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Thursday, October 22, 2009

A GUSHER !

I was a little nervous leaving the vineyard to 2 guys I really didn't know, and whom really didn't understand fully what we were doing at the vineyard in regards to planting, pruning, trellising, weeding etc. etc. I had no choice though, but at the very first chance I jumped back in my truck and headed south to Virginia to see how things were going and to try to get back on track with the irrigation project.
Needlesstosay, that was my mission (once again), to finally get water through the drippers. We had now gotten all the right parts in, and we were ready to go through all the glueing to get them in place and hooked up. I was somewhat confused at how the main plumbing lines were configured around the filter tanks and had to touch base with Scott Wright who consulted on the job. He "straightened me out" so to speak. All the quarter turns were mounted backwards, so the handles were't doing what we thought they were telling us was happening (hey, not me !).
The time had finally come to turn on the pumps. We were like nervous fathers waiting for the nurse to tell us whether it was a boy or a girl. I sent Jerry down to the vineyard, and via cellphone we went through the countdown as I was ready to toggle the power to the 2 pumps.
When you first flip a switch you are never really sure what the first noise will sound like. Will it be a low quiet hum or will it seem like nails rattling in a pail ? The first sound was a clunk, and then a churning as it pulled the water up from the creek into the filter tanks. Was it time to turn on the booster pump ? There were no instructions for this, but I had put several pressure gauges in the system so I observed these as they signaled the flow of the water down the lines. Pressure had built so much at the booster pump that the gauge maxed out......there's something that needed to be changed......so that told me to kick that pump into action.
I told Jerry that here we go, and flipped the switch to the booster. How much time to get water down the quarter mile of pipe ? The answer.....less than a minute.
"Jerry, let me know when you see drips."
"OK, I'm watching" responded Jerry.
"WE GOT WATER....WE HAVE A GUSHER !!!!!!"
"A gusher ? What do you mean, a gusher ?" I said.
"It's coming out of the ground !"

Not the response I was ready for, but I decided I'd better turn the system off and drive down and figure out what Jerry was talking about. I was eager and timid at the same time. What was I in store for.....was all the work to this point in jeopardy ? My truck raced down the dirt driveway kicking up dust in its wake, and as I turned off the road and towards the row with all the above-ground filtering and regulating assembly, I saw immediately what he was talking about. There was a major leak at that spot, and in less than a minute's worth of pumping we now had a small lake. The water had shot up through the earth and was shooting water in the air......Old Faithful, vineyard style. Or was it more like the oil that the Beverly Hillbillies saw ?
Could be worse I guess. If there ever was a question on how you would spot a leak in the field, the answer is easy.....look for the lake. It did prove to us that the system worked, and we did have enough pressure getting down to the lines. But now we kicked into repair mode and started to dig out the mud surrounding the 2" pipe that was 24" down. There was alot of dirt / mud you can imagine. And in order for us to get to the pipe and elevate it to some degree so the water would back off allowing us to re-glue the joint, we had to dig quite a big hole. We were full of adrenalin however, and now our mission was clear with a true sense of victory ahead of us. It was one of the most rewarding repair jobs I've partaken in. A few hours later the fix was completed, and we decided to let the glue rest overnight for an early morning christening.

I didn't crack open the bottle of Champagne yet, but I did put it on ice. After nearly a year had gone by working on this project. Thousands of dollars, not to mention all the man hours that had gone into it. It was my number one project for I don't remember how many trips I went down to Virginia for. It was now time.

One of the things we did was place a half dozen buckets throughout the vineyard to check on the dripper flow. One of Ed's concerns was that the far end of the vineyard wouldn't get any water after the water passed all the outlets upstream. Interesting question, and we were ready to see if it turned out to be valid. With pails in place, I once again flipped the switches. First the creek pump, and a minute or so later the booster pump. There was now a familiar hum to the sound of the pumps, with initial gurgling of air in the water lines purging itself out to a nice constant flow. Jerry was down at the vineyard and when he saw water coming out of the drippers located above each plant he called and said it was "a pretty thing". I had to go see for myself, and as I slowly drove down the driveway I reflected on all the work that went into this project, which would be just one of many to come.

It was "a pretty thing". Each of the drippers letting out a slow sream of water, theoretically above each plant. I had thought we had installed drippers rated for 1 gallon an hour. Our test showed they were 1/2 gallon per hour drippers, which was fine as long as we knew. That allowed us to just time how long the pumps would stay on. Ed's concern for the most part was resolved. The most distant drippers were operating similar to those closest to the input line. It is amazing how accurate these little tiny plastic drippers are.....the test drippers all operated within a couple of ounces of the measured gallon mark. Not too shabby.

My next step was to come up with a daily chart for Jerry to fill in. He had to monitor the rain and factor that in with his daily pumping schedule. I came up with a ratio of inches of rain equating to gallons of watering. It was based on guesstimated rootgrowth after one year which for lack of any other direction made sense as we were trying to get 6 gallons of water to each grapevine per year. Next year it would take fewer inches of rain since their root structure would reach out farther.

It was now time to make new priorities, and pruning easily became the top one. Though I jumped into this now massive project, I really didn't get too far before my week once again expired. As Jerry was pruning and Ken was working on special projects, Jerry was doing the weeding as he went along and progress went way slower than I envisioned. Ken helped on some of the weeding to accelerate the pruning, but it seemed like the weeds were growing as fast as he was weeding right behind him.

Don't let up. Don't give in. I knew the weeds had a winning streak going but I wasn't going to give up. They "took out" Ed. There had to be a solution to this problem. I just had to do more reading and find out what everyone else does.....and there was the pruning that needed to get done.....the sap was running and new growth was appearing.

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