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Irrigation

"Does it ever stop raining here?" inquired the visitor to Seattle.
"How would I know" responded his young companion, "I'm only six years old!"


Your interest in irrigation depends on the location of your vineyard and whether you have any extra water to put on the ground. In Maryland, despite three dry summers in a row, our interest in irrigation is still limited to applications to assist the vine's first year in the vineyard. Our friends a few miles to the north on Long Island, however, install permanent drip irrigation on each vine. The difference between us has less to do with annual rainfall than it does with the inability of Long Island soil to retain moisture.

The subject of this page is the use of drip irrigation to assist first year vines. If you are interested in the broader aspects of the subject, there are some good sites available through "Grape Seek" which may be accessed through the Grape Growers Notebook home page. One site we like which deals with applications of commercial scale is found at http://www.atinet.org/cati/cit/rese/98/980.

Whether you propagated those new plants yourself, or paid good money for them, you naturally want to give them every chance of not only surviving their first year in the vineyard, but thriving as well. If you plant a few hundred vines per season, a few cents per vine will provide an emitter (or "dripper") for each plant and sufficient footage of black vinyl tubing to provide the necessary insurance for their welfare.

As for water, the temporary nature of the project makes supply considerations less important. The drippers are rated by gallons per hour. One-half gallon per hour drippers are perfect for vineyards. As little as one quart of water per day, when averaged out over the driest time of the season, is sufficient to maintain first year vines in good condition.

Remember, the beauty of drip irrigation is that the gradual application to the soil eliminates runoff. A large water resource is not necessary for first year vines. On the contrary, you want those roots to do some seeking on their own.

Most water sources are going to require at least a screen filter to keep debris out of the drippers. As for pumping, 10 psi is the maximum you want in the tubes, so, for a few hundred vines, we are interested in less pump rather than more

If you plant several acres at one time, you might consider moving the tubing lines from row to row during the season rather than ending up in the future with a few miles of black spaghetti that may be difficult to sell. You are going to want a few hundred yards of tubing with drippers for future use [We're always planting something, aren't we?], so try to estimate your needs for several seasons rather focusing on the first one.

Moving tubing used to be a very difficult thing to do for first year vines. No matter how carefully vines are planted and drippers are installed, water just doesn't drip where you want it to after moving the line.

Now, with the use of grow tubes (see page on subject) this process is greatly simplified. Instead of installing the drippers directly into the tubing, the combined application with a growing tube calls for a "pot dripper." This means that you suspend the line 6"-8" above the grow tubes, place a 1/4" double ended barb in the supply line, and attach 12" to 15" of 1/4" tubing ending in the dripper. Each of these extensions goes directly into the grow tube. The water falls where you want it (even in windy conditions), and if you move the line later, you can easily reestablish your target for the dripping water.

At the risk of promoting commercial interests, let's face it, some of this stuff (drippers, barbs) may be hard to find. Our supplier is Rain Bird Sales, Inc., Landscape Drip Division, Azusa, CA 91702 1(800)247-3782. Rain Bird is mainly a landscape contracting supplier, so they have many outlets. It is company policy that all outlets are open to the general public (even piddling grape growers), and even if the balance of the outlet's business is wholesale only.


Replacement Vines

An excellent way to apply a little moisture to that single replacement vine in an established row is to use a grow tube and the "pot dripper" described above with the barb installed in a one gallon plastic jug. Suspend this mini-irrigator and refill every couple of days during dry conditions. If your vineyard is of the back yard variety, these jugs may be all you need.

There are two taboos in grape growing: (1) Don't grow grapes for birds (see "Bird Control"), and (2) don't permit first year vines to die. So drip lines, grow tubes, bird net, etc. are all good investments.


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