Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘drainage ditch

Cutting Pasture

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It feels like I have been cutting grass non-stop for days. I used to think that growth slowed to a crawl after August but I saw a chart at the State Fair this year that indicated grass growth in September can be compared to what happens in June. There is a slump in July and August when grass might even go dormant before reenergizing in September.

It used to confuse me that September was a recommended time to seed new grass but now I can understand why that is.

Our land is still overly dry but we have had just enough rainfall between dry spells that the greenery looks pretty lush and the grass seems as happy as can be. The reason it feels like I’ve been doing a lot of mowing is that I have been playing with our new electric push mower, and I cut grass in the labyrinth, then used the brush cutter pulled by the diesel tractor to mow the hay field, and yesterday, the back pasture.

In addition, I have been cutting beneath the fence lines with the power trimmer. On top of that, I knocked off the second phase of a twice-a-year mowing of the drainage ditch along our southern property line.

When it’s dry, the mowed ditch becomes an alternate trail for Delilah to explore. In that image, she has her nose to the ground exploring any animal trails hidden beneath the mass of cuttings. The months of growth in the ditch were four to five feet tall and it is a blind cut on the first pass. My foot is poised to hit the clutch to interrupt the power to the mower if anything that wasn’t supposed to be mowed is encountered.

I back up the full length with the brush cutter tipped up a bit and then lower it for the return trip in the forward direction toward where I started. It isn’t a straightforward simple cut because there are washouts where fast-moving water has eroded the soil and they meander back and forth so the tractor wheels occasionally drop down or the mower bottoms out as travel progresses.

So, it is a blind cut on a completely unpredictable terrain. It is a great relief when that task has been fully accomplished.

It is also extremely satisfying to have both big fields mowed. If you’ll recall, it isn’t so much the grass that we need to cut as much as the weeds we want to prevent from going to seed. Cyndie and I don’t want to use toxic chemicals so mowing is our chosen method of control. We also pull a lot of weeds but that is similar to trying to empty a lake of its water by removing a spoonful at a time. Although, it is very satisfying, psychologically, to yank a weed out by its roots.

The horses took great interest in my activity in the back pasture and gave me the impression they wished I would hurry up and finish so they could get back on it.

I’ll keep the gates closed for a couple of days to dry out the cuttings and give the grass a little time to sprout new growth before giving them access again. Meanwhile, they have the entire already-mowed hay field at their disposal.

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Written by johnwhays

September 15, 2022 at 6:00 am

River Running

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Winter has loosed its grip. When we walked the perimeter yesterday morning while the temperature was below freezing, there was little evidence of a meltdown unleashing the spring runoff. By mid-afternoon, the drainage ditches were alive with running water.

The air temperature probably hit 50°F for a bit, resulting in water flowing as if there was an actual river along our southern property border, not just a swale that sits dry most of the time.

The bridge I built along the back pasture fence line was doing its job to perfection as the flow of water across our land poured beneath it into the main ditch just beyond.

If I didn’t know better, I’d be looking to see if I could spot any brook trout flitting around in the current.

From the looks of the extended forecast, we should have a nicely controlled meltdown in the days ahead, with overnight temperatures slowing the thaw for a few hours and daytime warmth climbing well into fast-melting territory.

Manure droppings in the paddock are no longer able to hide beneath snow cover. I’m actually looking forward to getting the place cleaned up again to our usual high standards. The only complication with that plan is that I don’t have a lot of open composting space to dump the couple of wheelbarrows-full it will require. The winters-worth of accumulation doesn’t break down so we’ve already got quite a few stacks that will need to be tended once they thaw. I need to stir the piles up and reshape them to get the composting action heating up so they will break down and shrink enough to begin merging piles together.

The fertilizer factory will be back in full swing before the trees leaf out.

Walking around with no coat on yesterday had me wondering if now would be a good time to take the plow blade off the Grizzly ATV. I don’t like to tempt fate. My mind quickly flashes memories of our first spring here when it snowed 18″ in the first few days of May.

