Reclaiming all the water used on a farm takes a lot of planning, and an investment in technology as well.
Tim Bucher, owner and president of Trattore Farms, has created a system over the years that captures and reuses the water at his farm.
Whether it’s water used for washing grapes, or even the moisture from his olive and grape waste product, Bucher and his team have managed to capture it and reuse it for irrigation and fertilization of his 40 acres.
Bucher said the system of pipes, regulators and tanks cost more than any savings on water, but it’s the right thing to do to help the planet.
He gets a lot of his inspiration from his children and their generation. He said along with his wife, they have helped create his recycled water system, providing ideas, tech set up and more.
“Farmers are one of the main catalysts for changing to sustainable practices,” he said.
Bucher said he also had the honor of giving a commencement speech at University of California, Davis, where he said, “You’re the generation that’s going to save this planet.
“And the whole place erupted. That’s cool.”
Trattore Farms was also built on hillsides steeper than what the county now allows for. As a result, Bucher said composting and using a compost “tea” made on site helps keep the soil fertile.
It took years for Bucher to connect all the pieces of the recycling puzzle, but he said now not one drop at his farm is left to waste.
How it’s reclaimed
The reclaimed water at his winery in Dry Creek Valley first enters a series of pipes that bring water used in his processing to a three-stage tank system. The first tank allows solids to settle, and the water can flow over the top of a lip into the second tank. Then the same process happens again, then the third stage pumps the water to the water recycling plant proper.
A similar process occurs with his olive processing, where he grinds the fruit for olive oil.
The water is then held in a 10,000-gallon tank, where the pH is balanced. Then microbes are introduced in a dissolving bag to eat away harmful bacteria. The microbes look like a bag of dark sawdust.
As the water moves along to another tank, the microbes die and the water is oxygenated, mixing the gas in from the bottom of the tank.
Water then trickles in to a 5,000-gallon tank, where it is aerated again for at least a day before it can be mixed with well water for irrigation. Up to a 10% mixture is sent out in zones to the area’s of the farm that need it most.
There are several control centers for the system, each with a set of controls to prevent backflow into the main well, ensuring the right mixture of recycled and fresh water and switching from reclaimed water to the compost tea. The system is then set up so that every detail can be controlled from Bucher’s phone.
Time for compost tea
The farm also creates its own compost. Grape skins, olive pumice and even apple cores from workers’ lunches are brought over and dumped out back onto a covered concrete slab. Bucher said by the end of all his harvest, there’s a swimming pool-sized soup that will continue to decompose for the next several months until it’s ready to be mixed with manure and laid out the next spring.
In the winter, Bucher said you can see a plume of steam from the heat of the decomposing matter.
The final mixture is roughly a third each of olive pumice, grape waste and manure.
The dumped compost is allowed drain through a fence with straw tied up with organic twine. The moisture is then added to the compost tea, which Bucher said is filled with nutrients his plants need.
The compost tea is run through the same lines as the irrigation water, which kept Bucher from having to create another line system. As he drove around the property, he pointed under each road and path and along other treelines, explaining how at one point, all of it was dug out to install the system, which had a lot of trial and error to it.
The compost and recycled water are not the most pleasant smelling of operations, and Bucher has strategically located his well away from the tasting room and winery. But for as messy of a business as it seems, much of Bucher’s equipment is self cleaning, sensors and flush valves decorate much of the equipment, with catchment for everything flushed out.
Composting on site does save some money, Bucher said. He used to haul his waste product to Petaluma, a practice he said many farms still do. The downsides of hauling off waste beyond cost were also hurting the long-term viability of the land, as nutrients were hauled away and fossil fuels burned to do so.
Bucher learned a lot along the way. Sometimes parts broke that he thought were the answer to his recycling needs. Others were fabricated from scratch at the farm. But no matter how custom-built, Bucher said he is open to explaining what he’s learned to any other interested farmer.
He plans to have a white paper out soon that will explain in a more technical way what his farm is doing. He also said that anyone else who works with the land is welcome to call and set up a tour.
Trattore Farms is located at 7878 Dry Creek Road. Call 707-431-7200 for more information.