Stanford Farm implements water conservation techniques in face of drought

Feb. 25, 2014, 1:20 a.m.


ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily
ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily

The Stanford Community Farm, a one-acre field located on the outskirts of campus, has implemented moisture-trapping gardening techniques in order to mitigate water usage, in response to the ongoing shortage of rainfall throughout California.

The Community Farm functions as an organic farm comprised of plots of varying sizes as well as chicken pens and orchards, and is divided between educational and community uses. The latter is open to students and Stanford employees, according to Liz Stone, a retired employee of the Stanford Hospital who uses the farm.

Patrick Archie, a farm educator and a lecturer at the School of Earth Sciences, has facilitated the farm’s adaptation to the drought over the past two years by using farming techniques aimed at using water more efficiently and reducing overall usage. To that end, Archie set up drip-watering systems that he estimated as being 80- to 90-percent more efficient due to plants having more time to absorb a more limited amount of water.

Two members of the community garden—Christine Martens, a lab manager at the School of Medicine, and Ed Mocarski, professor emeritus of microbiology and immunology—said that they agreed with the new limits on watering and would continue to use mulch and compost to increase the moisture retention in their soil.

The farm has also incorporated the use of three kinds of cover crops—oats, rye and bell beans—that have unique root systems conducive to allowing air and water to seep deeply into the soil. Without the cover crops, the soil would become compressed, which would eventually lead to erosion and a loss of valuable nutrients to wind and rain.

Throughout the winter, the farm will continue to use the drip system, compost, and mulch and remay—materials used to cover plants to retain moisture—to preserve the already existing crops.

“If you feel the soil, you can see that it’s wet, and I’ve only watered it three times since November,” Archie said. “It’s kind of amazing.”

However, Archie expressed concern about the coming spring.

“When the days get warmer, the farm’s water needs will increase,” Archie said. “I am concerned about what’s going to happen if we don’t get more rain. How much more can we conserve?”

Contact Christina Gibbs at clgibb ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

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