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Irrigating Fruit Trees

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HappyEarth starts with ...
Hey guys, I'm interested to hear how everyone waters their fruit trees.

After a couple of years of hand watering my 100+ fruit trees, shrubs and vines I'm thinking it might be time to install an automatic or semi-automatic irrigation system. Have read a little about drip-eze and micro-sprinklers. Some of the challenges I face at my place are:

i) Fruit trees/shrubs are not planted in straightlines and are of different shape and size
ii) My yard has a slight to moderate slope
iii) Need to irrigate from water tank as well as mains pressure

Anyone happy/unhappy with their irrigation systems? Please share! :)

Have a great weekend,Rich :)

www.happyearth.com.au
adventures in urban sustainability
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HappyEarth1
Wollongong
5th June 2010 3:23pm
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Original Post was last edited: 5th June 2010 3:23pm
John Mc says...
Hey Rich, I thought I was keen.
I started off hand watering each and every tree/shrub till the drought hit several years ago. I then dug my dam out bigger and deeper which enabled me to hook up a petrol water pump and then tug a 3/4 inch hose around.
Advancing from there I laid out 12/19mm poly hose to close proximity to the plant then a 4mm hose with an emitter attached. This was fed from two 44gal barrells higher up via gravity once I had filled up the containers from the dam.
This method was partially successful, only because the emitters would block up and I'd have to go round and clean them out every day. Wasn't a problem because I'd get to see how everything was growing anyway.
The solution I have running today is running everything directly from an electric pressure pump, through the poly pipe bypassing the 44gal containers, removed the emitters and discharging directly from the 4mm hose, all attached to a timer. Works beautifully so far.
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John Mc
 
5th June 2010 4:18pm
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Brad says...
Keeping the system clean is more important the lower the pressure. So good filters flushed out when they need to be before at the start of your main lines are a must.

Depending on layout you might be able to use a few tricks to remove dirt. I try to loop my minor lines back to the main line at a lower height so that if I flush out the bottom, they also get flushed. But my system is tiny compared to your block.

you may also need to make sure that air in the lines can escape, otherwise bubbles build up and the water doesn't get to the emitters. This goes at a high point on the lines and you try to keep the system level or slightly down hill all the way from there.

for your fantastic garden, I'd suggest its worth getting advice to achieve a lower maintenance, longer life system that you don't throw away in a year or two. hopefully you've got plants of similar water requirements near each other. Otherwise its hard to get the amounts to each plant right. One option is the 4-5mm miniscape with drippers every 15cm around and loop around the plant then fold over at the end. But this means occasionally flushing every one of these. I also recently tried a couple spikes that connect straight into 13mm poly and have subsurface drippers (under the mulch). I don't know how to tell if they're blocked though.

I don't recommend weeper hose. drippers are better. I haven't used microsprayers - but I don't think I'd want to.

Edit: I just had another look at your website after many months. Its amazing! How do you get all that done AND have the time to handwater. I'd be out of time just watering that
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Brad2
Como, Perth
5th June 2010 7:39pm
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Original Post was last edited: 5th June 2010 7:44pm
HappyEarth says...
Thanks for the advice guys. TO be honest the climate is pretty favourable in Wollongong with about 1200mm a year so I only hand water 5-10 times a year ... although its a 6 hour job each time :)

I think i'll trial a few different methods next summer to see what works best before committing to anything.

I use weeper hoses in the vegie beds and they work great!
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HappyEarth1
Wollongong
7th June 2010 5:12pm
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virginny says...
Sydney gets 1200mm at Observatory Hill . There seems to be more climatic variability with long dry spells and then torrents of rain.
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sydney
8th June 2010 3:46pm
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amanda says...
Hi Happy Earth - perhaps visit your local irrigation specialist - they will often come out to your property for a free consult if you buy the goods off them. My crew tested my water pressure and did all the maths for me!

