Soil Camp

May 27, 2018

Last week I attended a five-day soil science class with research scientist Dr. Elaine Ingham, just outside of Oroville, CA, where they say Ahmonds when referring to Almonds.

Seven of us hovered over microscopes much of the time, counting nematodes, protozoa, and bacteria. Near the end of each day, it was hard to differentiate the floaters in our eyes from the Oomycetes we were trying to measure.

By Thursday I accomplish something very special – how to correctly place the cover slip on the slide. Seriously, this is an important step. By the time you are done measuring the volume of an organism per gram of soil, by taking five counts from each of five sections of each slide, you hope your standard deviation is at an acceptable level. A way to increase the reliability of your data is to master the art of the cover slip.

On Tuesday, I ask Elaine, who never refuses anyone’s questions, if I can watch her put the cover slip on the slide. Instantly I hear chairs screech as the other students dart over to watch.

Elaine, with the grace that comes from 40 years of doing anything, places the edge of the cover slip on the slide and we watch the drop of water disperse along the edge of the slip. Then she sweeps back and forth, back and forth and drops the slip.

I take a breath and try it again myself. As soon as I start my slide I realize I have missed some step. I drop the cover slip and there is an air bubble and all of the visible organic matter is under 20% of the cover slip!

On Wednesday I tell myself not to be proud and again I ask, “Dr. Elaine, would you mind if I watch you put the cover slip on again.” She graciously gets out of her chair and, once again, the other students position themselves to see the show. She places the edge of the slip to the left of the drop. The drop, hugs the right side of the slip. She leaves the slip in contact with the slide and sweeps to the RIGHT, then left, then right, then drops it. Aha…

By Thursday, I am preparing more uniform samples. (Look soon on our Library page for the soil test results of the thermal compost I made last November. (Thanks immensely to Jennifer Micheli, Elaine’s employee, for enhancing Dr. Ingham’s soil biology test result spreadsheet.)

By Friday, we have completed everything on the agenda (white board photo) and have bathed in the knowledge of Dr. Ingham for a whole week (except for half a day when a film crew from Johns Hopkins was visiting the farm). I am certain it was the most worthwhile and enjoyable investment in education I have made.

Ruth

Let ‘er Drip

April 17, 2018

Last summer, as most of you know, we carried water around in buckets to water the plants. Afecobrochure-map-update-compressed few times each summer, we got help from a dozen 5-8 year olds.

One hot August day, we gave each of the kids a yogurt container, showed them where the drip line was and then asked them to scoop from the bucket and water the parched fruit trees.

One of the younger students filled her yogurt tub, wandered out to the middle of the orchard, and dumped her water on a dandelion.

I made no response, either verbally or physically. It took me a minute to realize that, to her, that plant needed water and watering plants was her mission.

Well, we have come a long way since then and we are close to having our gravity fed drip irrigation system in place, the final component of our water conservation project. We will be using and evaluating three different drip systems. Congratulations to Luke and Dylan for their fine brochure describing the entire water conservation project.

Volunteers have been researching everything from bolt strength to bending bamboo to head meg-w-driver-sm-wp_20180306_002pressure for a given tank height. Perhaps the most physically challenging task to date has been driving 10-foot steel U posts with a 40-pound manual driver.

Sat, May 5, 10-12, Work Party
Sun, May 20, 2-4, Work Party
Sat, Jun 2, 10-12, Work Party
Sun, Jun 17, 2-4, Work Party

Most everything has been a new learning experience. We had some money in our budget to hire consultants but we were not able to find anyone experienced. Surely, there is another garden nearby where they are growing food with just rainwater and without any electricity?

max-ruth-at-aspar-water-barrel-20180415_161453_hdrVolunteers did a fabulous job of noticing used materials: recycled cistern, recycled water barrels, recycled bamboo, recycled wood for bracing. (Ken found 6×6 lumber and ripped it for us!)

The whole system should be up and watering by the time the dry season is upon us. Our plan is to have an open house in early August.

And, we are excited that the kids are coming back this summer to help water. Will they remember where the drip line is?

Ruth

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