The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Updates on drip irrigation and caterpillar tunnels (plus cantaloupes)

Summer asparagus

July and August are always the months when I look at our garden and despair. Not for the usual reason --- weeds. But because perfection was not achieved.

This year, we're trying out drip irrigation, set on a timer to water for three hours twice a week. When I got the first monthly water bill, it had skyrocketed up $55. Yikes! Was the haul worth the sticker shock?

On the one hand...very much! All of that water has our asparagus sending up enough spears that we're harvesting a meal weekly, figuring we might as well pick the spears since the canopy is already completely full of happy, older fronds. At organic, summer prices, that pays for about half of our water bill right there.


And the cucumbers! I always succession plant in case bugs and disease get the early crops, which means we've been rolling in cukes. We eat about six a day and I've still been having to gift grocery bagsful to the neighbors.

Oh, and did I mention lettuce? Mark's gotten into the habit of making us salad for lunch every day, which can be tough in the summer. But drip is keeping leaf lettuce soft and delicious as long as I plant a new bed each month.

So what's the problem?

Summer garden

The walnut trees. We have a couple of largish black walnuts about fifteen feet from one corner of the garden and they never caused problems in the past. But I suspect irrigating strips of garden beds tempted walnut roots to concentrate their attention on my growing area. As you likely know, walnut roots produce toxic juglone. When many garden plants come in contact, they go kaput.

To cut a long story short, the first to wilt were the tomatoes. Then the summer squash --- we only got one zucchini! The pepper plants look okay, but they're barely producing. Even the green beans appear to have been hit.

And the walnuts are sandwiched right between the garden fence, the electric pole, and the road. I suspect we're going to have to hire a pro to cut them down. Expensive!

Carrot germination

Hopefully that will be a one-time fix. The other issue, not so much.

The photo above shows my carrot bed. Notice how the only sizeable plants are right along the drip line? I started some more carrots inside (the tiny plants closer to the bucket) to fill in the gaps. Lesson learned --- drip irrigation isn't sufficient to get fall crops up and running during our parched summers up on the ridge.

Brussels sprouts under cover

Okay, enough about drip. How about Mark's caterpillar tunnels?

On the one hand, they are awesome! Look at those brussels sprouts --- thriving under their covers!

On the other tulle is so very, very tender. I swear, our caterpillar tunnels sprout holes even when they haven't been touched.

I've been mending these gaps at least once a month, but even that wasn't enough to keep caterpillar worms out of one tunnel. On the other hand, the real fabric intended for this use is $300 and up per roll, so maybe I'll learn to enjoy mending.

Ripening cantaloupe

In other news, while I've had lots of unexpected garden failures this year, I've also had one unexpected success. I've never managed to ripen melons previously, which was mostly due to viral diseases caused by bugs. But research turned up the tidbit that melons are very sensitive to cool soil, so I held my horses and planted a disease-resistant cantaloupe (Divergent) outside on June 4 (after starting the seeds inside a month before).

How's it doing? The vines are taking over the garden! There are lots of big fruit hiding under those leaves, the skin crackling and starting to yellow!

Which brings me to the garden lesson I never seem to learn --- for every unexpected loss, there's an unexpected win. Now if I can just figure out when cantaloupes are ripe...

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I bought tulle after reading your earlier suggestion. While it did protect, the squirrels or birds ate holes right through it to the strawberries I was protecting! I’m still going to try it again next year.
Comment by Johnson AnnMarie Wed Aug 5 17:51:46 2020
You might try sheer curtains for your tunnel. You can pick them up dirt cheap at yard sales and goodwill store. Assuming you feel safe enough wearing a mask and going to these places.
Comment by Tressa Fri Aug 7 09:14:58 2020

Have you considered fine mesh hardware cloth for your tunnels? I used a bunch of it lately to reinforce an enclosure that was the wrong bar width for baby rats as mine grew up.

It was 5 dollara for a 3x15 foot roll at my local hardware store for a very small spacing. Maybe it would be enough?

My other recommendation is maybe ordering and repurposing a mosquito net for a large bed. Those would definitely be small enough for thr catepillars!

Comment by Kaylee Stinnett Thu Aug 13 11:36:06 2020
How to tell when your melons are ripe? Just nudge the stem. When a 'musk melon' is ripe, it will just let go. The 'deliciousness' happens right at the end, so be patient! Thanks for posting. I miss your more frequent writing.
Comment by Tim Inman Fri Aug 14 09:00:42 2020

At work I often use "infusion mesh" to distribute resin over a vacuum infusion part. Its strands are a lot thicker than those of the tule you've been using, so it should be a lot sturdier. The openings in the mesh vary by brand but are in the order of 1-2 mm (0.04 to 0.08 inches).

Comment by Roland_Smith Sat Sep 26 15:16:44 2020
Hello Anna! I just found your book on cover crops and am finding it, as well as your blog, very helpful and interesting. Thank you!
Comment by Harini Sat Dec 19 07:22:07 2020
Good job on the caterpillar tunnels too! Just wanted to say Hello; somehow I have missed your emails for a long time it seems. Now suddenly this one shows up today so I'm happy to catch back up with your postings. I believe it's been 10 plus years ago I started following your blog and have always enjoyed your writings and the good information you supply. I filled out the survey too btw! Looking forward to reading more!
Comment by cynthia williams Thu Jun 23 15:11:39 2022

Everyone whose comments I missed two years ago....ooops. :-)

Cynthia --- I'm so glad the new email reached you! We're slowly but surely starting to put old (and new) projects up on the web for folks to enjoy, so expect an email a month with updates. :-)

(If anyone else wants to be on the list but isn't, scroll down and you'll see a signup form.)

Comment by anna Tue Jun 28 15:03:23 2022

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