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  • Farmer Vin

The Pipe

Everyone knows that plants need water. Plants that produce the food we eat in particular need a lot of water especially during those scorching days in late July and August when the air is still and the sun is oppressive. Without a reliable source of water, the Bronxville Giving Garden wouldn't be giving much at all, which is why we are fortunate to have a nearby reliable source. What's better is that the water source is a small valve/spigot/hose bib on the wall of the Bronxville Department of Public Works (DPW) building. Except for maybe a valve coming off a fire station or a municipal water-pumping station, you can be sure that a DPW valve will always be there and will always work. However, the 30 or so feet from that valve into the garden is a different matter, and not one that falls under the protection and stewardship of the fine people of the DPW.

A lot can happen in 30 feet. The way our hookup works is that we connect a line of PVC pipe to the DPW valve. From there, the pipe runs under some ivy, across about 8' of lawn, then under our critter/deer fence into the garden, and up into two pipes each with its own valve for hooking up hoses. The pipe itself wasn't buried but rather was sunk into the ground. Even within the ground yes but still very exposed.

For those of you who've ever run pipe anywhere, there are two potential problems with this setup. The first, is that the pipe isn't below the frost line so at the end of the season before winter, we have to unhook the pipe from the wall valve, and using pressurized air we need to blow out all remaining water in the pipe so that it won't freeze and crack when the temperatures dip. But the second and bigger issue is that too much of the pipe was exposed in an area of sporadic foot traffic.

A couple things to know about PVC pipe: 1) it's plastic and not metal so breaking it is easier; 2) it's light, not very dense, and can be pushed up with frost; 3) you don't want it lying exposed on the ground where people step on it, or worse yet, drag equipment over it.

One of the first things I did when began working the garden was to test the hose hook-up to make sure our water was working. To do this, I connected the pipe to the DPW valve in the manner I was supposed to, and turned the valve to release the water. As I did, there first came a sound similar to an aerosol can pushing out gas faster than it was designed to. After that, up from the ground burst a mighty jet of water not at all unlike an Icelandic geyser, except the water wasn't boiling, it didn't smell like rotten-eggy sulphur, and it certainly wasn't in the middle of a lunar-like volcanic landscape. But it was indeed a mighty jet that shot up higher than one would have expected with the twist of a single little valve.

Initially, I didn't know what to make of the scene. I wondered if I had accidentally turned on some sort of overly pressurized and long-forgotten sprinkler system that was installed by a what would have been a very sadistic individual. Then I wondered if Farmer Dave himself had intended for that to happen and that I simply didn't understand what was supposed to be going on. Finally, after what was an embarrassingly long time spent in astonished consideration, I realized that this was not an intentional eruption and that it must be a puncture. This thought was confirmed when I examined the pipe, which again was resting on the ground exposed. And there it was, a 1 centimeter hole right in the middle where it most definitely should not have been. I then indulged in a solid thirty seconds of venomous profanity, which fortunately no one was around to hear.

From the looks of the hole, it seemed obvious that something ran over the pipe. Since the hole looked sliced rather than punched, we think that a lawn mower or perhaps some other metal item was dragged over it. Whatever the case I don't hold anyone at fault. In fact, I'd have likely run it over myself at some point during the summer. None of that really mattered however, because until we got it fixed, we would have had to walk out of the garden, over to the wall to get water, fill up a 2-gallon can, and go back into the garden at least 15 to 20 times to fully water the beds every other day. I'm too lazy for that. So with about as much thumb speed as a middle-aged man with a smart phone could possess, I texted Manu to let him know there as a problem and that his help was requested.

Dr. Manu is many things. He's a friend. A father. A biker. A hiker. An ER doctor. And as I've come to find out, a talented amateur plumber. He's a naturally handy guy who in his spare time likes to take on big projects around his house, many of which most of us would not touch without a reliable contractor firmly highlighted in our list of contacts. He's also one of the easiest-going individuals I've ever known and exactly the type of person with whom you'd want to work a project with. Best of all, he had rigged a similar piping system in his own yard.

As for me, I'm of the opinion that with the internet and a some tools I could do anything. Plus I've been known to do some bootleg plumbing myself in my all-too-recent past. Together we'd do just fine.

I went to Cornell's True Value Hardware Store over in Tuckahoe to grab the needed materials (that place is worthy of it's own entry one of these days). I grabbed about 10' of 3/4" PVC pipe, a bunch of connectors including some elbow fittings (they look like elbow macaroni and allow you to connect pipes at right angles), and the special glue that is used to fuse the pieces together. Manu supplied the saw. The garden provided the shovels. And on a warm Friday morning we began our repair in earnest.

