While we deadheaders of Bindweed Farm admit to being neo-Luddites, we give up our backwards stance toward technology and magic (wait, aren’t they the same?) for one piece of equipment that has saved us countless hours and three or four hired hands over the years: the tape layer, a simple piece of equipment that installs drip irrigation at root level, thereby keeping surface moisture to a minimum and limiting weed germination.
Since we live in a desert climate where summer rains rarely total more than a couple inches and sometimes don’t occur at all, most of our weed problems start in the spring when the soil still possesses moisture from winter snows and cool weather supports an environment perfect for germination. If we take care of these early weeds later work gets minimized, but if we happen to get a heavy thunderstorm another flush of weeds soon follows. Just as rain follows the plow, weeds follow water, so if you surface irrigate—whether it be with sprinkler, by flood, or with drip tape—you’re just inviting any surface seed the moment to shine it’s been waiting for. Watering underground, we deprive those seeds of the conditions they need. When the surface appears wet it generally means the roots have been irrigated, so we turn the water off. The soil at germination zone level dries out in a matter of a few hours. Though the underground irrigation technique won’t be as dramatically helpful in a wet climate, it has to be an improvement over surface use since every drop of water less on the surface is one less available to weeds.
Surface drip tape placement has a couple other drawbacks, too. Wind moves tape wherever it wishes unless it’s in use, full of enough water that only hurricanes can move it, and the sun stretches empty tape which then shrinks during cooler nights, rarely (if ever) returning it to its original place but instead making interesting detours and oxbows through the field. That tape’s not going anywhere when it’s underground.
For those who’d like to build their own attachment, here’s a diagram of ours (drawn by friend/neighbor/orchardist Marv Jones). If you have a knack for fabrication, this is an opportunity for you to go into business as it’s an item any drip tape user wants (or after reading this, WILL want). You may want to improve our model by changing the spool feed. Ours was built to keep costs to a minimum, so the spool support rises directly above the shank. Unfortunately, this means the spool unrolls in front of the tubing rather than directly above it, so there’s a little wear and possible damage to the drip tape as it slides over the toolbar that the tape layer bolts to (we just cover the possible dangers in duct tape every spring and have never had a problem yet). If you move the spool support so the tape feeds directly downward into the tubing you eliminate this problem, but you’ll need a sturdier frame to hold the tape roll.
Email and we are happy to send you a jpg of this mechanical drawing and detail photos. Just click on the contact page.