A lot could happen weather-wise in the next month or so. I know from experience not to put away shovels just because the winter snow has all melted away. The plow isn’t hurting anything right where it is for now.

In the meantime, the new road bike I bought over the winter is about to get multiple outings to test how well we get along with each other.

When rivers start flowing through the snow, my bicycling season is nigh.

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Written by johnwhays

March 16, 2022 at 6:00 am

Rivers Running

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Last Thursday I was driving home from work in a dramatic thunderstorm. By the time I arrived at our house, the bulk of the rain was moving away to the east. I immediately packed my car and drove to the lake with little discussion about how much rain had fallen at home earlier that day while I was working on the far side of the Cities.

Last night, Cyndie finally showed me what it looked like here as heavy rain fell Thursday morning.

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The drainage swale across our back pasture was flowing like a river. The ditch that runs along our southern border looked like an even bigger river. I am very pleased to have just knocked down the tall growth along the center of that ditch only a few days before, allowing the flow to proceed unhindered.

As I was mowing all of our turf grass yesterday, it became clear that the rain we have received has made the grass very happy. It was very tall and has thickened up considerably from the last time I mowed.

Everything is looking as lush and deeply green as a typical June day, which is a little odd since tomorrow is the first day of September. Although, I did notice a twinge of red color starting in one of the maple trees by the barn.

The rivers are done running already, but the wheels of the lawn tractor revealed multiple spots where the ground is still saturated.

It’s a little odd thinking of people living in the path of Hurricane Ida who are dealing with so much calamity while our little flash floods don’t cause any trouble here.

Counting our blessings, for the time being, free of wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes, while sending our love out to those who live in regions experiencing some really challenging situations lately.

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Written by johnwhays

August 31, 2021 at 6:00 am

Building Antibodies

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Not being one to wait around for possible illness symptoms to show up, yesterday I joined Cyndie in a significant landscaping project just minutes after receiving my second vaccine shot. The amount of physical exertion we undertook pretty much guaranteed we would feel sore joints and muscles today. It makes it difficult to discern what percentage of my achiness this morning is due to my body being busy developing protection against COVID-19.

The slightly elevated temperature provides a clue that my stiffness isn’t exclusively confined to the contortions I put my body through to dig out a drainage ditch yesterday and move the dirt to the far side of the barn to fill an area that showed renewed settling this spring.

The surface grade between Cyndie’s perennial garden and our driveway had risen every year due to soil flowing downhill from our neighbor’s cultivated field. It had reached a point where runoff wasn’t making it to the drain culvert anymore and would instead flow across the driveway.

I devised a plan to cut into the sod and roll sections back, allowing us to dig the level down multiple inches. We could avoid leaving a dirt swale that would require seeding by simply rolling the sod back down after lowering the level.

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The methods changed and evolved as we took turns digging, hauling, dumping, shaping, and cutting sod, but the end result was wonderfully effective.

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This project provided one of my favorite rewards in tasks around the property in that we achieved two goals simultaneously. Ticked two lines off the to-do list all at once. Being able to pass these two locations as we go about our activities and notice the ditch beside the driveway is fixed to provide flow to the culvert and the dip in the turf above the paddocks is filled up again brings recurring joy and satisfaction.

Compare that to the ongoing grief of seeing the problem growing daily for the last few years. I finished the day giddy with delight.

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By removing the high spot in the drain path beside the driveway, we are building “antibodies,” so to speak, to fight off water flow problems on our land.

I have no concerns if it rains today. The drainage ditch could use some washing of leftover dirt and I plan to give my body the day off to rest. We got two things done at once yesterday. We deserve a day off!

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More Clearing

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On Saturday, we worked on the north side of our property. Yesterday, we directed our attention to the south. It has been several years since I properly worked to clear the drainage ditch that runs along most of the southern border of our property.

The first winter we were here I saw how the accumulated snow piled up against the neglected growth of brush and small trees in the drainage path. It acted as a dam and caused water to overflow the ditch during the spring melt. I remedied that for the next season by cutting out the trees and mowing the length of the ditch.