To begin we stood over the broken pipe and waxed technical about pipe depths, numbers of cuts, and water flow as if we were seasoned veterans of suburban backyard plumbing. We fashioned a plan to not only fix the hole, but to do it in a way so as to prevent future punctures. We would cut out a major section of the pipe surrounding the hole, dig a deeper trench say about 8", lay the new pipe, and connect said pipe to the remaining sections leading to the wall and into the garden using some elbow fittings. From the side the whole connection would look like a really wide letter "U", or a very shallow rectangle without the top line. Wee would then cover the new pipe with dirt along with a couple of well-placed rocks to hold the pipe in place and to keep it from rising up with frost, or rain, or through the actions of any determined subterranean rodents that may be lurking in the vicinity.

We started by clearing some of the dirt around the pipe so that we could cut it out, with Manu doing the honors. Then together we set to digging the trench into which we'd sink the new pipe. Just as we finished the trench, I noticed two people at the other end of the garden looking in. Being "Farmer Vin" I went over to say hello, introduce myself, and to see if they had any questions about the garden, which they did. Stalwart Manu continued on.

About 15 minutes later (yes I talk a lot), I returned to find that we needed only to put in the elbow fittings on the site connecting to the wall, bury the whole darn thing and we'd be done. It was soon after we hooked all the pipe together that Manu had to leave early to go do some doctory stuff and I was left with the task of filling in the trench over the pipe. I didn't mind this at all because I only had to rake the dirt over the pipe and even it out somewhat. Even better, since I was alone I could remove my mask and let my face sweat dissipate. Because of Covid, we had to mask ourselves for the duration of the task, which was very unpleasant what with the sun and heat. After covering the pipe I put our tools away, did more more things around the garden and left about an hour later.

BGG -- Finished Pipe
Unfortunately, I didn't think to take pictures while we worked, but here you can see the finished product and where we dug our trench. That little sliver of white on the left is where the pipe comes up from the ground.

Some of you would be quick to point out that it would have been a better idea for me to leave the pipe exposed so that we could check it for leaks before covering it up. In fact, we had actually thought to do just that, however, I had to leave before the pipe had time to fully cure, which can take a couple hours to do. I didn't want to leave an exposed pipe in a trench in a public space for fear that somebody could step in and hurt the pipe, or worse, hurt themselves. I also didn't have pylons or any other easily visible icons of warning, so in an effort to escape the day without being sued, I covered the pipe and went on my way.

When I returned, I hooked the pipe into the wall spigot, turned it on, and ran over to the trench to look for leakage. None. I then went into the garden and turned on the garden spigots. After some unsettling noises of air being forced out of the pipes, water began flowing freely and with a decent amount of pressure. Just to be sure all was well, I dug up certain sections of the pipe to inspect the joins only to find that all held nicely. Joy! Rapture! Success! I immediately texted Manu and Mary Liz to show them a picture of the water flowing out of the valves in the garden, and together there was much rejoicing.

Fixing the pipe was actually a pretty easy task. It took two of us maybe an hour, with about 10 minutes of that time spent discussing how we wanted to approach it. As for tools and materials, all we really needed was a saw, a couple shovels, the glue, and the pipe. The only real concern of messing the piping up more than it already was, which wasn't likely to happen.

These are some of the things that come up when working a Giving Garden — or any garden for that matter — that one has to expect every year. For the most part, once you get a Giving Garden in-place, the yearly maintenance is usually not very costly or time consuming provided you keep on top of things and try to stick to a regular schedule of inspection and maintenance. My advice is to put together a checklist and calendar for all the things you should keep track of over the year including periodic irrigation checks, plant box inspection, tools inventory, keeping approximate planting dates, and lists of all other items and tasks worth keeping track of. Especially if you work with a group of people, it would be a way to ensure consistent and proper maintenance and to keep everyone on the same page. It would allow other volunteers to be proactive in helping to keep the garden in good form while also providing an outlet for idle hands in the garden. With proper organization, documentation, and communication you can collectively address problems before they get out-of-hand.

Producing such documentation and a detailed calendar is one of my goals for this season. It will be a gift I hope to pass on to Farmer Dave or to whomever else works the BGG when my time here is done.

BGG -- pipe fixture going into the ground.
Here's a close-up showing elbow fixture that connects the above-ground portion of the pipe to the below-ground portion.

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