farmers- tell me what this is !

Irvine, CA

I moved to a rural neighborhood, and on my daily routes around I pass lots of fields with farming equipment. I don't know what most of it is, but I'm curious. Can you tell me what this is- what its called and what its used for? (there's nothing inside - storage?)

Theres another what is this, but without the picture. Stretching all the way across a field is this equipment which is looks like giant wheels connected to each other. I would like to know about these things. Gosh- I feel like a city girl .

Thumbnail by marzissa
Humansville, MO(Zone 6a)

Your giant wheels sounds like a sprinkler system The tower I'm not sure about looked like a silo setting in the middle of the field but don't see any doors in it

Huntington Beach, CA(Zone 10a)


Dave is correct in that the giant wheels are sprinker systems. They can roll through the rows going slowly to water the whole field of plants.

I'm not sure of that tower either...could it be a water collector/tank?


Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Nope, that doesn't look like any silo I've ever seen, it's too narrow for its height. And poorly built to boot.

I wonder if it's a remnant of some building that stood in that field before? Or the beginnings of a 'great idea' than never made it any farther? (Had one or two of those myself)

The only thing I've ever seen similar has been in reservoirs and dry reservoirs. I think in those cases it's access to pumps or water gates or something. Is this in a flood plain?

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

Just a thought, but occasionally farmers with a little time on their hands will knock something together just to keep the neighbors guessing. Doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

It worked!


San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

That's a an irrigation pump tower. We have a lot of those in the central valley.
You will often see water bubbling over from inside the tower and running down the outside into flood irrigation channels. I was told that reduces erosion.

Sometimes you see them connected to the hoses/pipes, like the rolling overhead irrigation sprinkers that you described.

Scroll down towards the bottom of this article and you will see one with the pipes connected.

BTW, Irvine is anything but rural these days, although I remember when it was just strawberry fields with the UC campus sticking up in the middle. Where did you move to, if I may be so nosy?

This message was edited Dec 4, 2008 11:31 AM

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

OK, I've feeling like an absolute genius here. LOL Even though I was pretty far off, just the fact that I thought it might have something to do with water impresses the heck out of me.

Now here's the next question... how come so tall? This one is about twice as tall as the one in the blog.

In any case, judging from the lack of a pump and the McMansions in the background, this one is a sad remnant of farming. =(

Waddy, KY

I wondered if it could possibly have something to do with piping water to those big creeping irrigation rigs but I was leery to say so since I had absolutely no real idea.


Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

Ah, irrigation is something we are totally ignorant of, and thankful that we are allowed to be ignorant. Drainage tiles, on the other hand, I can tell you about.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

The lack of connecting pipes/pump, the rust stains and lack of maintenance of the ladder, the roll of fencing alongside, the stadium lights sticking up behind the houses, the smoothness of the soil and types of weeds growing, all these things tell me that this field hasn't been worked for some time and was/is intended to sprout construction of some sort. *sigh*

Farming/ranching in the west is about water. Just because it's on/under your land or in your community doesn't mean you have access to it or a right to use it. It's really hard to swallow when investors buy up the farm land soley for the purpose of selling the water rights.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Yeah, that's happening out here in NM... cities like Santa Fe and Albq. and their developers are lurking about the old rural communities, buying water rights from desperately poor folks who can't afford the property taxes on land that's been in their family for generations. The taxes have gone up because wealthy folks from other parts of the US move here to retire and can spend big bucks, then they want all the amenities that the big city they moved from had.

Then they want covenants that insure a pretty appearance so their property values are maintained... because they really have no intention of passing the property down in the family, as was done through generations around here. It's really destroying small sustainable family farms and ranches.

Well, that's a whole 'nother soap box. I'd better go feed the critters...

Irvine, CA

This thread has extended to alot of ideas! But this is definitely the irrigation pump as mentioned in the article from garden_maid (great article by the way). Its so interesting to be from Southern California, because while I am aware obviously that it never rains, its really an incredible amount of work put into redistributing water all over.

