During this year, we saw an unusually warm winter and a dry, hot summer. By early May, it was clear that if our hops and vegetables were to survive, we needed irrigation. Weeks without rain and hours spent lugging around hoses and hand watering both the hopsyard and the garden pushed the issue to the top of our priority list. With the help of Bree’s dad (a retired citrus farmer from Arizona) we developed an irrigation plan.
Some plants need more water than others, so we built two
types of high-efficient irrigation systems. Trickle irrigation for the hops,
tomatoes and gourds/squashes, and drip irrigation for the other herbs,
vegetables and flowers. Trickle irrigation is a small stream of water directly
targeting the base of the plant. Drip
irrigation (using drip tape) uses considerably less water than trickle
irrigation. It lies on the ground along
the rows of vegetables and delivers a continual drip of water. Ours is spaced
12 inches apart.
They switched the drilling bit to an air hammer and went
back to work, blasting small chips of rock out of the well with pressurized
water and air. 20 feet. 30 feet.
Still solid rock and little water.
The drill went down to 42 feet when we decided to stop. We transected a few seams of water, but not
many. We were reaching a maximum flow
rate of about 4 gallons per minute. Very
slow for an irrigation well. Deeper
drilling was unlikely to reveal more water.
|In the process of laying drip-tape irrigation|
|Trickle Irrigation in the Potatoes|
The big issue we faced with irrigation is that there are no wells anywhere near the house! This is very unusual predicament for a185-year-old property. As a result, we had to use city water for irrigation. If you have ever heard me talk about this issue, you know our biggest drawback is having to pay a sewage fee for water that will never enter a sewer. (Being located in a city and outside an agricultural district prevents us from obtaining an agricultural water meter that other farms typically use to get irrigation water from nearby fire hydrants.)
After nearly three months of virtually no rain, (3/4 inch), it was clear we needed a well. References are everything, so we asked around and called a local drilling company that has worked in the area for over 35 years. Together we selected a location behind the apple packing shed because it was 1) a low spot, 2) near the hops and garden, and 3) close to a source of electricity.
The goal was drill down about 30’-40’ and hit a gravel bed which usually has the highest flow-rate in a well. This was a pretty typical result for wells in this part of Lockport and we were hoping for the best (while also knowing there was a possibility of a dry well).
Things went smoothly at first and we had a good feeling about it until they hit something at the 10-foot mark. Solid rock. They punched another five feet down and realized this wasn’t some boulder that the glaciers left years ago, this was a huge mass of rock. It was the Medina Sandstone formation, not something that should be so near the surface in our neck of the woods. This isn’t the soft sandstone found out west. This dark red-colored stone is very hard and relatively impervious.
|Bree's Father in his Supervisor's Chair|
We tasted the water collected at the base of the well and tasted something very familiar. Salt! And lots of it. The experienced well drillers were as perplexed and disappointed as we were. In their over 35 years of experience, they have never hit salt water at such a shallow depth in this area. Somehow, we must have broken through a seam of salt leftover from some ancient seabed. What are the odds of that? (see video below of them flushing water out of the well)
As you probably know, plants don’t like salt (Fun fact: The Romans plowed salt into the fields of their rivals around Carthage to make their land barren for generations.) We sent the water out for testing. People can usually taste salt in water at 200 parts per million (PPM). Plants are usually tolerant of salt up to 900ppm. The test revealed that saltwater in our well was at 2,000ppm! Not good. (As a reference, the ocean is around 35,000ppm).
Oh, well…So, we now have a saltwater well with very low flow rate. All is not lost. We will pump the well for a month and try to flush some of salt out and lower the salinity. If that does not work, do you think there’s a market for a McCollum Orchards mineral baths and spa? Or, how about an all-natural pickle brine?