From time to time I will be publishing posts from guest authors whose writings I think will interest people. Of course, all opinions and assertions in these posts belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily agree with mine. Please direct your praise and criticism to the author. — rjb
Today’s guest author is Laird Smith
Irrigation for Tree Fruit
This week I shall write about Wally Smith and his orchard irrigation.
Wally described the land he chose to buy, and I quote from his column dated December 22 1977: “…I had acquired 11 acres of what was classified as raw marginal land…” That meant wild rose bushes and poison ivy. The date of the purchase was sometime in 1934.
Wally had the good sense of purchasing land where the entire east side of the property had a creek, now named Park Rill, as its boundary. By this time “The Ditch” — a government financed concrete irrigation ditch which carried water from the Okanagan River through the central fruit growing areas in the Oliver BC district — had been built so that anyone wanting to use the river water could.
For Wally, his land was too far away from The “Ditch” and in 1934, Wally did not have the financial means to run pipe from The “Ditch” hookup to his land anyway, so he had to rely on Park Rill to provide irrigation for anything he planned to grow.
Wally built a water wheel which ran fine until the beavers objected to him interfering with their activities and plugged it up with mud and sticks. That was a constant battle ground until electricity came along and Wally installed a pump.
The actual watering of the trees involved making shallow, narrow, ditches in the ground along the tree rows. A flume carried the water from the water wheel to the earthen ditches and as the water flowed it soaked into the ground at each tree. The last tree in the row would get flooded while the others each got some. Sometimes the ditches plugged up so they had to be monitored. This was an inefficient way to equally water all the trees.
At some point Wally hooked up to buried pipes and brought the “Ditch” water to his property. I remember the metal flume running along the ridge, which was the highest part of the land. The end of the flume was blocked off forcing the water to back up to be released out of the flow holes. The flow holes spilled the water into the earthen ditches and down along the trees.
I know Wally was not happy with the job the earthen ditches did because as soon as he could he installed pump houses and sprinkler pipes. We had one pump house utilizing The “Ditch” water and two pump houses utilizing the water from Park Rill.
Using sprinkler pipes meant he could run five lines at the same time on twelve hour cycles and get the whole planting of eleven acres watered once a week.
During the late sixties or early seventies, he sold all but three acres. It was on those remaining acres that he decided to install a solid set irrigation system, all underground with just the sprinkler heads on short stems of pipe showing.
That was the best he could do as far as efficiency goes, turn on a valve, turn off a valve. There was a huge reduction in labor and waste was virtually eliminated, as long as you didn’t damage the sprinkler heads.
Incidentally, when I worked in the USA during the 1990’s, some tree fruit growers in north eastern Oregon were still using ditches to water their trees. I was appalled at the time, and remember thinking that Wally had abandoned that inefficient method by the early 1950’s.
Wally spent a lot of money on improving the land, but over the years of successive owners, most of the planting has returned to raw marginal land.