New Rain Drip Irrigation for Orchard and Garden

Spring arrives and it is time to use all the rain drip irrigation water that I stored during the Fall and Winter.  It’s also time to expand the garden and build a new orchard and vineyard.

Building More Rain Drip Irrigated Square Foot Gardens

White Sacks of Fertilizer and Grey Tarp to Build Rain Drip Irrigation Square Foot Garden Start
Rain Drip Irrigation Square Foot Garden Start
Square foot gardens are easy to build and much easier to maintain than a traditional dirt garden.  Really, a couple sacks of peat moss, vermiculite and compost is all it takes! Mix then 1/3 each on a tarp and then roll it into a 8×4 foot box on the ground.  I use a weed barrier as the bottom layer to help reduce the amount of weeding needed.

Rain Drip Irrigation in the Origianl Square Foot Garden

Brown and Black Square Foot Garden with Rain Drip Irrigation Installed
Square Foot Garden with Rain Drip Irrigation Installed
My original square foot garden continues to perform well.  I do add a bag of compost every year to help replenish the macro and micro nutrients in the soil.  My rain drip irrigation system is timed to flow enough water so that each plant is low-moist by the time the next watering cycle occurs.  In Texas, I water twice daily for shorter periods rather than once daily.
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The Square Foot Gardens

3 Brown, Black and Silver Rain Drip Irrigated Square Foot Gardens
3 Rain Drip Irrigated Square Foot Gardens
Rain drip irrigated square foot gardens and crowded by design.  That crowding can lead to problems when one type of plant shades another type of plant too much.  In my case, cucumbers compete too heavily with tomatoes.  So, I built two additional SFGs – one for tomatoes and one for cucumbers.  We’ll see how that works out.

Drip Irrigation Vegetable Harvests

Fresh Red Tomatoes
Fresh Tomatoes
I am always so excited to pick the first vegetables out of my garden.  It’s usually the cherry tomatoes and always worth a little celebration right there in the garden.  These didn’t even make it past the garden gate before I ate them!

Rain Drip Irrigation for a Porch Garden

Black and Silver Rain Drip Irrigation for Porch Garden with Green and Red Plants
Rain Drip Irrigation for Porch Garden
My rain drip collection system resulted in a funny little dog leg by my front porch.  A little ingenuity led me to build a small porch garden for plants my wife likes.  You can see the rain spout collection filter on the right side of this picture.  Garden where you can!

Cherry Trees in Texas?

Brown and Green Royal Lee Cherry Tree
Royal Lee Cherry Tree
The nursery in my area found a variety of cherry tree that has low enough chilling hours to qualify for growing in Texas.  I love cherries and am very excited about these bare-root cherry trees growing and producing in my rain drip irrigated orchard.

Rain Drip Irrigated Orchard Starts to Grow

Brown and Green Orient Pear Tree Adding Leaves
Orient Pear Tree Adding Leaves
Pear trees do very well in Texas and this little guy is growing quickly. This picture was taken in March when it was 24″ tall.  As of July, that tree is well over 12 feet tall!

Drip Irrigated Vineyard Starts Growing

Green Austin Dewberries on Brown Mulch
Austin Dewberries
These Austin Dewberries are starting to take off nicely from their rain drip irrigation!

Dweberries Don’t Like a Trellis

Green Dewberries Don't Like Silver Trellis
Dewberries Don’t Like Trellis
I have learned that dewberries do not like a trellis for their primacanes – no matter how much rain drip irrigation I provide.  I’m going to put these primacanes back on the ground for this season and try to move them to a trellis in Winter so that the floricanes are easier to harvest.  It’s also harder for snakes to hide on a trellis!

Orchard Gates and Hinges

Yellow and Green Orchard Fence Gate Hinge
Orchard Fence Gate Hinge
Each tree and vine in my rain drip irrigated orchard and vineyard have a fence around them to prevent the deer from eating the leaves.  But, to tend the trees and vines, I need to be able to get inside those small fenced enclosures.  Also, and possibly more important, I need to be able to get to the tree and vine to appreciate what it is doing and how it grows.  So, I build little gates for each enclosure from cattle/hog panels.  I devised a little trick using a wire insulator from an electric fence to function as a gate hinge.  They aren’t terribly sturdy and do wear out quickly but they definitely meet their goal of providing easy access to my trees and vines so I can more easily adjust my rain drip irrigation flow nozzles.