This irrigation pump looks definitely out of use. But there are other ones on fields nearby which look nicer.
New question, does the water come out of these like a fountain (flat to the sides)? Is that what accounts for the varying cement colors, just amounts of water draining out?

Thanks for ID-ing this decaying thingamabob. Its located in Davis, CA.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

That makes sense that this photo is from the Davis area (near Sacramento and the site of one of our largest ag universities, for those of you out of state). There are a lot of farms on the rice and tomato track, ie, flood irrigation for rice one season, furrow irrigation for tomatoes the next season.

Developers do love to build on the already leveled prime farmland. I wish the municipalities would come up with a general plan that put the buildings on the foothills and the outskirts and stop building lot line to lot line mini mansions.

When I have seen these towers used to bubble water over the top, the water does run flat down the sides. I'm not sure what conditions caused them to be used in this manner versus connected to pipes.

We have some old photos of Los Angeles from the 1920's (my dad went to high school down there before moving back to Seattle) that show houses with cisterns and rain catchment systems. Rain water harvesting was a major source of water in southern California before they ran off with northern California water via the open air, uncovered, prone to evaporation, acquaduct to move it down south.

All the new development has really dropped the water table in many areas. The acquifers are often contaminated with ag chemicals and fertilizer salts, so with less water to dilute these, some of the wells need expensive filtering systems or just need to be closed.

The governator is trying to revive the peripheral canal project and sell it as a means of "protecting" the delta. Protection my foot. "Improved conveyance" means improved conveyance of water to the south.

It is rather interesting that folks move to desert areas for the clean air and beauty and then try to make it look like somewhere else. I can understand the desire to reclaim land that has become desert due to human mismanagement, like cutting down all the trees, but that's a different undertaking than pumping in water to expand an oasis in an area that has been a desert for thousands of years.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

"Developers do love to build on the already leveled prime farmland. I wish the municipalities would come up with a general plan that put the buildings on the foothills and the outskirts and stop building lot line to lot line mini mansions."

Right on!!! Prime agricultural land should be put into a land trust and protected as a source of national security. This country is getting itself into the same fix with food as it did with energy. CA used to produce the fresh food for the rest of the country, now it's being turned into ex-urbia and some of the food produced is being sent overseas. ???? I remember when Disneyland was surrounded by orange groves.

We have been oil-gluttons and are becoming food gluttons. If I look up at the folks at the supermarket, I can loose my appetite. My town has a huge problem with morbid obesity, and all it's attendant health problems. I'm not just talking chunky, a little hefty, built for comfort-not for speed. I'm talking 2x healthy weight. I'm talking wider than a big shopping cart. Unable to breathe because of the weight.

The produce in the store is horrendous, and was the prime impetus to growing my own... a desire for salad greens that didn't look like they'd been packed in by donkeys. And ever since then, with illness outbreaks due to contaminated food, industrial agricultural practices (killing every reptile and amphibian near the field of salad greens on the outside chance that maybe [though there's no science to prove it] a lizard or frog will introduce salmonella to the crop), food shortages, and global warming, my desire to become more local, more self-sufficient is reinforced.

Oh shoot. Now I'm all fired up to go garden and it's the dead of winter. Aaaiigh! Withdrawal!

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Jay, by land trust, do you mean a conservation easement where the development rights are purchased by the trust? Some of the land trust discussions would give ownership of the land to the trust, and farmers would lease the land from the trust. Many folks are willing to sell the development rights to the trust to prevent development and keep the land in ag production, but don't want to lose ownership of their land. I can certainly understand this.

What type of trust setups have you seen put into place?

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

I must confess, I'm not at all up on the options for keeping land out of the hands of developers. I just think we need to, and protect our ability to produce our own food here in this country. It's short-sighted and foolish to cover good agricultural land with pavement and houses, strip malls and office buildings. They can go on the more marginal land, as you say.