Lucky for us, the overflow poured into the neighbor’s field that year, not ours. He never said anything about it, but I’m sure he is happy seeing the attention I have given toward keeping the ditch clear since then.

I was complacent last year and skipped doing any cutting, so the random volunteer trees were able to establish themselves a little more significantly than I’d prefer.

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After first clearing each end of the ditch with the power trimmer, the rest was a cinch with the brush cutter on the diesel tractor. Well, that is, after pruning some branches that interfered with the upper portions of the tractor. Once we trimmed those, I just backed my way the length of the ditch and returned.

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Voilà.

Let the water flow.

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Written by johnwhays

September 28, 2020 at 6:00 am

Wettest Wetness

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It’s official. With the end of September earlier this week came the close of what Hydrologists consider the 12-month “water year” according to my favorite weather blog, Updraft. Beginning October 1, 2018, and running to the end of September 30, 2019, we endured the wettest water year on record.

The start of the 2019-2020 water year is not wasting any time in preparing to make a run at challenging that record. Water is actually bubbling up out of the soil in some places on our land where the pressure of groundwater uphill from us is pushing it to the surface, allowing it to then flow away down our drainage ditch to ever lower elevations.

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Tuesday night, after closing the chicken door upon returning from our class in River Falls, I stopped at one of our two rain gauges. There were 2.5 inches collected, but I wasn’t certain how many days that represented. I dumped it to start fresh but forgot to mention this to Cyndie.

Yesterday, she struggled to reconcile the low collection in the gauge by the house, wondering if it might be leaking or something.

Oops. My bad.

The gauge on a fence post down by the labyrinth made a little more sense with its 2.5-inch amount. It is common to see some disparity between the two, but both easily depict whether we are receiving small or large amounts of precipitation in random blocks of collection time.

Suffice it to say, our land is unbelievably wet right now. Soggy pretty much describes everything.

I think we are gonna need a bigger boat.

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Written by johnwhays

October 3, 2019 at 6:00 am

Serious Soaking

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First, I want to share an image that I received from Cyndie yesterday morning after she read my post. Exhibit A:

She had forgotten to send it earlier, but my description of how Delilah loves rubbing her snout in the snow reminded her.

Just as I predicted, there is very little snow left now. It was very gloomy all day, and rained throughout, but being mostly chained to my desk, I didn’t really notice how much rain actually fell. All I had to go on for what was happening across the state line at home, was the weather radar.

My main concern was over how the thunder might be upsetting Delilah. I wasn’t sure about what hours she might have the company of Anna, our animal sitter who helps out between classes at University of Wisconsin – River Falls. It’s hard to pinpoint the minutes of big thunder claps booming.

I did find the telltale evidence of a throw rug at the deck door pushed up into a pile, indicative of her usual tizzy of “shouting” down the big bully who is threatening us with all that rumbling noise.

From her location and behavior when I walked in the door, I’m guessing she tired of the stormy weather and took refuge in the one place without windows. She didn’t get up until after I walked in –an uncharacteristic behavior– from the rug in a short hallway between bathroom and bedrooms, where she had obviously been sleeping.

The situation at home turned out to be an anti-climax to the alarming sights I witnessed on my drive after passing through River Falls. The whole way from work was wet, but closer to home there must have been an extreme downpour.

Just south of River Falls, I spotted the first epic flooding, where it was pouring over a side road, making it impassable. A short distance later, I noticed a car turning around on an adjoining County road. As my car moved past the intersection, I saw that a highway crew was trying to deal with a missing lane of asphalt that had washed away.

Five miles from home, I cross what is usually a little meandering stream, but the outlines of the banks were completely indistinguishable beneath what was now a giant flowing lake.

The water flowing in ditches looked like raging rivers. I worried about what I might find at home.

Luckily, although there was an abnormal about of water wherever I looked, the damage was minimal.

