Friends, I’ll be honest with you: our topic today is not rocket science.
When I’m talking about nutrients, I tend to get all amped about biochemistry and such. And while I get equally nerdy talking about irrigation, it’s just plain simpler to talk about.
But simple or complex, the time to get serious about irrigation is upon us. I’m not a weather man, but it’s looking like the inch per week we’ve been able to pretty much count on has run out. So it’s high time to intervene. Water means more to plants than just hydration—it is the vehicle that allows them to uptake nutrients from the soil. Without water, all that good Nitrogen, Potassium, and Sulfur that we so diligently apply just sits there. It’s the addition of water that allows our plants to suck them up, like Gatorade for corn.
The practice of proper irrigation isn’t mind-bending, but it does take some work. Last week, I made an appeal to scout your fields for diseases. While you’re at that, put in the work to collect the info you’ll need for proper irrigation.
Which means dig up some plants, y’all. I know, I know. I tell you to dig up so many plants that it’ll dink your yield (not really, but I do ask you to dig a lot), but the information you gain looking at your plants root development is that essential to your good decision-making.
If you’re thinking that you’ll just skip the digging and rely on fancy aqua systems probes, I’ll make the case that you should think again. Is the info you gain from those probes awesome and important? Yes. Is it the whole picture? Heck no. Get the whole picture by walking your fields with a hand probe and digging some roots. You’ll learn what your plants look like when your probe say this or that, which puts you in control of the situation, rather than at the mercy of your technology.
Ideally, from now through pollination, your plants should experience as little stress as possible. This charge always requires excellent management on your part, but is extra challenging this year because generally, root activity so far is shallower than we’d like to see. In the best cases I’ve seen, roots are just reaching the 18-24 inch depth level. Proper irrigation is extra important in this situation, to both protect plants from damaging stress and to encourage the root development that will help them protect themselves.
The key is to irrigate so that your fields aren’t too empty or too full (see—not complicated). Too much water and you’ll burn out; too little and you’re plants will burn up. Finding the right balance in your schedule might not require us to talk about biochemistry and physics, but it does take some planning and a mind for a careful kind of efficiency that will utilize every inch of water (including what’s already there) without compromising your yield and stalk quality.
Irrigating is always a marathon—your pace is always important. The wrong pace will either jeopardize your ability to finish the race or produce disappointing results. The right pace not only facilitates your finishing, but also maximizes your performance, allowing you to run the best race possible. As you start irrigating in earnest, do so with September in mind. Planning for the long haul will allow you to build on what you have started and help you and your plants finish strong.