Irrigation is an insurance, for rainfall is uncertain, and the gardener never knows when it may become necessary to start the pumps or open the water lines to prevent loss. It is a great satisfaction to realize that one can be practically independent of the natural rainfall.
Seeds cannot germinate without moisture. It often occurs that plants do not come up promptly because of a lack of moisture. This trouble may be easily avoided by an up-to-date system of irrigation. Again, transplanting is often an uncertain operation. Hot, drying winds and bright sunshine, after planting, may cause an almost total loss of the plants, while irrigation would save them.
Absolute control of moisture conditions makes it possible to secure large yields, better quality and earlier maturity. These three advantages are of immense importance from a business standpoint. All classes of vegetables should grow unchecked, and this is impossible when moisture is wanting.
Drouths occur in all sections almost every year. They are disastrous to satisfactory returns. It happens not infrequently that $200 or even more an acre is lost during protracted drouth. This would more than pay for the installation of the most approved system and the application of water during the period of drouth.
It has been previously stated that the rate of applying stable manures and commercial fertilizers may be reduced when irrigation can be practiced. This may not be the best business policy, but it is unquestionably true that irrigation is often worth much more than any amount of manure or fertilizer that can be applied.
Numerous experiments have been made that show the value of irrigation. For example, at the Michigan Station an experiment was conducted on a 10-acre plot. Tomatoes and potatoes were irrigated four times and the Other vegetables in the test three times, about an inch of water being applied each time, while the same vegetables were grown under natural conditions. "The cabbage crop suffered most of all, perhaps, as where water was not used less than half formed heads of marketable size, and these were small. Of the Early Jersey Wakefield there were 5,000 more marketable heads to the acre obtained by the use of water and the weight was 11,325 pounds greater. Early Summer showed a gain of 4,826 heads and 21,959 pounds in weight. At 2 cents a head the gain to the acre would average nearly $100. A gain of 200 bushels an acre was obtained with the irrigated tomatoes, which at 50 cents a bushel would amount to $100, or ten times the expense of applying the water. Snap beans showed a gain of 300 bushels and early peas of 100 bushels an acre. Four applications of water to potatoes gave a gain of 129 bushels an acre. Marked improvement in quality was also noticeable with peas, beans and cabbage." Such gains, of course, could not be expected in normal seasons.
The New Jersey Station (N. J. Sta. Bul. 115) reports the following interesting results: "For beans, in terms of good-sized pods, the average yield of the nine non-irrigated belts was 17 pounds and 1 ounce, while the yield from the irrigated belt was 45 pounds, or nearly three times as many, besides being much larger sized and of finer color and quality.
"For peppers the average yield upon the 11 nonirri-gated belts was 717 fruits, while the number upon the irrigated belt reached 1,277. This does not show the whole difference, for by measure an unirrigated belt gave 6 l/2 peach basketfuls, with a total weight of 80 pounds, and the irrigated belt 11 1/2 baskets, weighing 147 pounds. The difference is still more than these figures show, for the irrigated ground gave much better looking peppers in plumpness and color than the nonirrigated land, with the quality far superior. The fruit from the irrigated plants would sell at the highest price, when those from the nonirrigated plants might go at a low figure.
"The increase of 4 3/4 baskets of peppers, to say nothing concerning the great superiority of the whole crop over that of the nonirrigated belts, cost for the water 24 1/2 cents (24.46), which in round numbers is 5 cents (5.14) a basket.
"The total weight of celery was 465 1/2 pounds, 329 1/2 pounds being produced in the irrigated and 136 pounds in the nonirrigated rows. In round numbers this is two and one-half (2.40, to be exact) times as much celery upon the irrigated as upon the nonirrigated land. However, these figures do not indicate the full difference of market value, for the irrigated celery was of good size and quality, readily salable at a fair price, while the non-irrigated rows yielded a crop that was worth less than the cost of production. After the plants were prepared for market by removing the worthless outside leaves and the roots, it was shown that the loss from the irrigated was 28.57 per cent, while from the nonirrigated it was 40 per cent, which is a much greater loss for the smaller plants than for the larger.
"The difference between the marketable products of the two rows is in round numbers three to one; but when the selling price is considered, the difference is not far from eight to one in favor of irrigation".
The late W. W. Rawson, a highly successful and extensive market gardener of Boston, practiced irrigation many years ago, and was an earnest advocate of artificial watering. He said ("Success in Market Gardening," Raw-son, p. 27) : "We cannot believe there is even an acre of growing crop which, in a dry time, would not be benefited by such a watering to an amount much more than the cost; though many people shrink from the expense involved, and are skeptical about getting full return from the outlay." Again, he says in the same connection (ibid., p. 27) : "It has oftentimes occurred that such a watering, once or oftener applied, has saved a crop that, without it, would have been a complete failure. For my part, I would as soon think of being without a steam pump as the farmer who cuts hay would of being without a mowing machine. There is very seldom a season so wet that the steam pump will not be required 2 or 3 weeks, and in most seasons it will be in use 8 to 10 weeks. When the weather is very dry, and all the crops need abundant watering, the pump should be kept running night and day, by employing two sets of men. . . . I would rather have a piece of 10 acres well fitted up for irrigation than one of 20 without irrigation; and I venture the assertion that I could raise more vegetables or receive more money for my crops, in a period of 10 years from the 10 acres irrigated than from the 20 acres nonirrigated." Mr. Rawson once sold $3,500 worth of cauliflower from 6 acres of irrigated land, and he believed that not over $1,000 would have been realized without irrigation. The prospective irrigator should bear in mind that prices average higher in seasons of drouth.