Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘land management

Avoiding Failure

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We are wet today, but before the precipitation arrived yesterday, I had a chance to dig the back-blade out of the depths of the shop garage and play around in scraping the paddocks. The blade was parked all the way in the back of the garage because I haven’t used it since the first couple of years here to clear snow.

It dawned on me that I should be making better use of the equipment we have, instead of just storing it. I’m not strongly skilled with the blade, so I haven’t been inclined to hook it up and do anything with it. I must have felt adventurous yesterday, because I didn’t really have a master plan about what I was hoping to achieve.

Things went so surprisingly well, rearranging equipment so I could get at the blade in the first place, and managing all the 3-point hitch connections so I could then maneuver around obstacles to get out of the garage, it inspired my further earth-grading experimentations.

Starting with the gravel driveway around the barn, I made a few practice pulls, dragging the surface to pull settled material back uphill. That went well enough, I felt confident to try doing some of the same inside the paddock fence.

I was on a roll. As long as that was progressing nicely, I temporarily changed focus and worked on pressing down on fence posts with the loader bucket to push them back to the level they originally were, before the freeze/thaw cycles pushed them six or eight inches up.

That’s a delicate process of working in increments across a series of many posts.

All along the way there are opportunities for epic failure. On this day, I succeeding in avoiding all of them.

The fence is still standing, with all boards attached, and looking like its old self again. The paddock is also in pretty good shape now. I even took an extra step and scooped some new lyme screenings onto the round high spot we are building in the large paddock.

Before I could get everything smoothed out, the rain started, so it looks a little like a project half-finished, but I’m okay with that.

We have received a steady rain for about 20 hours. Steady is good, because we don’t get it all at once and suffer all the problems of instant rivers of runoff, but the freshly moved lyme screenings are like wet cement. If the horses walk on it now, it will make a big mess.

If they will stay off it until it dries, it can get almost as hard as concrete.

I wonder if they will pick up on my momentum of avoiding failure…

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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

Making Peace

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It is getting to a point where I think I just need to make peace with the fact that water runoff on our property will carve its own path no matter what feeble attempts I make to direct it.

We received another short-but-robust deluge from the rain gods yesterday afternoon, which generated eroding runoff flow digging ever deeper into all the existing rills and washouts that had already evolved from the last few downpours this summer.

While standing on one of the spots inside the small paddock where our insufficient attempts to establish a direct route to the drainage swale had long ago spectacularly failed, I tried to envision what a successful solution might look like.

I picture a much more assertive effort along the lines of what you would see done to create a drainage ditch along a roadway. If we dig an unmistakable ditch, we could dump the material we scoop out of it to fill the washouts we’d rather not have.

The big challenge with a serious excavation is getting planted grass to sprout and hopefully hold soil in place before rainfall gets a chance to wash it all away. If money were no object, maybe we could line the ditch with enough river rock to form a creek bed.

Aw, heck, why stop there? Let’s just line it with a rubber pond skin first, and then pour on the rock. Wouldn’t that make a sharp-looking dry creek that’s always ready for a flash flood. It’s called Rainscaping.

There are a lot of images out there depicting some incredibly artistic solutions along these lines. Fifty dry creek ideas right here! But there is one thing missing from all photos I saw: weeds.

If we tried any of those solutions, in a very short time, you wouldn’t be able to see the beautiful rocks through the 3-foot tall weeds that would happily take root.

Maybe there’s a happy medium in there somewhere. I’m thinking I need grass to grow to hold soil in place, or rocks. How about grass and rocks?

It would be a hassle to mow, though.

Back to reality. The rocks to cover the distances I need would be an awful strenuous effort to accomplish, in addition to the cost of having them delivered. Grass seed is something I can afford and plant easily myself.

It doesn’t cost anything to dream. I like picturing the possibilities. In the mean time, I am stuck looking at the ongoing and frustrating erosion that has had the better of me for the last five years.

I want to work on making my peace with that.

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Written by johnwhays

August 28, 2017 at 6:00 am

Silt Filtered

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The new silt fence installation mostly worked, but it wasn’t quite up to the task of yesterday morning’s deluge. We received 2-inches of rain in a span of about 20 minutes. I made a quick reconnaissance trek to assess the worthiness of our installation in the moments after the downpour and found this:

It was a little deflating, but not unexpected. Interesting to see how easily the water pressure pushed away the bales as it overflowed the plastic fabric barrier. The good news is that most of the silt did remain on the uphill side of the fence.

The water will not be denied. When I pushed the bales back in place and stopped the overflow, the soil beneath my feet simply bubbled up with flow out of the ground like a spring.

Five and a half years ago when we started this property adventure, I had no idea what I was in for in terms of actual land management. If I have learned anything in that time, it is that whatever the design might be that we conjure up to enhance this land, it better fully keep in mind and will be wholly subject to, the whims of the changing climate and the water behavior it will unleash, from drought, to frost heaves, to flash flood and everything in-between.

With reverent reference to the classic thriller, “Jaws” :

We’re gonna need a bigger fence.

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Written by johnwhays

June 12, 2017 at 6:00 am

Prickly Problem

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Historically, I have been much less inclined than Cyndie to worry about identifying and controlling all the multitudes of potentially problematic invasive plants that loom as threats to our fields and forest. My main beef was with the Common Buckthorn tree. Cyndie had discussions with an agent from the county extension office who pointed out many other troublesome plants, first hand, on a visit to our property.

I quickly got on board against one other invader when Queen Anne’s Lace grew to dominate our hay-field. A review of the Wisconsin DNR invasive species photo gallery provides a whopping 118 examples of potential problems. I find it too much to bear.

Cyndie is able to focus on battling dandelions in our lawn, where I see the effort futile. This translates to most other plant invasions as well, so when she would verbalize concern about the dozens of other threats appearing around every turn, I would tend to glaze over and save my focus for challenges already known.

In the fall, when all the leaves have dropped, except for the Common Buckthorn, I kick into a high gear of eradication. In the spring, when the leaves haven’t sprouted yet, except for the prickly bushes that drive Cyndie nuts, she wants to do the same.

I wasn’t so inspired, until she spent time to identify the thorny pest. When she came upon the Prickly Currant, one detail got my attention. It plays the role of host for a blister rust that kills pine trees.

Well, why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?

Now I care as much as her about not wanting these painfully prickly nuisances growing everywhere.

Once I started looking for them, it became clear the bush is thriving on our land. It is very easy to spot this time of year, as the leaves are some of the first to appear. Luckily, I discovered they are relatively easy to pull out of the ground.

It grows a lot like the raspberry bushes, with the long sprouts drooping over to the ground and taking root in a new spot. Since the stems are so thorny –worse than the raspberries– it makes for a very annoying hazard when walking off the trail, like one might do when hunting to pick berries.

We spent much of yesterday pulling and digging to extricate a surprising number of these stabbing hazards along the edges of our back yard, where there used to be about ten more lovely pine trees, back when we bought this place.

Now there are only two on the back hill, and they aren’t looking very good.

I never imagined how much knowledge and effort would be involved in being a good steward to manage what grows on the land. I figured nature would take its course and come to a healthy balance. Unfortunately, one plant’s ‘healthy’ can often lead to another’s demise.

To protect the plants you desire, a little lethal effort is sometimes going to be required.

I am enjoying renewed respect for Cyndie’s capacity to comprehend and react to all these details which too often overload my mental resources..

Now it’s time for me to go fret over getting all our grass mowed.

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Written by johnwhays

April 22, 2017 at 9:40 am