Working With Weather When Watering

August 28, 2017

It’s dry this summer. It seems like we are either watering, or obsessing about whether we are drip-system-mulberry-sm-wp_20170828_001watering too much or too little.

Nobody wants to over water fruit trees. Why waste water. Excess water creates more tree growth, not more fruit, and results in nutrient leaching.

Ideally, we are watering just the right amount to maintain a healthy disease resistant tree but also good fruit production.

Cliff Mass’s August 24 blog says July and August 2017 combined will be the driest in 100 years. That sounds dramatic. However, data for 2017, in relation to 2016, shows only slightly higher temperatures and only 1.12 less rain over the period June, July and August. Why is 1.12 less rain making such a big difference?

Let’s say you were comfortable with your 2016 watering, meaning the trees are healthy and the fruit set was reasonable this year. You are watering about the same this year but now you want to make up for the fact that we have had less rain in 2017.

Obviously, 1.12 inches of rain is more beneficial than just adding 1.12 inches of water to a tree guild but we will add an additional 1.12 inches just to the root zone of an apple tree. The tree’s root zone is where most of the water absorbing roots are located. This root zone is not located close to the trunk of an established tree; it is at the tree’s “drip line” and beyond. WSU’s Dr. Troy Peters points out that this active root zone is usually two to three times the diameter of the tree’s crown or “umbrella.”

If we estimate the active root zone of our tree to be 100 square feet and we want to add that extra inch of water, then we need 8.33 cubic feet of water or 62 extra gallons!

If we apply the deficit irrigation concept, we might add less and, if we used something other than drip irrigation, which is 90-95% efficient, we would add more. (Sprinkler systems are only 80% efficient and furrow systems only 70% efficient.)

How do the Pros Efficiently Use Water?

To improve water efficiency, you have to know how much water you use and we do because we water with 5-gallon buckets.

Pros take into account the amount of water lost from the trees pulling up water through their roots and pushing it out the stomata of their leaves (transpiration) and also how much water evaporates from the soil into the air (evaporation). The combined effect is evapotranspiration (ET).

ET models are largely based on temperature and are based on water use of alfalfa (Eta) or on grass (ETo). Each crop uses a certain percentage of the water that alfalfa uses and that is the crop coefficient (Kc). An apple orchard with active ground cover has a .8 Kc at initial stage of fruit development, then 1.2 mid season and .85 at end of season, prior to leaf drop.

There are many variables to consider other than temperature and crop coefficient, like wind, leaf growth, humidity, day length, soil type, and intervals between watering. However, for ease, if we think of the apple crop coefficient at 1.0, then we can use ET as a guideline for irrigation.

If you log into WSU Weather AG and click on Irrigation, Irrigation Scheduler, you can enter your location, a crop and your soil type and it will tell you how much water the apples are using (ET), how much precipitation we have had and, most importantly, it will show you the water deficit, including the cumulative deficit. The cumulative deficit as of August 27, beginning from May 21, is 5.3 inches. That number will be in red. You don’t have to add 5.3 inches unless you have not watered at all this summer!

Dr Peters writes that orchardists tend to over water in the spring and fall and underwater in July. He also summarized the signs of under watering during the hotter part of the summer:

1) smaller than average fruit size
2) poor fruit shape
3) bitter pit in apple, or increased cork spot and “hard-end” in pears.
4) stored fruit loses pressure more rapidly

Stay tuned as we consider writing for a grant to apply more water conservation strategies at the orchard.


The Case of the Knife in the Watermelon

August 6, 2017

Well, no. Actually, the case of the missing spaghetti squash.

Laura and Mitch, new gardeners in the orchard, plopped in some squash starts Memorial Day 170802-spaghetti-squash-wp_20170802_004weekend and by the end of July their garden bed was busting with yellow footballs. We were all under the assumption that they planted summer squash. (Winter squash is tricky west of the mountains and usually takes 90 to 135 days to mature.

We were afraid they forgot to harvest so I sent an email letting them know they might want to pick when the squash was small, about six inches, for the finest quality.

