I got my first real lesson on farm irrigation recently. Oh sure, I've seen the center pivot machines cranking out the water, but my recent experience was with a bit older technology... gravity.
It all started one dark and stormy night a few weeks ago... well it was dark anyway. At 10:30PM a mystery tractor with what appeared to be a corn planter showed up and did some work just west of the barn. Now ordinarily, a tractor working in your yard well after dark would be cause for concern if we were city dwellers, but we've learned farmers can work some pretty crazy hours now and then out here. We also knew our farming neighbor had been busy planting his field corn and just figured he was involved... not so!
OK, so maybe he was a little involved as it was his tractor, but not him at the controls. The operator, who will remain nameless, I understand planted around 5 acres of sweet corn in three different plots... one of those being 50 rows west of our barn. Well shortly after the corn was planted, farm protocol seems to dictate that each row needs to be "hilled" for irrigation purposes, and I've learned that works pretty good!
Since I'm not a farmer, and my thumb isn't even the lightest shade of green, I try and pay attention to what the professional experts around me have said about water requirements and corn. Well as soon as I noticed that sweet corn was starting to tassel, I started watering. And I watered, and watered, and watered. After about 8 hours of gravity feed from a garden hose, I had 5 rows of sweet corn adequately watered.
Lesson number 1... Don't plant more stuff than you can water and care for. This may come into play a lot more later on in the season as we're trying to water most of the plot with some success, but when that corn is ready, I wonder what we're gonna do with it all at the moment. I have some ideas but I digress...
Until the last couple weeks, I just figured that farmers fired up the irrigation pump and water poured into the fields with little further effort by the farmer. I suppose that is mostly true for those with center pivot machines, but the gravity feed irrigation it turns out is pretty labor intensive. I had no idea that those pipes had numerous shutoffs that had to be opened and closed manually. It's one of those things a city slicker never thinks about I guess, at least not this one.
To shorten the story a bit, I've helped open and close those irrigation spigots, found out wet soft dirt supports absolutely no weight... I sank in a good 10 inches in places, and worked the dumb end of a hoe quite a bit opening up waterways in my little experimental field.
Final note... neighbors stopped by with cucumbers already this summer. The green thumbs are at it again!