Summary of Rain Drip Irrigation for Orchard and Garden

Winter fades and the trees and vines in my rain drip irrigated orchard and vineyard and sprouting leaves and growing.  Spring arrives and it is time to expand my rain drip irrigated square foot gardens. I am very glad I expanded my rain drip irrigation collection tanks from a couple thousand gallons to over 5000 gallons!  I’m going to need more storage for the orchard and vineyard – always something to fuss with in a rain drip irrigated garden and orchard!

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Rainwater Collection Addition for Fruit Tree Orchard

I’ve long had a dream of a small fruit tree orchard where I could grow things and learn more about them.  I used to have two concerns that stopped me.  One concern was watering those fruit trees.  They aren’t like a garden – well, they are, but MUCH bigger and year round so they will require a lot of water.  Since I’ve learned about rainwater collection and gained some experience with it, I decided I could expand my rainwater collection enough to overcome that concern.  The other concern was enough protected space to build a proper orchard space.  Fruit trees need lots of sunlight.  With a recent drought in Texas and the loss of some Cedar Elm trees, I finally had enough open space for an orchard!  No time like the present to get started building my rainwater collection and fruit tree orchard!

Front of House Rainwater Collection

New White PVC and Grey Concrete Rainwater Collector
New Rainwater Collector
My fruit tree orchard is going to need a lot of water.  I currently collect the back half of my house so I needed to add rainwater collection from the front of my house to provide the extra water that the fruit trees will need.  Piping that collected rainwater from the front of the house to the back of the house was a challenge!

Rainwater Collection Sump and Overflow Drainage

White Plastic PVC Rainwater Collection Overflow into Green Rainwater Collection Tank for Orchard
Rainwater Collection Overflow for Orchard
I only have 4000 gallons of rainwater storage and that’s not enough for the fruit tree orchard – especially since I’m going to expand my square foot garden as well.  I don’t have enough room for extra storage under my deck so I’m going to pipe the front of house rainwater collection into my overflow pipe and just let it run down the hill for now.  Later, once I sort out the actual water needs of the fruit tree orchard, I’ll install a much larger rainwater holding tank near the fruit tree orchard.
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Soil Testing for Fruit Tree Orchard

Fruit Tree Orchard Green Soil Testing Kit
Fruit Tree Orchard Soil Testing
Although I now have plenty of open space to plant my fruit tree orchard, I want to make sure that the soil is not terrible.  I’m sure there are better places to plant an orchard but what I have is mine and I want to use it to it’s full capacity.  SO, I ran soil tests at multiple locations throughout the orchard area.  This was actually a LOT of work but very informative.  In most cases, the soil is fine for pH, Phosphorous and Potassium.  It is almost all deficient in Nitrogen but my understanding is that this is typical and not a huge barrier to using the soil.

Soil Nitrogen Test

Pink Nitrogen Deficiency in Fruit Tree Orchard
Nitrogen Deficiency in Fruit Tree Orchard
The soil in my fruit tree orchard is definitely nitrogen deficient.  I have elected NOT to apply any fertilizers until after the first year when I will have a better understanding of how the trees I select will perform in the soil I have.

Clearing and Burning for Fruit Tree Orchard

Burning Brown Stumps in Green and Brown Fruit Tree Orchard
Burning Stumps in Fruit Tree Orchard
The open space for my fruit tree orchard used to look like the dead forest in the background of this picture.  Most of the large Cedar Elm trees had died during the 2008 drought but needed to be cut and then roots dug.  Digging roots is very very hard so I elected to burn mine.  I drilled multiple 1″ holes deep into the trunk and filled them with a potion that consisted of salt peter – Potassium Nitrate.  The Potassium Nitrate combines with the decomposing carbon of the wood fibers to form a very low grade gunpowder.  This low grade gun powder provide oxygen when the fire is burning deep inside the stump and ashes cover the top – this allows the stump to continue burning for longer. It was hard but it was fun – most stumps burned for more than 48 hours!

More Burned Stumps

Borwn Stumps in Green Fruit Tree Orchard are Very Large
Stumps in Fruit Tree Orchard are Very Large
Even after the stumps were burned, a lot of stump still remained in the ground.  At least now, they individual roots were no longer connected together and I could us a tractor with a plow to gently tug them loose.  There was much more stump in the ground that I would have imagined!