A few days later, I discovered seven yellow squash were on the ground, lined up along the path.

Wed, Aug 16, 5-8, Special Work Party – Make Food Bank Bed
Sun, Aug 20, 2-4, Work Party
Sat, Sep 2, 10-12, Work Party
Sat, Sep 16, 10-11, Intro to Qigong

I scratched my head and decided Laura had taken us up on our offer to include them in the next load for the food bank. I carted them home for safekeeping so the rats wouldn’t take notice.

The next day Laura stopped at the orchard and began looking for her squash. She had her phone handy so she dialed Encyclopedia Brown. “Brown,” she started, “We have a mystery here. I didn’t have room in my backpack yesterday for all these heavy squash and now they have disappeared.”

Brown solved the mystery within two minutes. “Laura, what has happened here is that the older gardeners here think they know everything. They didn’t bother looking at the plant tag in your bed that clearly noted these are spaghetti squash. Indeed, they should be picked when they are the size of a football. You need to call Callard and demand your squash be returned.”

We were humbled. Laura and Mitch had pulled out a dozen spaghetti squash before the end of July! That is truly a gardening success. The rest of us will be paying more attention to the moves these newcomers make.

food-bank-haul-sm-wp_20170803_001Please consider joining us Wednesday evening, August 16, as we make another food bank bed. Thanks to Sue for last week’s harvest (see photo).


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

July 22, 2017

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Dog days of summer are here. Tomatoes are ripening, zucchinis are looking like footballs and aphids are blanketing the vegetables and flowers. With no rain to help wash the pests off, what’s a gardener to do?

In order to grow plants organically, the first step is to identify the pest that is eating your plant and understand its life cycle.three-bugs-smwp_20170701_004

See chard leaf photo attached. The good – the yellow ladybug eggs. The bad – the white leafminor eggs. The ugly – the black aphids and aphid eggs.

There are many beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and parasitic wasps, that feed on pests. Ladybug eggs will hatch and can eliminate a patch of aphids in no time. It is important to learn what both the eggs and the larvae of these friendly predators look like so that you don’t accidentally kill them.

Aphids are one of the most common pests we find. They come in many colors and attack a huge variety of plants. Aphids are small, soft bodied insects that suck the juices out of stems, leaves and buds. They can reproduce without mating and give birth to live aphids that do not have to pupate. As long as the temperatures are warm enough, they will keep breeding and feeding. They secrete a sticky residue called honeydew that ants love so much that they will protect aphids from predators.

Sat, Aug 5, 10-12, Work Party
Sun, Aug 20, 2-4, Work Party
Sat, Sep 2, 10-12, Work Party
Sun, Sep 17, 2-4, Work Party
Plus Thursdays 10-12, Food Bank

Another common pest on Swiss chard, beets, spinach and sorrel are the beet and spinach leafminers. Leafminer flies land on the undersides of their preferred plants and deposit tiny pale eggs. The eggs hatch and the larvae mine into the leaf tissue, creating “tunnels.” When the tunnels run into each other, the leaf tissue turns brown and dies. The larvae drop to the ground, pupate and begin another generation of flying adults looking for a place to lay eggs.

Aphids and leafminers can do a lot of damage, but they usually don’t kill plants. Leafminers overwinter in the soil, so I recommend you rotate crops and avoid growing chard and beets in the same bed every year.

sue-and-food-bank-bed-wp_20160509_001You can tent your plants with fabric (floating row cover) that lets through light, air and rain to help prevent flying insects from landing on plants. Check weekly for eggs and larvae as a few will manage to get into the tent. If eggs hatch and you catch the larvae early, you can lessen the damage by smashing them or dislodge them with a strong spray of the hose. Or, use a soft brush to knock off aphids, larvae or eggs. Harvest damaged leaves, cut away the damaged parts, and eat the rest. More food for you and less for the pest!

UC Davis Integrated Pest Management has great photos and information about many insects, good and bad.

Parasitic wasps:

Sue Hartman