For example - my water pressure and flow rate will support 1400 x 2L/hr pressure compensated drippers. I have around 1000 natives on one line. But...they did recommend a big fat main polypipe from the tap (to reduce friction and pressure build up - then branching out with 19mm line) I actually needed an expensive pressure reducer..(as we have a 64mm mains water pipe) - or my polypipe would actually blow up!

I wouldn't have known that stuff, myself.

Your soil type may be a very important factor also. eg: Netafim lines didn't work at all well for me - in sandy loam - but may be better in clay....

Do lots of homework. I took out all my Netafim lines in the orchard and replaced with microsprayers and have had better success. So it was double the work and expense. With your gorgeous rainfall, microsprayers may not be really neccessary (only 450mm here - so they are vital to get the top soil nutrients down to the roots)

The things I do like about pressure compensated drippers is that: the pressure (and hence the volume delivered) is constant - from the first dripper in the line to the very last - whether it's a closed loop line or not.
So the tree at the end gets the same volume of water as the first.

The other thing I like is their flexibility. I can add drippers, shut off drippers etc as the tree requires. For example - I have natives and fruit trees on the same line...usually a no-no - but the natives have one 2L/hr dripper and the fruit trees have 4 x 4L/hr drippers. Thus in an hour the native gets 2L and the fruit tree 16L.
When the fruit trees were young they had 2 x 4L/hr drippers and I have added the extra two as they have matured. It's so easy to do - takes just a few minutes.

When I want to shut off a dripper I just cable tie it's line. Then I can cut the cable tie off in summer to start it up again. Pressure compensated drippers come in 2L and 4L/hr (maybe more - I don't know)

I also have in-line 'taps' that I can turn off and on when needed. I do use in-line filters. I don't bother flushing the lines tho' - I just check the drippers now n then and if one is blocked I cut it off and stick a new one in - they are about 18 cents...much better than flushing lines with chemicals.

I also have a cheap, but reliable, water pump from my 50,000L rain water tanks - only around $300. It does a great job too. But the water from the tank must not be sludgy or it may blow the pump. We have first-flow diverters to prevent this.

We have in-line and extra-line timers etc. The biggest problem with these is that they are all designed for low pressure - so I blow a few these.. :-(

I can highly recommend the pressure compensated drippers. I will take some pics tomorrow and post - it may make more sense then?!

Watering is a big issue for me here (my last bill $1000) so my system had to be really flexible and not wasteful. It also had to be user friendly - I have around 2,000 drippers and sprayers....
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amanda19
Geraldton. WA
8th June 2010 9:24pm
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HappyEarth says...
Wow Amanda ... that is impressive! Im amazed by what you achieve to grow in your climate. With your passion you must be tempted to move to a more favourable climate no?

Pictures would be great and certainly clear a few things up. Do the drippers work evenly on sloping yards? Do you run chickens through your orchard and if so are they likely to damage the irrigation setup?

We do have a good irrigation shop nearby here. Next time im down there way i will pop in and have a chat to them.

Have a great day :)

Rich
www.happyearth.com.au
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HappyEarth1
Wollongong
9th June 2010 7:44am
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amanda says...
Hey Happy Earth - here are the pics. Yes it can handle gradients no problems - as the drippers are pressure compensated. I have one line going straight up, a meter, into the bird bath - it still delivers 2L/hr.
The disadvantages are that you cannot clean out the dripper bit. You cut it off with scissors an push a new one in. The narrow line that it's attached to in the picture should not be more than a meter long as it may affect pressure. You cannot run UN-compensated drippers or sprayers on the same poly pipe line.

In the pic with all the bits is the round dripper head, the narrow line/tube and the barbed lancet. The yellow thing is the tool to push a hole in the polypipe. The other pic is after I pushed the 3 bits together. Then you just poke it into the hole in the polypipe.

