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This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Growing for Market Magazine.
By Josh Volk
When I saw this tool I knew the exact need that inspired its creation and I loved seeing the abundant comments from other farmers around the world who had also created their own versions, born of that same common need. Nat Wiseman from Village Greens of Willunga Creek near Adelaide in southern Australia posted a very simple and relatively quick fix to the problem of laying drip lines in garlic after the canopy has already filled in.
His solution was to use a piece of PVC pipe for a long, lightweight handle, and to attach a loop of wire to the end that the drip line could be threaded through. Without having to bend over he could guide the drip line down through the canopy and into place.
The tool is also full of little bits and pieces that will be very familiar to most farmers – a bit of spare PVC pipe, a scrap of poly tubing, a length of malleable wire, a few tek screws, and some zip ties. To me this is a great example of how simple creating a good tool for the job can be, and how powerful sharing these simple tools on social media can be.
Within the comments are questions and answers about what the conditions are that the tool is used in – a critical part of understanding why it’s built the way it is. It also inspired at least two other farmers to share their versions, designed using the materials they had on hand and for the specific conditions they encounter when laying out their drip.
After looking pretty closely at the photo he posted on Instagram and then following up with Nat through email I wasn’t surprised to learn that they have since created simpler tool. I’m not sure if everyone looks at the details in these photos as closely as I do, but I’ll mention a few of the things that only jumped out at me when I inspected closely.
Nat isn’t using drip tape like I do, he’s using drip line that’s heavier poly tubing with inline emitters. I confirmed this with him and they’ve gotten five years out of it so far and are hoping for another five. In the comments he mentioned that they store their lines next to the beds so they’re already laid out and just need to be transferred up and over the already tall garlic plants and down through the foliage.
The tool in the photo anticipated some problems that didn’t necessarily end up being problems in the end. For one he thought maybe the larger diameter PVC wouldn’t hang up on leaves as much as a thinner handle and he also added a bit of poly to the wire to keep the line from kinking.
What he’s switched to for now is using a hoe handle (with the blade still on it) turned upside down with a hole through it. Through the hole he puts a reusable heavy duty zip tie that can be clipped around the tubing without having to thread the tubing through. He lifts the drip line with one hand and guides it into place with the tool in his other hand, the long handle allowing him to stay upright and not reach down into the row. Using an existing tool in the tool collection saves space in the tool shed and the handle is longer and stronger making the job easier according to Nat.
On the original design, I became a bit suspicious when I saw the screws and zip ties both holding the wire in place. From similar experience it was easy to imagine that one of the two original methods (either zip ties alone, or screws alone) wasn’t enough to hold things together so the other was added later.
Nat confirmed this, and if you’re curious, the screws came first. The whole evolution of the tool is a great example of how good systems and tools actually get developed – and how we all learn to make tools better over time: by making lots of mediocre tools in the beginning and learning from them.
I’m also inspired to share a few stories of laying and straightening drip that seeing this post triggered for me. The farmer I apprenticed with had a favorite tool for straightening lines, basically a hook on a long handle. It was something like a Cobrahead weeder, before those exisited.
My current go-to tool for nudging drip lines into place when I turn on a set is a narrow collinear hoe. I keep thinking I might make a dedicated tool, but that one’s already in the tool shed, is frequently already in the field with me, and is super light. I just run the tape over the back of the blade, up against the neck of the hoe and it works great.
I can do this with most hoes and rakes I have in the field (I can’t imagine doing it easily with a hula hoe, but I don’t use those). I don’t often have to put drip down into a canopy of garlic like this tool was designed for, but if I did I’d probably take Nat’s lead, maybe using a carabiner instead of a zip tie.
Do you have a favorite tool or method for placing drip – or doing anything else on the farm? If you haven’t shared your favorite tools yet please do. This one was a from a three year old Instagram post that Nat (@villagegreensofwillungacreek) went back and tagged and I’m glad he took the time.
Josh Volk farms in Portland, Oregon, and does consulting and education under the name Slow Hand Farm. He is the author of the book Compact Farms: 15 Proven Plans for Market Farms on 5 Acres or Less, available from Growing for Market. He can be found at SlowHandFarm.com.