I can totally see not wanting to loose control of one's land. Especially if the folks on the board weren't farmers, but well-intentioned though clueless urban white collar folks.

Here in NM we have very little easily arable land, and it's being swallowed up by development. Because folks want to maintain a 'small town' atmosphere, there are building codes that prohibit construction over 3 stories, so we have horrible sprawl. Forty acre 'ranchettes' are very popular, further adding to the sprawl and destruction of habitat.

Because I assure you folks, you move to the ranchette and let your dogs and cats run loose, you have one heck of an impact on the life that was there before you showed up. Let your horse and goats strip the land, cut new erosion channels with the roads... ain't living in the country grand?

But then, I'm a hypocrite and a luddite. I live on 14 acres off a dirt road 13 miles from town. I can't stand living in town either. But my dogs don't run, and my donks are in corrals most of the time so they don't strip off the vegetation and compact the soil.

So it goes...

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

I take it the 40 acre ranchettes in your area are not being worked as small scale ranchs.
There has been, and continues to be, a lot of debate on parcel size. I do think it would be feasible to create ~40 or 100 acre parcels and still keep the bulk of the land in production.
A 40 acre ranch or small farm can be very productive. This would of course depend in large part on the geography, and yes, some land would potentially be lost to the farm house and barn but the smaller farm and ranch sizes would make farming available to more people who would otherwise not be able to afford the large acreage. Perhaps a "small farm development" could be an alternative option to the housing sprawl.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

NM is desert... figure 360 acres per cow/calf unit. And if there's a drought, that'll get overgrazed. It's dry, dry, dry. Sucking water out of a dropping aquifer is not sustainable, and much of that is brackish.

Much of the west is desert, just like much of southern CA would be if they hadn't ripped the water off of the Owens valley and CO.

"Small farm development" is not much of an option around here. Ranches, to even begin to be viable, must be thousands of acres. Only the land along the rivers and streams can be sustainably farmed and that's what's being developed at a breakneck pace because it's also where the pretty cottonwoods will grow, and those folks from elsewhere with the big bucks have to have their lush, green lawns and big trees. Drive along the Rio Grande in Albq and look at all the showplace, million dollar homes. That was alfalfa, grass and crops when I was a kid. In less than 40 years, Albq. has lost it's ability to produce any meaningful amount of food.

I was just reading how NM is at great risk for hunger, beat out only by Mississippi, because of our low average income, our high percentage of single mothers, and high food prices, because we 'import' almost all our food from other states.

There are very few places where 40 acres is enough to develop a sustainable farming system, with crop rotation, field rotation, livestock, and fallow. And certainly not in most of the west, the high dry desert west. And as our environment decays, as the weather continues to become more extreme, our food security is even more precarious. I imagine even in Sunnyvale the weather has become more unpredictable, the extremes more frequent.

If you had to rely on surface water, what came in the form of rain and snow, just how much could you grow there in Sunnyvale without big investments in rain harvesting? How many acres would it take to raise a cow-calf unit on the original land biosphere that was there, not pastures fed by water from hundred of miles away or pumped from aquifers hundreds of feet down?

And what lived there before it was carved up and parcelled out? Quail, bobcats, snakes, lizards... antelope, desert big horn, mule deer, porcupine, skunk, badger, coatimundi... who is long gone?

I'm a huge fan of small farms, and self-sufficiency, but I'm also a big fan of eliminating urban sprawl, and leaving arable land to agriculture.

Fantasies all. Like anyone is ever going to call me. LOL

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

My "out clause" was the "this would of course depend on geography". LOL!

Seriously though, we do have many areas in the valleys and deltas here, with 40 acre farms that are doing fairly well. Most of these are row crop and/or orchards selling via CSA shares and farmer's markets. I do realize that is not feasible in all areas and certainly wouldn't want all the land broken up this way. The idea was to look at some possible hybrid solutions.

