Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘drainage swale

Early Worms

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The saying goes, the early bird gets the worm. The ground has barely thawed, but the chickens made a mad dash out of the coop this morning to scour the sloppy paddock for something. Are the worms already out and about?

I peeked out from under the overhang to see how wet it was because the sound of the rain on the metal roof of the barn made it sound like it was pouring.

The land is already saturated by the spring thaw, so, even though this April shower slowly moving across our region has been gentle, it has triggered some substantial flow in all the drainage swales. Water, water everywhere.

It always causes me to think about the people down stream, on the rivers being fed by countless other drainage tributaries. Sorry, you guys.

Maybe all the water will carry some worms for your chickens to find.

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Written by johnwhays

April 6, 2019 at 8:45 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

Triple Fenced

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The heat and humidity have broken and it finally feels a little more like September now. We were expecting the transition to involve a lot more rain than showed up yesterday. The line of precipitation slowly moving west is doing so at an angle that is sliding from the southwest to the northeast and for some reason, most of the rain moved around, rather than over our region.

Ironically, now I am wishing we would actually receive a heavy dose of rain, because last Friday we put a lot of energy into shoring up the silt fence at the property line adjacent to our neighbor’s corn field. In fact, we turned it into a bit of a terrace with three-tiered layers of silt fence.

The first two are short sections to slow the flow before it reaches our long fence. Between the top two sections there is the skeleton frame for a berm, in the form of piled dead pine trees. The soil runoff will accumulate around the branches and hold them in place. Eventually, weeds and grasses will grow through the branches and that forms a nice natural barrier that will hold soil in place but allow water to flow.

We have added support to the fabric fence by using old hay bales that we can’t feed to the horses because they have gotten moldy.

If I am able, I hope to trek out there in the middle of heavy rain to observe the action as it happens. At the very least, I now know that we need to check it after every big rainfall and remove excess soil if it accumulates.

I don’t know why I originally assumed the soil fence wouldn’t need regular maintenance, but after the soil conservation consultant pointed it out so very matter-of-factly, digging out accumulation makes total sense to me now.

If our enhancements work to mitigate the mud overflow messing up that area, we will be one step closer to being able to enjoy a good cloudburst when it happens. There still remains a problem in the paddocks, where a terrace or silt fence is not an option.

We plan to do some digging to create a couple of better defined routes directing runoff straight to the drainage swale beyond the wood fence, hoping to reduce the amount of flow traveling to one spot with energy that washes away our precious lime screenings and creates a deep canyon of a rill.

It’s fine if a little flow goes that way, but it is currently a problem because most all of the flow is combining to rush sideways along the fence, instead of straight under it out of the paddock.

The trick in the paddocks is, our solution needs to be horse-proof. Their heavy hooves have a way of disrupting all of the simple spade-width channels I’ve created in the past, causing runoff to flow every which way, and ultimately not where we really want it to go.

The next version we have in mind will be scaled up. Maybe I should triple-size it.

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Written by johnwhays

September 26, 2017 at 6:00 am

Periodic Maintenance

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That tree in our back yard which leads the way in changing colors is cranking it up to full blaze now that we have arrived within the month of September. This image doesn’t to justice to the view, because our sunlight was muted by the smoke of wild fires in Canada and the western U.S. most of the day yesterday.

I spent time in the morning consulting with a specialist from our county soil conservation office as he surveyed the situation where the neighbor’s tilled corn field is overflowing my silt fence. According to him, we have done all the right things for drainage on our property, adding that compared to other sites he reviews, our problems are not very significant.

My perfectionism sees it otherwise.

He did basically fault the neighbor, of whom I gathered he didn’t hold a high opinion. The best fix to hold the soil would be for the neighbor to plant hay in that field, instead of corn. I don’t have any idea if that is something I might be able to influence, but I will suggest it at the first opportunity.

On my end, I learned that the silt fence does require maintenance to remove material when it starts to fill, because he said it is obviously functioning as intended.

I will do that, but I will also add another short section of silt fence above it and then start building a berm of branches between the two, eventually creating a thicket of wild growing weeds and trees.

Since it is so late in the growing season, such a barrier will take a year to become the filter I envision, but just having the skeleton of tree limbs in place before winter will provide an additional place for the silt to build up and start a foundation for a natural barrier.

Looking at the drainage swale below our paddocks and across the pastures, the advice was to periodically reshape the high spots by digging those out as well. Funny me. I had it in my head that there was a one-time solution where I could shape the swale properly and then never deal with it again.

Why should it be any different from the periodic maintenance required on everything else?

Lawns need to be mowed, septic tanks need pumping, engines need oil changes, rugs need vacuuming, animals need feeding, relationships need tending. There aren’t many things that can be ignored indefinitely.

Land needs management. I guess I won’t argue with that logic.

Though, given that, seems to me that days need more hours.

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Written by johnwhays

September 2, 2017 at 9:04 am

Shaping Up

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It has snowed and then melted again, so the ground here is well saturated, but not frozen. It was time to tend to the raised circle in the paddock before the earth becomes hard as rock. It’s been a year since I last shaped it and the definition was fading to the point it wasn’t really performing as a raised perch above the wet.