The chooks should be ok - the only thing that may be possible is them pulling the line/lancet out from the polypipe if it's not a tight fit. (eg: I should be using the red "tool" as this yellow one is for larger lancets - so my fit is not as tight as it should be - if I turn the tap up too high they can occasionally blow right out! - my fault)

The other pic shows a tree with four of the 4L/hr drippers, coming of 19mm polypipe. What I really like about this - is that if one dripper does get blocked - and we are away on holidays etc - then the tree is still getting water from the other 3 at least.

Anyway - that's just one part of my system - but I am very happy with them. And yes - a move further south will be happening! I would love to go to NSW/QLD border - but family n friends here.
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Picture: 1

Picture: 2

Picture: 3
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amanda19
Geraldton. WA
9th June 2010 2:05pm
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HappyEarth says...
Thanks Amanda ... that certainly clears things up. What was the brand of your system called? Can they be covered by mulch or do you normally leave them exposed? do they work if gravity fed of a low pressure line like soaker hoses or do you need use mains pressure?

I guess when i was thinking of drippers it was the ones with holes already in the mainline - i think Josh Bryne (from abc gardening)uses them in his vegie beds and fruit trees. ANy experience with this system?

Thanks again for your feedback :) Ohhh, you couldnt take a photo of your micro-sprays to show me could you?

Rich
www.happyearth.com.au
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HappyEarth1
Wollongong
10th June 2010 7:07am
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amanda says...
Hey HappyEarth - they don't say a brand (just a little symbol) they can be put directly into the poly pipe without the tubing part. I tried this - but the polypipe expands and contracts a fair bit in the cold/heat so the drippers didn't end up being where I wanted them.

The tomatoe plant has Nettafim line (the brick coloured line) it is pressure compensated and has 2L/hr emitters about 10cm apart, along it's length. That's also what I use in the veg beds - the photo's show the entry point (where the tap is) and the end line. It's a grid I guess - with the lines 30cm apart.
There is a microsprayer with the tomatoe plant too. I make the assembly up myself as it works out alot cheaper than buying ready made one's.
Any of these can be cable tied off - so there is more control at different times of the year, according to the plants needs.
They can go under mulch. I don't think any of these systems would work under gravity - but I don't know. I don't use weeper hoses mainly because I can't afford to water any ground other than around the tree :-( I am not that fussed on the Nettafim either - but only because of my sand. It tends to leave the topsoil/mulch dry around the tree.
There is much more to retic than I ever realised - that's why it's good to talk to specialists - saves money and time too. Anway - there's heaps of options for you.
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Picture: 1

Picture: 2

Picture: 3
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amanda19
Geraldton. WA
10th June 2010 6:10pm
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Original Post was last edited: 10th June 2010 6:25pm
HappyEarth says...
Thanks Amanda ... I think ill trial a number of these different systems this summer to see which one works best for my situation.

Have a great weekend, Rich :)
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HappyEarth1
Wollongong
11th June 2010 6:01pm
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HARPO says...
Hi Rich, I'll let you use my design if you clear my overdue dvd fees. Harpo.
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11th June 2010 8:44pm
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HappyEarth says...
Thats awesome Harpo ... very clever!
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HappyEarth1
Wollongong
12th June 2010 7:32am
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Brendan says...
Hi amanda,
Have you ever used a product like BettaWetter or WettaSoil around your fruit tree/garden?

If you haven't, give it a go. I'd say it would help your soil (sand) immensely :-)

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Brendan
Mackay, Q
12th June 2010 8:38am
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amanda says...
Harpo - I am impressed 2! great lateral thinking! Brendan: yes - have used tonnes of the stuff!! I try not to use it so much now - mainly because of the expense. It's also a temporary fix - I am using clay and organics to try to fix the problem more permanently. It just takes time and I am not very patient!
Much of my soil is not so water repellant anymore - rather it's bone dry. It takes a huge amount of water to get it up to field capacity. We very rarely get a good drenching rain that reaches the subsoil, for example.

That's why too much mulch is counter productive in semi arid zones - a days rain of 10mm can barely penetrate the mulch if it's too thick. It's a double edged sword....

