject of this recent article from the New York Times.

Ruth

Hot! Hot! Hot!

November 6, 2017

Last week, three of us poured our energy into designing a proper thermal compost pile. Today was the critical third day after the initial turning of the pile. Did the center stay above 131 degrees F? Drum roll. Both thermometers read 155. We did it!

A proper thermal compost includes the following procedures:

All parts of the compost must have adequate moisture and reach threshold temperatures,
either:
160 F for one day
150 F for two days, or
131 F for three days.

These temperature requirements are necessary to kill human and plant pathogens, insect pests, and weed seeds. If your pile does not heat up or, it does not heat after turning, the problem is often due to lack of nitrogen in the recipe and/or the pile cooling down too much from turning.

During our first try last May, the pile did not heat up enough after we laboriously turned the insides to the outsides and the outside materials to the inside with garden forks. What an effort. No wonder no one turns a compost pile.

the-turn-w-steam-20171103_091219_hdrWe came up with a new trick this time and it worked. Welcome to the stage … mesh onion bags!

Kate and Ruth carefully mixed all of the ingredients and then stuffed them in the red bags. The bags that would be in the hot center of the pile were laid inside the chicken wire frame standing straight up. In contrast, the other half of the bags, those that filled the cooler perimeter, were laid in horizontally. From the bag orientation, we could tell which compost had been in the hot center and which had not.

Sun, Nov 19, 2-4, Work Party
Sun, Dec 17, 2-4, Work Party
Sun, Jan 21, 2-4, Work Party

The center bags heated up in no time and remained at 150 F for two days. Time to turn the pile. All the bags surrounding those hot bags went to the middle of the pile and the hot bags came out to surround those new center bags. The turn took two volunteers 10 minutes and was not the least bit backbreaking.

What we accomplished:watering-after-turn-sm-20171103_091801_hdr
1) the surety that all parts of the compost heated up adequately,
2) only one turn was necessary, and
3) anyone could help turn the compost pile without needing to be strong as an ox.

The whole process took seven days. Now the pile will cool to ambient temperature and evolve over the next several months. We will make good use of the finished compost next spring.

tarp-is-last-sm-20171103_092558_hdrHow can we improve upon our new idea? We would like to work with bags made from natural material instead of polypropylene. Let us know if you have an idea.

Ruth