We now have a pretty significant washout on the path around the back pasture. I’m afraid I will need to resort to a bridge over that gully now, if I want to keep mowing that route with the lawn tractor.

It used to be a slight depression that I could drop into and drive up out of, to keep mowing without interruption. Any attempt to repair the gulf with fill, so I could continue to drive over it, would just get washed away with the next heavy rain.

That spot is calling for a load of field rocks, which then leads me to the plan of needing a bridge for the lawn mower.

Our land is in a constant state of change. I think the rate of change is accelerating due to a certain alteration of the global climate.

It’s intimidating.

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Written by johnwhays

April 18, 2019 at 6:00 am

Flowing Water

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Our drainage swales are finally flowing!

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The largest ditch along our southern border was a babbling brook yesterday.

Eventually, the ditch narrows and meanders away from our property, wandering its way through our neighbor’s cow pasture.

The snow is leaving, and it will travel to rivers that travel to the Mississippi that flows to the Gulf of Mexico.

B’ bye.

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Written by johnwhays

March 29, 2018 at 6:00 am

Helping Hands

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We are feeling a new level of satisfaction today, after an afternoon of long sought progress yesterday. Sure, it was Sunday, but our fence contractor showed up and made quick work of removing the old section of fence on the south side of our hay-field. At the same time, Cyndie and I worked together on clearing overgrowth in the main ditch just beyond that fence line.

With the advantage of having more people than just me out there toiling away, a lot more was accomplished in a short amount of time than I ever achieve on one of my home-alone days. While Cyndie was using the power trimmer to clear some brush, I cut out some small trees with a hand saw. After a short amount of time, I switched to the chainsaw and went after one of the large trees.

It was already dead, and there was nothing around it to worry about, so I may have been a little casual in my attempt to bring it down. My wedge cut wasn’t deep enough and the tree leaned back away from it. Luckily, I pulled the saw in the nick of time to avoid the pinch. On my own, I would have started devising some laborious attempt to pull or push it over, but with the fence contractor right there in a skid loader tractor, the solution was a breeze.

After he pushed it down, he asked me where I wanted it. I would have needed to cut it into small pieces and drag it away. He scooped up the entire tree with the forks of the skid loader and placed it on top of my brush pile. Done! I asked him to push over two other trees.

If I cut down a tree with the chainsaw, there is a stump left over. Tom would push a tree down, drive the forks under the roots, and pop the whole thing out of the ground. After he carried the entire tree to the pile, he returned to fill the hole and drive over it to pack it down. It was magical. It was incredibly quick. Tree gone, in an instant.

With obstructions out of the way, Cyndie encouraged me to go get the diesel tractor and mow the ditch with the brush cutter. I hesitated, not used to moving this fast, then allowed the momentum to carry me away. By the time we wrapped up our afternoon efforts, the majority of the ditch was cleared and mowed.

It was wonderfully satisfying. For me, it was a great chance to enjoy a day’s work with the support of helping hands.

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Written by johnwhays

October 6, 2014 at 6:00 am

First Test

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Yesterday we received a steady rain that coincidentally arrived on the day work was supposed to begin to install drain tile above the barn and paddocks. DSCN2453eInstead of making a muddy mess by bringing in digging equipment, they limited their effort to delivering the tubing and pea gravel. It was a bummer that the project I have been pining for all summer was delayed one more day, but it was great to have our water problems vividly visible in real-time for the guys who are about to install a system to mitigate the flow.

Meanwhile, although it was a bit sooner than I hoped, I witnessed the first real test of our newly defined drainage swale. The grass seed I planted at the end of last week has barely had time to germinate, so I fear a good percentage of it was probably set in motion down stream by the flowing water.

There are some wispy visible sprouts making an appearance at the far end, so I’m hoping all is not lost. The good news is that, despite some of the minor undulations that concerned me, the water appeared to make a nicely controlled flow the full length across the pasture into the ditch on our south border.

I declare that we successfully passed the first test!

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Written by johnwhays

October 2, 2014 at 6:00 am