Here is one example of a ~40 acre farm with half the acreage set aside as wildlife habitat:

I would rather see more small farms like High Ground than McMansions.

The costs of rainwater harvesting can vary depending on what materials are used for capture and storage. There are many options. Texas produces a great rainwater harvesting manual that will show many options and help you calculate how much you could capture based on surface area. Swaling the land to encourage percolation rather than runoff would be part of the solution. I don't expect rainwater to replace all usage. It is a part of an overall solution. We do have a number of dry farms on the coast. They grow some great tasting tomatoes.

Southern California gets a monsoon type of rain - lots of water all at once. Much of it just flows out into the ocean. If you look at the cost of building a football field wide peripheral canal and associate coveyance canals to take the water from the Sacramento, American and Feather rivers and ship it down south, surely they could build in some rainwater capture systems.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

I'm not talking about where you live, I'm talking about where I live. A desert or semi-desert. 8"-15" per year.

I'm curious... did you figure out the costs for a rainwater catchment system for your household? Including labor. Work it up for your own place and let me know realistically how financially available it would be, given your current debt-obligation load. A cost-analysis comparing conventional systems (city water) to rain water catchment... don't forget the filtration system if you're going to use it for human consumption.

I've done it. Using not only the TX site, but also info from AZ, UT, and NM, from my father and other old timers, 7 years ago when I moved to my new place. I couldn't afford it.

If you can afford it, install it, then you're one step closer to genuine self-sufficiency. When the next big earthquake hits, your water will still be working... provided you have a source to pump it with. Solar? Generator? Wind? Hand pump?

Do you farm or just garden? How many acres do you have? How many head of livestock?

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Jay, I do understand that a desert climate is not going to support the same level of density as a fertile river valley (as seen in marzissa's photo at the start of this post) , so a smaller parcel may not make sense for your area. I would question whether it makes sense for any large population densities (and accompanying lawns and golf courses) to develop in desert areas though. Where is the water supposed to come from?

Yes, we've costed out the cost of rainwater catchment systems. DH has been installing them a number of them for residences. Costs drop when you buy at volume or used recycled materials. The cost of rainwater systems becomes more favourable as the cost of municipal systems increases. The city of San Francisco (40 miles north of Sunnyvale) is offering discounted rain barrels to residents and encouraging them to capture the rain water and storm runoff from their properties. SF has changed the plumbing codes to allow for this.

The state has been in a drought cycle for several years now. The water needed to fight the large forest fires has drained many water reserves. Our friends up in Mendocino county with a 600 acre grass fed beef ranch had to sell the steers off early this year due to lack of available water, even though their irrigation needs are minimal. The water in the acquifer underneath the ranch is owned by the county to the south. Our friends are installing tanks to capture the creek runoff to supplement next year's water supply. We noticed that there have been several rainwater harvesting programs advertised in the state farm bureau ag alert over the past few months.

Rainwater harvesting isn't an all or nothing exercise. The harvested rainwater cuts down on the amount of water needed from wells, irrigation canals and municipal water systems.

We used to farm, several family members still do. At the moment we garden. DH had to sell the farm to pay off FIL's medical bills. We're watching the land and farm markets for the right piece of property. Then we'll go back, but to "micro-farming" this time.

