When we were building the pole barn where Amanda and I live now, we bought many of the construction materials from Home Depot. Included in our purchase was 1300 feet of flare-end 3/4″ PVC pipe we planned to use for drip irrigation.
Why on earth I thought we would ever need 1300 feet of PVC pipe is a mystery to me, but according to some calculation I made (probably close to bedtime – that’s when my brain becomes the least organized), 1300 feet was what we needed.
By the time I realized my mistake (we probably needed at most 250 feet), it was too late to return it to Home Depot, and Home Depot was thoroughly skilled at making returns impractical anyway. (You return it to Ralph, but by the time the credit is due Ralph doesn’t work there any more, and Susie doesn’t understand what Ralph did and will need to check with Herman, who should be in next Sunday, no wait he’s off that Sunday, check back after Thanksgiving). So I tucked the extra pipe in an unused corner of the farmyard and figured I would use it up eventually.
If for no other reason than that it has been available in plentiful supply, 3/4″ PVC pipe has become my go-to material of choice on the farm. It’s a stiffening pole for a young peach tree that needs bolstering. It’s a free-standing support for a lazy dill plant. It’s a non-conductive spreader for a ham radio antenna. It’s the heart of our tomato trellising system. And – surprise – it makes good pipe for irrigation systems, not just the original one I envisioned when we moved here but the bristling array of pipes and faucets that have eventually come to underlie all the core campus.
Yesterday I was working on the tomato trellis. My brother Ruffin says that all you need is one year when your tomatoes fail, and from then on you’ll plant more tomatoes than you can use. He’s right. Last year we planted tomatoes too late into lousy soil and didn’t water them enough, and the hornworms had their way with them. We ended up with maybe two pounds of usable fruit. This year the Farmer-in-Chief resolved she was going to have enough tomatoes, so we have about 65 feet of Row 4 exclusively in tomatoes, generously sprinkled with basil and marigold. We use double rows, so that means 130 feet of tomatoes. Their ripening is delayed because of the heat, but generally, they’re doing well, and I’ve been busy trellising.
Our trellising system is built on a lateral backbone of 1 1/2″ PVC pipe attached by steel wire to t-posts. I lash 3/4″ PVC pipes to that lateral backbone with twine, and then tie the tomato plants to those 3/4″ PVC pipes. It’s cheap, strong, flexible, and relatively fast, and it’s easy to store during the off-season, because it breaks back down easily to posts, three long pipes, and a bunch of short pipes. The only recurring cost is a little wire (always on hand) and a ball of twine.
You may think this entirely too labor intensive, but trellising the tomatoes is a pleasant task, and one we can do while we’re doing what we need to do anyway, which is to check each individual plant for hornworms, blossom end rot, and – miracle of miracles! – the occasional ripe tomato ready to pick and enjoy.
Yesterday I used up the last of that stored 3/4″ PVC pipe. Now that my seemingly endless supply of pipe is ended, I think I’ll need to be more creative. As you can tell, the line of tomatoes is more or less fully trellised, so I’m not sure I’ll need to add any more posts. If I do, I’ll probably use young saplings instead of 3/4″ PVC. No need to spend money on what God gives us for free, right?
And in all likelihood, we’ll still need to lay an actual pipe here and there. When we do, I’ll probably need to buy some more 3/4″ pipe. May buy an extra stick or two. You just never know when you might be grateful to have some lying around . . .