Deep Plowing the Fruit Tree Orchard

Red and Yellow Deep Soil Plow in Green and Brown Fruit Tree Orchard
Deep Soil Plow in Fruit Tree Orchard
The soil in my fruit tree orchard is mostly hard clay.  The clay retains and drains water nicely but is very dense.  I used a deep plow very gently right on the rows where I wated to plant fruit trees to loosen the soil as much as 16″ in the ground.  I hope the little fruit trees appreciate this extra touch!

Ready to Plant Fruit Tree Orchard

Green and White Fruit Tree Orchard Cages Ready
Fruit Tree Orchard Cages Ready
Deer are a problem at my house so I needed a way to protect the fruit trees from browsing while they grow and from depredation when the bear fruit.  I also needed the solution to be affordable and easy to work with and clean.  I used some old sheep fence wire, 3 t-posts and a short piece of hog panel wire to rig up cages for each fruit tree.

Bare Root Plants for Fruit Tree Orchard

Brown Bare Root Fruit Trees and Vines Soaking in Orange Buckets
Bare Root Fruit Trees and Vines
I planted bare root plant and that was very interesting.  I planted 15 fruit trees and 15 berry vines.  Each tree was a grafted plant.

Pear Tree Roots

Yellow and Brown Bare Root Pear Tree
Bare Root Pear Tree
This is the detail of my Orient Pear tree as I planted it and a great example of a bare root tree.  I was instructed to remove 1/3 of the roots and 1/3 of the main stem along with any branches.  Man, it was scary when I got through cutting them down to size!

Soaking Vines Before Planting

Brown Bare Root Berry Vines Soaking in Orange Bucket
Bare Root Berry Vines Soaking
I soaked the roots of each fruit tree and berry vine before planting for 24 hours in a solution of root vigorizer.  This stuff smelled terrible!

Fruit Tree Orchard Planted!

Brown and Green Fruit Tree Orchard Planted and Mulched
Fruit Tree Orchard Planted and Mulched
I got the 15 fruit trees and 15 berry vines planted just in time.  It was more work than I expected but I am very proud of how it turned out.

Summary of Rainwater Collection Addition for Fruit Tree Orchard

I’ve always wanted a fruit tree orchard and my growing expertise with rainwater collection finally provided me with an opportunity.  I planted 15 bare root fruit trees and 15 berry vines in a large area I cleared in my lower backyard.  It was much harder than I originally thought but the results have been very pleasing so far – stay tuned for more updates!

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Dirt Gardens and Raindrip Irrigation

The Dog Days of Summer reach their peak in August and chase me into the house to think and reflect on what I’ve done and learned in my gardens with rainwater drip irrigation.  I mostly tried to optimize my raised bed garden and experimented with 3 different dirt gardens.  My raised bed garden outperformed all of the dirt gardens in almost every aspect – that’s a big lesson!

Lettuce Garden with Raindrip Irrigation

Drip Irrigation Lettuce Garden with Brown Irrigation Hose and White Insecticide and White Barn in Background
Drip Irrigation Lettuce Garden
My shaded lettuce garden with garden drip irrigation never really produced any lettuce.  The broccoli also performed very poorly and what was there was quickly eaten by bugs.  I’m not an “organic” farmer but if I have to chase bugs off with pesticide then it’s not worth it for me.  As an experiment, I tossed in some survival kit seeds that I’d saved from heirloom melons and cucumbers the previous.  Low and behold they took root and performed better than the broccoli or lettuce!

Melons Thrive, Broccoli Fails

Lettuce Garden with Raindrip Irrigation System with Brown Irrigation Hose and White Shed in Background
Lettuce Garden with Raindrip Irrigation System
I used a different raindrip irrigation system on the lettuce garden.  I used perforated hose with built in emitters rather than the usual black hose with dedicated emitters.  For a dirt garden, this was a great approach to easily getting water exactly where I needed it.
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Survival Melons with Garden Drip Irrigation

Raindrip Irrigation on Green Melons with Brown and Green Irrigation Hoses
Raindrip Irrigation on Melons
Eventually, the “survival melons” took over as the last of the broccoli withered to the onslaught of pests.  The vines on these plants are simply amazing!  But, the garden drip irrigation hose is also very wasteful when compared to drip irrigation on my raised bed garden.