(Judi)Portland, OR

I have been reading this thread for a while and find it so interesting. I lived in southern Cal (Thousand Oaks) for many years then moved to San Francisco for my dream job. I watched the farm land east of the Bay area slowly being reduced, and the closer you get to Sacramento, the faster it is being turned into McMansionville. What really gets me is the developers often call the area they have turned into zero lot line messes "Rancho So-and-So" or "Whatever Ranch". I spent a lot of time working in Portland, Oregon and decided that is where I want to retire. I did so about 10 months ago and love it here. The city has a distinct boundary so it grows up instead of out, avoiding the urban sprawl that is so destructive. There is amazing awareness of where our food comes from and overwhelming support of local farms. The LSA (locally supported agriculture) organizations are very successful and Portland restaurants tend to use only local and seasonal produce. The most popular market, New Seasons, carries produce from local farms in Oregon, Washington, and northern California. They have a few things from Mexico but the emphasis is definitely local. Farms and within easy driving distance and available and welcoming to city dwellers - this fosters a nice relationship between the consumer and grower and greta respect for those who grow and raise our food. The elementary school in my neighborhood, Sunnyside Environmental School, is known to be one of the best schools in Portland. There are vegetable gardens all over the school's property that are tended by the children and when you walk past you can see the teachers doing hands-on work with the kids and those kids are really into growing food for their school. How cool is that?

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Very cool! I'll bet the kids that have had a hand in growing the vegetables are not so adverse to eating them. Solano County (on the way to Sacramento) passed a green belt preserve measure in the last election, so hopefully that will help stop crop of megahouses taking over the farmland in that area.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Sounds like Portland's really got its act together! Up and not out is what I'd like to see around here, for sure. And leave ranches ranches. Where the cows and the antelope play.... =)

and the eagles and badgers and elk and mule deer and road runner and coyote and bear and cougar and rattlesnakes and porcupine and bluebird and the tarantula...

Irvine, CA


My picture didn't show a fertile crescent valley, its just a foggy day. Its only rained on two days since last years rainy season. And this is not a Mcmansion, its an apartment complex where everybody has roomates. Its there because its close to campus. I think that a bit too many and harsh assumptions were made here.

I found out that the structure is definitely an irrigation vent, where the plumbing encounters turns. Its made to stop water from having too much pressure and spouting out.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Sorry, we did kinda go from the specific to the general. A lot of us are just 'terbly het up' about the loss of good agricultural land to... well, just about anything. And the insanity of it being cheaper to import lamb from New Zealand than to grow it here, and other weirdnesses of the american food chain.

But harsh... it's a tough world and harsh is its middle name. There is a war going on between city and rural, and it gets very harsh. This is nothin'!

Glad you found out what that thing was!

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

marzissa, Davis is part of California's "fertile crescent".

Irvine, CA


the lack of rain makes me feel otherwise

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

yes, even fertile crescents can have a bad year or two. The UC Davis student are called "Ags" or "Aggies" for a reason. :D

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Ooooo, Texas AnM is getting twitchy! Nobody but nobody is Aggies but them!!!

[At least I think it's TX AnM. "Hook 'em horns!"]

Great pawing and snorting in the bullring.


San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)


Premont, TX(Zone 9b)

Hook Em Horns isnt Texas A&M ..A$M are the Aggies , UT at Austin is the Longhorns
Hook Em Horns!

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Looks like Texas can have a bullfight right in its own state, with its own colleges.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Thanks for the clarification! I guess this tells us how much I care about football... lol

But I've always liked the 'Hook 'em Horns!' It's just so feisty! =0) And the longhorns screwed to the hood of the pickups.

Premont, TX(Zone 9b)

LOl , My DH got his BS there in 1971, that man bleeds orange..LOL

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

BS... Longhorns... just seems so right!

Panama, NY(Zone 5a)

You know that whole horn thing can be taken care of with a saw.

Jay, Happy Birthday.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Thanks Kathleen. =0)

The statement about the saw reminds me of a woman bootmaker I know who would occasionally run into some... well... let's just say he kept his brains stored below his belt... who would tell her a woman couldn't make a good boot. Now, you've got to understand that this woman has boots in several western museums, charges $1000 or more a pair, and has a waiting list. So she just looked him up and down and said...

"There's only one thing a man has that a woman doesn't, and as far as I know you don't use it to make boots."

You've probably set emh48's DH to twitchin'. LOL

Premont, TX(Zone 9b)

I meant he got his Bachelor Of Science in Chemical Engineering at UT in Austin.

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