Irrigating an orchard

We are planning a small permaculture orchard with ~100 trees (in the Guelph area). For irrigation we are considering drilling a well and using drip irrigation. The downside is cost. Are there any more cost efficient alternatives? Can you recommend a competent firm that does this?

We have done something similar on our property - but with more trees. How large is your land base? If you have enough land you could collect surface water? or/ What about bringing water in and putting it in an above ground cistern?


1 Like

If I was starting again I would consider “Water For Every Farm: Yeomans Keyline Plan”. I have not read the book - but have heard several references - in particular Hugh Williams talk at the Guelph Organic Conference a few years ago and the benefits of it on his New York State biodynamic orchards on “The Threshold Farm”.
Also, depending on your soil, rootstock and varieties you are growing; irrigation may only be crucial for the first year.

1 Like

The economics of drilling a well this early in the game probably don’t make sense. And Pat is right, you likely only need to provide water during the first year or two while the trees establish, which means your investment in a well may not be the best use of your money over the longer term.

Do you have another well on the property? You could use another well to fill a large tank sitting on a hay wagon which you could then position at the head of your irrigation system and use a pump to supply water to the system. Remember that you would only need to do this when water is needed, but you may have to do it rather often on a hot dry summer (like last year’s).

We used to use our house well to irrigate our fields (diversified vegetable farm), but we were limited by how much water could actually flow out of our well which meant that we could only irrigate one or two sections of the field at a time. That, and on a drought year we would have to scale back our irrigation in order to have water left over for the house (like in 2016).

If you don’t have a well, then Pat’s suggestion is also a good one, especially for the long term viability (and vitality) of the orchard.

1 Like

Thanks everyone! In the end we decided to adjust the location and use our existing well in combination with drip irrigation.

Good luck!

Are you using a dripper for each tree? What’s your setup?

A couple of emitters near each tree.

1 Like

Best do the water needs calculations before putting in an above ground cistern as you may water needs make it impractical.

Do you know how to calculate the well level because in drought seasons to ensure it doesn’t run dry? This would be important if you are using your house well or a barn well with dependent livestock.

1 Like

Thank you Michele,

We are using our house well but in our case this shouldn’t be an issue as things stand. Daily water consumption by the orchard is a tiny fraction of what the well is producing. Still, would appreciate your guidance on this; in case we decide to expand.

Right now the main concern is figuring out a better mulching system. Last year I used wood chips which didn’t work all that well.

1 Like

What didn’t work well with wood chips Mark?

…too many weeds in the immediate vicinity of the tree. Took them a bit of time but the weeds got through big time. I am thinking of putting cardboard first and then covering over with wood chips. When I run out of cardboard might use squares of plastic mulch.

Also, in the first year we didn’t fertilize other than with occasional discharge of duck manure; but this year we are looking to apply organic fertilizer in spring.

I calculated our water needs for one acre and was horrified at how much water it would take to water 1" deep.

I looked online for you now. I have not used this calculator I’ve linked below so if it doesn’t make sense, there are others for the googling.

Thanks :slight_smile:

They calculate irrigation schedule for you. There are so many variables that I am not sure whether its really all that helpful. By the time you determine evapotranspiration, etc… You might as well just check experimentally if your watering schedule is working.

I know how much water I am applying because each drip is rated 1G/h, I have 2 drips per tree and 1 per berry bush and we know the number of plants.

How often to apply? To be honest that’s more trial and error than anything else but it seems to work well when the system is run for an hour in the morning every other day.

Because we only irrigate 400 plants, the total demand is <1000 G/h. Our well is rated much higher, so we are good for now.

1 Like

Correct me if I’m wrong, but fruit trees and bushes really only need irrigation for the first 3-5 years while they establish a strong and deep root system, no?

1 Like

I think it depends on the type of soil and rootstock. Dwarf trees need more care. Ours are semi-dwarf. I am thinking we will only irrigate during prolonged droughts after a couple of years and see how they react

1 Like