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Try as I might, I am not able to pack it firm enough to support the weight of the horses, but if I keep reshaping the circle as they stomp around on it, eventually it will become what I envision. It worked in another spot that we created when the excavator was here digging out our drainage swale.

That flat mound is visible in the corner of fence in the picture above on the left. Since it was made from slabs of turf scraped from the swale, there was a lot of grass in it that seems to have added a lot of stability. The circle I am creating in the middle has a lot of layers of hay which the horses’ hooves punch through with ease. It becomes a pock-marked uneven surface.

On the plus side, residue from the hay includes plenty of grass seed that wants to grow and will help firm up the surface over time. If I keep tending to it, I’ll get what I’m after. In the end, it’ll seem like it’s always been that way.dscn5514e

Good thing I’m a patient person.

Dezirea supervised my progress while Legacy grazed from the slow-feeder behind her. I get the feeling the horses recognize what I’m trying to create, and they approve.

When I came out from taking a lunch break halfway through the project, I found Cayenne standing beside the circle on the ground I had just raked flat.

It was as if she wanted to be close to what I was doing, but didn’t want to mess it up by stomping on it too soon. I appreciated her discretion, but in no time, the results of my reshaping will be hard to perceive amid the multitude of hoof prints.

Watching the horses all day long, you get the impression that they don’t really move very much. They don’t appear to cover much ground in a day. However, if you survey the ground over time, it becomes evident that there isn’t a spot where they haven’t been at one time or another.

In the long run, they are definitely shaping the ground of their confines.

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Written by johnwhays

November 27, 2016 at 11:03 am

Natural Results

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DSCN3996eDespite all our efforts to influence outcomes toward results which match the visions in our heads, the universe continues its reluctance to conform to our exact specifications.

A year ago I paid an excavating company more money than I really wanted to part with, to have a drainage swale shaped across our property. The plan was to have me plant grass in the new spillway to control erosion, but the excavation didn’t happen until too late in the year and my effort to cover it with grass was only partially successful.

Meanwhile, the earliest series of spring rainstorms testing the new swale turned out to be extreme gully washers that initiated a distinct washout crevice. The topsoil that flowed down stream from then on began filling in the swale, spoiling the plan to have a clearly defined trough to constrain runoff and drain water from our property without obstruction.

Maybe I could apply for a partial refund.

The good news is that the desired flow of runoff still seems to happen well enough, despite the deviations from the ideal we envisioned. However, I prefer to not have the growing canyon in that pasture and would like to reclaim the originally planned swale from the sediment that has accumulated.

I’m considering the possibility of digging it out myself next summer, and bringing the soil from below to fill in the crevice. I would want to wait until later in the summer, in hopes of finding a time when there is a reduced likelihood of heavy rains, but early enough that I would have plenty of time to get it covered with newly planted grass.

Another option is to leave it go to nature’s design, until such time that it fails to function as we want. It might just be an exercise I need to experience: allowing it to be a little rough around the edges and not so refined as I envisioned.

It seems odd to me that I find myself wrestling with the different extremes that I am drawn toward. On one hand, I prefer to have things be as natural as possible, so the naturally carved drainage ditch should be appealing. On the other hand, I don’t want things to look neglected here, or function faultily, so digging it out, filling in the crevice and covering the entire length with new grass would appeal equally well.

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Written by johnwhays

October 2, 2015 at 6:00 am

August Rainsaster

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DSCN3783eThe predicted October-like storm, with potential for record-setting low pressure for this time of year, unleashed the greatly feared torrents of flash flooding rain on us yesterday.

It revealed several areas where we need to improve our water management if we hope to withstand the ongoing onslaught of gully-washing downpour events that keep happening with increasing frequency.

When I got home from work and went outside to check on things, there was 4.5 inches of water in the rain gauge. I knew from that amount that the round pen would not have fared well for losing sand, so was prepared for the worst.

In spite of the heartbreaking mess of runoff sand, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. I could see where some of the worst spots were for the water running into the round pen, and quickly went to work with a shovel to dig channels for draining water around, instead of through.

I also dug several pathways to encourage water to more quickly flow out of the paddocks, before it pooled up and drained toward the round pen.

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Back up at the barn, where our gutter upgrade has yet to happen, the old system was failing brilliantly. I needed to pull the downspout to clear an obstruction, soaking myself in the process, and then discovered fixing that just transferred the overflow to the bottom where the downspout enters the buried drain tube. Something, either the recent dump truck activity or simple horse traffic, appears to have impeded the flow down the buried tube. That will be a doozy to fix.

While walking down to check whether anything was flowing out of the bottom of the buried tube (—it wasn’t—), I saw that an old drain channel I had created to entice flow out of the small paddock was flowing like a raging river. Yay! A success!

But when I reached the fence line, where the ditch opened to my main drainage swale (I thought), I found that the water was curling and flowing back into the paddock, traveling along the inside of the fence down to the bottom corner by the round pen —just the area I was trying to avoid.

It was now raining hard again at that point, and I was about as wet as could be. I was tired, saddened, and feeling entirely defeated. Dragging my sorry soaked self up toward the house, I checked the rain gauge again to see that an additional inch had fallen while I was out.

I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

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Written by johnwhays

August 19, 2015 at 6:00 am