We are going to continue with the last three steps in going through your system today. If you have not read them, make sure to check out steps 1 - 3.
Step 4 - Check your valves. Run a test program. I use mobile controls so I can move from zone to zone as needed. If you do not have mobile controls, create a test program. Give yourself 3 or 4 minutes per zone. While the zone is running, you are looking for multiple things. Are all of the heads spinning on a rotor zone? If not, throw a flag to mark it. If it is a part circle head, manually turn each head to make sure the angles are correct. This is a chance to make sure you are not wasting water, don’t let it go. We adjust these heads as we go. One person will check the first head on the zone with a pitot gauge and write down the pressure. This gives a comparison to last year’s numbers and a baseline number to use for future pressure checks during the season. Any breaks in the line are marked by a different color flag, and we move on to the next zone. I cannot stress enough that this is an example in assembly line efficiency. You need to move quickly and leave the bigger problems to a person or crew that is working behind you. Let them radio in when it is fixed and you can turn the zone on again to check it. We average 2 minutes a zone for full circle heads and 3 minutes for part circle. It is possible to check and repair a 90 zone system in one day with a 3 person crew. We have done it many times. Keep the energy high; it will be a long day.
Step 5 - One thing that you may notice that I did not bring up is checking the spray patterns on the heads in step 4. I personally like to make sure that all major problems are taken care of before we go to this step. Heads will constantly get out of level. It is very important to fix them, but I want to make sure that I do not have a break first. Think about your hierarchy of problems. Crooked heads will always fall below valves that do not turn off.
Once you reach step 5, you should have a system that is fully functional and 100% hydraulically operational. Now you get to fine tune and improve the system. Go through each zone again and flag heads that are not level. Make sure that the screws are not impacting the nozzle stream. I don’t know why those screws are even there, it will kill your distribution uniformity to use them. Most manufacturers make a tool to measure the angle of a head. Use it. Have a crew behind you digging up heads and leveling them. Again, you can go through a 90 zone system in a day.
I also like to flag valve boxes that need repair or digging work at this point. If you treat step 5 as a collection of minutia, you will find that your system is better than last year when you finish. Be proud of yourself. At this point, you have probably fixed some problems that have been there for years, and possibly were installed that way. It is a big deal when you upgrade a system to a point where it works better than new. You have just extended the life of the system, saved water, and made your life easier for the summer.
Step 6 – Now that the electrical and pipe work in the field is complete, it is time to grab a coke and sit at your clock. Look at your programs and make sure they are labeled correctly and include the right zones. Check to see if times have been changed. If they were, why? Do you need to leave them alone? I keep a log book that gets an entry when a program or run time is changed. This way I can remember that it was changed and I know why it was changed. Check your sensors to make sure they are working properly. Just because you have a rain sensor does not mean it works. Spray some water on it and see if it registers on the controller. Check soil moisture sensors, etc. If you have completed all of these steps, you have a well-functioning system that should give you many cycles of use. We complete this check at least once a month during the system. As I like to tell our team, a system is only at 100% right after you check it. Once you use it one time, you now do not know if it is working correctly or not.