My name is Michael Bell, and I am the owner of Dallas Half Acre Farm. I have farmed on two different pieces of land, neither of which has had running water. Over the years, I have learned how to navigate this issue and want to share some valuable lessons I have learned in hopes of helping others out.
How I ended up on a farm with no water
Dallas Half Acre Farm is located 6 miles from downtown Dallas, Texas, tucked away at the end of a remote residential street. At the inception of the farm, water was not a concern because the city of Dallas had said, “Yes, water can be run to your property, no problem.” However, the cost of running the water was not discussed, which ended up being estimated at $28,000! Being a new, upstart farm, there was no possible way spending that kind of money was an option, so other arrangements had to be made.
How to get water where you need it?
In the beginning, hauling water over to the farm was not a big deal, as the square footage actually being farmed was so small, but as the tunnels were added and the water usage increased, other arrangements had to be made. After a lot of hours researching on YouTube, the best solution was rain harvesting or water catchments of some sort. Luckily, the amount of info on the subject was vast, with a lot of great DIY videos.
Building a farm-sized water catchment system
The first thing that had to be determined was where the first catchment setup was going to go. When the farm was designed, there was room left on the east side of the first tunnel for outdoor beds that ended up fitting the water catchment perfectly! It’s a simple 10x40 structure made out of heavy-duty pallets, 2x6s, and some repurposed sheet iron. The rainfall flows down the slight decline to a gutter, which hauls the water to a collection of 55-gallon barrels connected together with ¼ inch PVC.
The farm also has a 10X12 prefab shed that is used for storage. Connected to this shed, there is a 4-foot porch roof extending out that collects rainwater, which feeds into a 500-gallon water tote on each side. From these collection points, the water is then transferred to different water totes around the farm that are connected to 1/10th horsepower water pumps that distribute the water to drip lines that finally water the vegetables.
If you want to start by building a smaller, home garden-sized water catchment or are going to be farming near your house, you can also check out this article on Building Your Own Rainwater Collection on Bootstrap Farmer’s homesteading page.
How big of a farm can you water with a rain catch system
The farm consists of four caterpillar tunnels that measure 14 feet wide and different lengths ranging from 50 feet long up to 120 feet long. Each tunnel contains 3 beds, with the two outside beds consisting of 4 rows of drip and the middle bed consisting of 5 rows due to it being a little wider.
Using these small water pumps, a single pump can irrigate 9 rows 80 feet long of drip lines at a time. The only group of vegetables not on drip irrigation are root vegetables, which are watered the old-fashioned way, by hand with a water hose and a wand.
How to fertilize crops when using rainwater
Another thing that had to be considered was fertilization and proper distribution. After many attempts using various techniques that just ended up in disaster, the only thing that worked, unfortunately was the most inefficient way, which was using a 2-gallon sprayer. Given the fact that the soil is extremely healthy already, fertilization only occurs on high-feeding vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers and is only needed once a month.
Advantages of using wood chips on the farm
Due to the farm not having running water available, soil health is a key component. The more carbon the soil has in it, the more water it will hold. Therefore, It is key that the soil is kept up with this in mind. One of the best ways to do this is with wood chips.
Wood chips are usually easy to find and to move around. Wood chips are usually added to the beds after spring planting of long-season varieties such as Sun Gold tomatoes, Zephyr zucchini, or Bell pepper plants.
Root crops are never mulched while lettuce is mulched with the older wood chips from the year prior. Normally, this mulch has broken down greatly and serves perfectly for the small lettuce transplants that have to be continuously put in the ground during longer-hour days.
The benefits of wood chips
This type of mulching provides numerous positive benefits. First, and probably most importantly, it saves a tremendous amount of moisture for the soil; neither the sun nor wind hits the soil, so evaporation doesn’t occur. Secondly, it keeps the soil temperature down by as much as 40 degrees in the hot 110-degree August Texas heat. Finally, wood chips will help with the fungal/bacteria ratio by adding lots of fungal matter to the soil.
Each farmer has their own depth of wood chips that they prefer due to their own preference. The key is not the depth that matters but more so if you have them at all.
Bootstrapping an Urban Farm
Dallas Half Acre Farm is a one-of-a-kind farm, but like anything else, if someone is determined to make something happen, they will figure it out. As the farm continues to grow and evolve, more water tanks are being added, and future watersheds are being planned. The future is bright for this little urban farm, and we are excited to follow in its journey!
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