Saturday, May 5, 2012


It's spring.
The trees are budding, the birds are chirping, and a farmer's heart turns to...


I switched from gated pipe (above) to sprinklers six years ago now, as it was a little more efficient and a little less labor intensive.  But it's been a steep learning curve, and every year I've had one or another major issue with busted pipes or my recalcitrant pump.
So every year I dread the first start up.
I tell folks that I'm just letting the farmers , who make a living off of their hay crop, have first dibs on the water when it starts up, but I'm just stalling.  I don't want to know what problem will reveal itself at the first pressurization of the system.
The KRD [Kittitas Reclamation District] has had water in the main ditch for two weeks now.  I've been working on replacing some smaller, part-circle sprinklers that I had originally installed at the ends of my main lines with cam-locks for my bigger, sturdier Nelson sprinklers--more radius and more dependable (the return mechanism on the smaller ones had started to hang-up and get stuck in one spot). 
That done, and the onset of another major development (to be blogged after it happens tomorrow, I hope), I could no longer put off starting the pump--itself always a major PITA.
First try:  primer pump is sucking air--no prime.  Usually, I end up taking the little hand pump apart two or three times before I manage to get it working right.  But just for jollies, I decided to just try tightening down the bolts that hold the leaky gasket in place.
Second try--we got prime!  Start up the pump.  This usually takes a couple or ten tries before we get sufficient flow in the main pipe to sustain the prime.
First try and the system is filling!
Just as a trickle of water starts to appear at the sprinkler heads, I hear an odd sound, over-laying the whirr of the pump.  Hmm.  I've heard that before...
YIKES!  The flow of water from the weir into the sump that my intake is in is too slow to keep the pump supplied!  It's been sucked down to almost nothing!
I quickly run to the gate on the main ditch and open it wide.  Hank is drawing water for his pasture from this same weir, and balancing the two out-flows is tricky.  But I get water flowing both directions again, and restart my pump--primed, first try; output steady as the system again fills itself.
Total elapsed time: half an hour!  A record!  And really, no major glitches.  I had left the ball valves on two sprinkler-less risers open, which was stealing water pressure, but once they were closed, the system was up and running!
And still running two hours later when we hit the sack.
And STILL running this morning when first we opened our eyes!
 On school mornings I usually change sprinklers at 6 AM (with chores) and 6 PM (before dinner).  That's another rationalization for not starting things up 'til a little later--I'll probably only have to do one cycle of irrigating before school's out.  In summer and on weekends I can switch sprinklers at 5-6 AM, 2 PM and 9-10 PM, and move through the cycle a little faster.  So I headed out to move the sprinkler heads to the next station.  Al commented on my way out that it looked like frost on the fence....

Think:  mini-ice storm.
Thermometer read about 33*F.  The moving water kept the system from freezing up, but, along with the fence, the sprinkler heads were coated in ice.  Also the grass, which made walking crunchy and a little precarious.

Wow.  It's May 5th!  (Happy Cinco de Mayo!)  What's with this?!?
Oh well, just move the sprinklers and get back in for breakfast, and a hot cuppa tea.
Installed sprinkler on the next riser and opened a slightly stiff valve.
Nothing.  No wa-wa.  DANG!  Pipe is froze!
Tried a couple of other risers:  same thing.
Oh well.  Nothing to do until the sun, which had just topped the eastern horizon, warmed things up.  Hopefully a soft enough freeze than none of my pipes are busted, though I can think of a couple of places from last fall that might be slightly susceptible (threaded plastic fittings that were starting to split from the constant thump, thump, thump of the impact sprinklers).  Can't move the other sprinkler heads, because the pump needs at least one running at all times, to relieve pressure, so leave them going, and leave the new position's valve open.  I thinking that once the air warms up, the pipe will thaw, and I'll have visual confirmation that I can go ahead and move the other two sprinklers.
By the time I finished my bowl of cereal and started another cuppa tea, the sprinkler sputtered to life.  Walked out and moved the other heads, opening slightly reluctant valves to the open position--10-20 seconds later both risers flushed themselves out and we were good.
I don't see any leaks, but the fact is that there is still ice everywhere there is not moving water--it'll take a bit for everything to thaw out completely.  Then we'll see if we dodged a bullet.
One other possible casualty:  One of the overnight sprinkler positions was up by the road, and a dozen or so of my baby poplars are weighed over with ice.  I gingerly started to shake one free...and immediately broke a branch, so I stopped right there.  Hopefully, as they slowly thaw out in the morning sun, they'll straighten back up and be none the worse for wear (except for one human-induced fracture).  It's supposed to be down right at 32* again tonight, so I'll be sure to set the overnight sprinklers out of my usual sequence, to avoid stressing any other trees.
Barring any need to shut down, I'll have the whole cycle complete by next weekend, in time for a two-day trip to Seattle for a Children's Justice conference (I don't like to ask Al to figure out my system--it's enough that he'll feed the herd for me for two days).
On another note:  Kate is doing much better.  Swellings on her tummy almost all gone--the original one is down to palm-size, with some scabbing over, presumably where the original bites were.  Thought I'd ride her, either bareback or without the back cinch, today or tomorrow, but the E-burg wind is already howling this morning.


  1. Wow, amazingly awesome sprinkler work there! Love it that it is already working. But your freeze stuff, whoa. What elevation are you again?
    Glad to hear Kate's welts are subsiding too...hope you ride tomorrow. I'm gonna try.

  2. I'm thinking I would find WAY too many ways to mess up the sprinkler system - go you!!

  3. You have the same relationship with your irrigation system that I have with my lawn mower.

  4. Crunchy walking and coated sprinkler heads make for beautiful pictures, but I guess they sort of complicate the whole procedure. Again, have to mention that I'm in awe of your Ms. Fix-it talents! Hope all will be A-1 by next weekend. Yay for Kate! Have a fun ride!

  5. Kacy, we're just at about 2500 feet (town is 2000), but it's been clear and cold at night. Things were slightly warmer this morning, changed sprinklers at 6:30 with no frozen valves (but still icicles on the fence and grass).

    Melissa--I guess that's what I meant about the learning curve--every year I get better, though.

    Sarah, Al wants to point out that we, too, have that relationship with the lawn mower (which DIDN'T start up yesterday...)

    Carol,Pretty is as pretty does--as long as they're working, I'm happy.

  6. Ok, lady, it's Tuesday, what's the big news? ;)

    I am in awe of your irrigation stuff. It's something I know absolutely nothing about. Bravo!

  7. Here's hoping they run trouble-free all season!