It's not all bad tho' - the climate and drainage do allow me to grow a wonderful variety of food plants - and I don't even have my micro-climates established yet!
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amanda19
Geraldton. WA
12th June 2010 11:55am
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craig says...
Hi, I guess there are any number of ways to go about irrigating a block with a lot of personal preferences but this is what i did in my situation. I wanted to irrigate a moderately sized orchard consisting mainly of mangoes, citrus, lychee, longan and assorted tropical fruit trees. Currently I'm pumping water out of a dam via a solar pump into a 5000 gallon tank on the highest point near the house. This water then gravity irrigates approximately 80 trees in a block at a time via sprinklers. Initially i started with drippers in these blocks but they failed due to becoming blocked by sediments etc, and their invisibility in the grass meant that blockages were not immediately apparent. Also low flow rates of drippers were inadequate to supply adequate amounts of water as trees needs rose as they grew larger (there are now newer products available that may perform better than what i used when i started out). I find the sprinklers good due to them being easy to identify when they are working or otherwise and cleaning is quick and straight forward if a rather drenching affair at times! The real secret to gravity irrigation is obviously some height plus running large bore piping right up to your sprinkler and 360 degree pressure design (or as close to it as possible). This aids volume and pressure plus limits blockages to just the jet at the sprinkler head when they happen. I sprinkler irrigate the vege patch with about 3-5 metres of water head and the orchard area varies between 9-18 metres of water head. Sprinklers will throw water in a radius of about 2-4 metres depending on pressure/head height. My system design from the tank is one and a half inch mainsline (high density poly) followed by one inch submains (low density poly) feeding the cell block laterals which are either inch or 19mm (low density poly) with 13mm teeing off into the sprinkler stake then the 10 mm/3/8 inch threaded sprinkler head proper atop the stake. Obviously valves in the appropriate places to control where you want the water to go. I had a few issues with air locks when i went through gullies with the mainline years ago, although no problems lately, but this can be rectified with a valve teed off in the low spot to expell trapped air. I hope this helps you folks out there that may have been wondering about this subject. This is my quantified experience from 15 years of experimenting and refining the system and i'm certainly no theorist. I couldn't find any good information on the subject when i began so had to do it all by trial and error which is good because now i know it works for sure. The pressure at the bottom of the hill is like a firehose, quite incredible!
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craig7
rockhampton qld
22nd July 2010 8:45pm
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rickywatson1 says...
Whatever the kind of system or setup that you choose for your garden, the important thing is that it is able to help us maintain the beauty of Fruit Trees. Consulting your landscaper will help you in choosing which among the many available irrigation systems will be able to help you in achieving this goal.
Read here principles of water irrigation system
http://irrigationinaustralia.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/basic-principles-of-water-irrigation-systems/
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rickywatson1
MOUNT HAWTHORN,6016,WA
23rd May 2014 1:52pm
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Greg 10 says...
Can anyone tell me how much rock dust to apply to fruit trees and vegetables and how often to apply
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Greg 10
Casino
4th June 2014 12:59pm
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Julie says...
Greg, there are so many types of rock dust they would all have varying mineral content. so it's hard to give a figure.

Is it a commercial, packaged rock dust?
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Julie
Roleystone WA
4th June 2014 7:32pm
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Mike Tr says...
Basalt rock flour is best due to the range of minerals and they are not locked up as tight as say granite. It still varies a bit in mineral breakdown. You can pile it on thick as it is pretty inert and won't burn or stress fruit and vegies. Kilograms per square metre would be wasteful and minerals are only liberated slowly.
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Mike Tr
Cairns
5th June 2014 8:22pm
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new farmer says...
I have few fruit trees about 100 and wanted to get a "e;Take and use licence for water"e; and they say no no!. Normal dam can only be used for domestic and drinking water for sheep / cattle etc. Not irrigation.
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new farmer
Ballarat
22nd November 2017 5:36pm
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