Corn Garden with Rainwater Drip Irrigation Struggles in Poor Soil

Raindrip Irrigation on Corn Garden
Raindrip Irrigation on Corn Garden with Medium Green Corn Stalks and Hard Grey Clay Soil
My dirt corn garden struggled mightily.  It was my fault.  I knew, when I roto tilled that ground that it was going to be a steep uphill battle to get anything other than Johnson grass to grow.  This was a very thirsty garden and I struggled to find the best setup for my rainwater drip irrigation system.  A few corn stalks sprouted but it was mostly a battle to keep the Johnson Grass and Coastal Bermuda Grass at bay and the soil moist and loose enough for the plants to grow.  I lost that battle and just kept closing down more and more portions of the corn garden as it became evident that my plants were not going to outperform the native grasses already there. 

A Few Mature Corn Plants under Raindrip Irrigation

Corn Garden with Raindrip Irrigation using Green Garden Hose
Corn Garden with Raindrip Irrigation
A few plants in the raindrip irrigation dirt corn garden did mature.  The successful plants were closest to the Johnson Grass – which should be some sort of indicator of something.  Nevertheless, I did spend a lot of time hoeing out Johnson Grass so pick your battles carefully! 

Raindrip Irrigated Corn

Mature Green Corn Stalk with Brown Tassle from Raindrip Irrigation Garden
Mature Corn from Raindrip Irrigation Garden
I did harvest 4-5 ears of corn from the dirt corn garden with garden drip irrigation.  They never matured nicely and the kernels were sparse and flat.  These plants never got over a few feet high and had a lot of trouble finding a peer to pollinate with.  I helped by manually pollinating them but overall, it was not a success. 

New Three Sister Garden!

Three Sister Garden Start with Orange Survey Flags and Large Green Plants
Three Sister Garden Start
And then I had another wild hair and planted a “Three Sister’s Garden” according to this plan for a Three Sister Garden. Thanks Renee!  It was very rough country to start with a lot of native grass and brush to clear to get to bare dirt.  I also knew that it would be a long hose needed to provide rainwater drip irrigation to this garden.  I marked my mounds and then got very busy with a hoe and weedeater.  Thankfully, I did this in June prior to the July/August dog days. I made 36 mounds in total.

Long Lines in a Raindrip Irrigation Garden

Rain Drip irrigation Installed on Three Sister Garden on Red Dirt with White Truck in Background
Rain Drip irrigation Installed on Three Sister Garden
I ran a long extension from my raindrip irrigation system to provide water for the Three Sister Garden.  Each mound was given a few feet of emitter hose and a dedicated emitter.  This combination proved to be very effective and relatively more efficient than just emitter hose by itself.  Even with rainwater drip irrigation, you have to be careful about water conservation or you might run out of water!

Mound Configuration of Garden Drip Irrigation System

Drip Irrigation Detail on Three Sister Garden with Brown Dirt Mound, Black Irrigation Hose and small Green Plant
Drip Irrigation Detail on Three Sister Garden
Each mound in the Three Sister Garden got a small garden drip irrigation emitter hose with 3 1 GPH emitters and the a 1 GPH emitter on the end.  I ended up taping off one of the emitters in the hose because it put water into the ditch rather than on the mound which is more efficient. I got much better sprouting in the Three Sister Garden thatn I did in Lettuce or Corn garden.  Definitely better soil in this location.

Raindrip Irrigation on Mounds

Fully Raindrip Irrigation Three Sister Garden with Brown Dirt Mounds, Black Pipe and small Green Plants
Fully Raindrip Irrigation Three Sister Garden
The corn in the Three Sister Garden never sprouted very well and I went ahead after 3 weeks and planted to beans and melons despite the short corn stalks.  These guys were very thirsty for rainwater drip irrigation!  We’ll see but my hopes are not high on this dirt garden either….

Summary of Dirt Gardens and Raindrip Irrigation

The Dog Days of Summer are here and lessons have been learned.  Dirt gardens are harder and less efficient than raised bed gardens.  Soil selection and preparation is critical in a dirt garden – much more so than in a raised bed garden.  Garden drip irrigation worked fine but almost ran out of water a couple times.  I didn’t realize how much water a dirt garden uses relative to a raised bed garded – a lot more than I expected!  I’m going to end my dirt garden adventures and expand my raised bed gardens much more next spring.

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