CRAFT Farm Tour

Ivy Creek Family Farm – Irrigation Strategies

Thursday – June 30th, 2016

Paul sharing about drip tape set up

Paul sharing about drip tape set up

The CRAFT tour at Ivy Creek Family Farm was our first swing at a Twilight Tour – a weeknight gathering of the CRAFT Cohort – and that night our focus was on “Irrigation Strategies.” Ivy Creek Family Farm sits along the Ivy Creek just outside the small town of Barnardsville. Paul & Anna Littman came to farming almost by happenstance. Both were working full time professional jobs when an opportunity to grow a bigger garden fell into their laps. After spending two years trading vegetables for the use of land and a tractor, Paul and Anna bought their 38 acre farm nine years ago, and later started leasing a few extra acres from their neighbor. Currently 8 acres are in cultivation. They produce A-Z vegetables, run a CSA, sell at tailgate markets and to restaurants. They also built a beautiful new pavilion last year so they can host weddings and other events on the farm.

We quickly jumped into the tour and our discussion on irrigation strategies. Paul began by admitting that most of the time he tries to avoid irrigating on the farm, wanting to do it as little as possible. But, this dry farming approach isn’t always the safest. For instance, when they planted potatoes this year they didn’t lay drip tape immediately, and despite the dry spring they looked beautiful, good and healthy, until suddenly they didn’t. By then though it was too late to lay down the drip tape and try to resuscitate them.

3 hp electric pump

3 hp electric pump

Paul then showed us the 3 horse power pump they use to pull water from the river to irrigate farm and discussed the benefits and drawbacks for it on his farm. Ivy Creek has been channelized over time as from landowners trying to control the wandering nature of the creek. So, when it rains the creek can quickly turn into a raging torrent kicking up plenty of sediment. Large amounts of sediment do not work well for using drip irrigation and can quickly clog up the lines. During the spring when the water is up, they have to spin out the sediment collecting in the pump filter every 10 minutes or so to keep the pump and system happy.

However, a benefit of drip irrigation and a central electric pump is that once it’s set up all you need to do is flick a switch and you’re good to go. Whereas, a “trash pump,” a mobile gas pump often used in construction, can be helpful if you don’t always need your water to be in the same place but adds extra steps. As Paul pointed out with irrigation, you don’t always need a giant pump, and there isn’t one set-up that is the go-to. You just need to know your irrigation needs find a system to fits your land and production systems..

For irrigation, Ivy Creek is set up in multiple zones. The pump can keep up with about eighty 100ft lines of drip tape or a ¾ acre field, and they irrigate in 1hr/field cycles. With a fixed pump location they have had to get creative with moving water across the farm and inevitably across roads. To avoid damaging the lay flat hoses that cross the gravel roads, the main conduits between the drip locations, they will wrap the hose in a second layer of lay flat for temporary protection and/or use cardboard boxes lining the ground underneath to help prevent punctures. And with quick connects they can easily un-do the hose and move it off the road when not in use to avoid driving on it altogether.

Irrigation = a complex math problem

Irrigation = a complex math problem

Lay flat hose then connects to the drip tape lines that lay along the length of the beds emitting water directly to the soil, not on theleaves & fruit minimizing surface water contamination. Ivy Creek uses heavy duty 15 mil drip tape and try to use it for multiple years. But, that also means coming up with a way to store it, and tracking which lines are used where so they don’t re-use them on tomatoes and other solanaceous crops year after year since many plant diseases are carried in water and can accumulate in the lines.

As we continued to walk the farm Paul shared a few other pearls of irrigation wisdom including:

  1. When considering your irrigation system there will never be a perfect fit, you’ll be tweaking it always. And, there are challenges & benefits with any system. For example, with overhead irrigation you’ll have a better germination rate if you direct seed than with drip tape, but if you are growing with a film (i.e. plastic, landscape fabric, etc.) it’s harder to get the water contact you want with overhead. Sometimes one choice will precipitate another.
  2. Irrigation is like a math puzzle to some extent. It can take a bit to get a system set up and running because there are a lot of pieces in play. In a 2ft section Paul showed us there were 12 different plumbing parts. Paul recommends taking the time to figure it out before you need to irrigate and you want to make sure you have what you need when the plants need it.
  3. When leasing land, it’s important to remember that your co-managing the land with the landowner. Be sure you’re maintaining well the land around your stuff, if the landowner can’t see where you irrigation is when the grass grows up and they come into mow it could make a mess or plumbing parts for you.

Alternative to a water wheel transplanterWe made one last quick stop to see Ivy Creek’s alternative to a water wheel transplanter. They rigged up a 200 gallon tank on a pallet fork, with three emitters of PEX pipes. After transplanting a bed, they’ll drive the tractor over with the tank to water in the transplants after they’ve planted a bed, and it only requires two people to operate – a driver and someone to make sure the emitters are hitting the plants.

Well it was another great CRAFT tour, and we’re now over halfway through the farm tour season. Our thanks to Paul, Anna and the Ivy Creek crew for hosting us on a busy Thursday evening. We learned so much! See you next time.

Now is the time to join CRAFT for 2016! WNC CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaborative that offers farmers, farm workers and aspiring farmers networking and learning opportunities. For more information or to join, click here. Or contact Cameron Farlow, Organic Growers School Farmer Programs Director at 828.338.9465 or


Author: Cameron Farlow

Cameron Farlow is the Executive Director of Organic Growers School. Hailing from Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, she has now made her home in Western NC. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, Cameron dove headfirst into the realm of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, and later completed her Master’s Degree in Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University. She also brings experience in the realms of farmland preservation, food security, farm to university, and land access for farmers. She came on board with OGS in April 2012. In addition to her work with OGS, Cameron is a dancer, baker and avid adventurer.