Dateline: 7 February 2016 AD
The conventional wisdom when you buy a piece of rural land is to spend a year or so getting to know the land before you build on it or make any improvements. Well, We bought our 16 acres of field and woods in June of 2012 and last fall (three years after the purchase) we decided how best to fix the extremely wet lower section of the field.
The picture below shows the problem. Springs on our neighbor's property flow onto our field. You can clearly see the springs in the ariel view. For as long as anyone remembers, the water from the springs has been directed through 4" drain pipes onto our land (the red arrow shows where the drain tiles are) and down to an open ditch behind the house. From there it flows into a stream in the woods.
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But the drains have repeatedly plugged up over the years. When they get plugged, the water bubbles up to the surface and spreads out over the field, making is too wet to drive on or grow anything. Fixing the drains has always been a big mess in the past because the volume of water coming out of those springs is considerable. When we bought the property, the drains were plugged up.
I decided the best solution to this problem was to eliminate the drain tiles and just dig an open ditch from my property line to the ditch behind the house. It would be a simple, permanent fix, and if done properly, I could be a pleasant feature of the land.
Last fall the wet area was as dry as we've seen it. Perfect for getting the job done.
My neighbor is a farmer who has heavy equipment and knows how to use it. I called him about digging a ditch. He came over and we walked the land, looking the situation over. I explained to him that an enormous amount of water normally flows over the land. Now was a perfect time to get the job done, before the fall rains came.
As we were walking and looking at the lay of the land he said that it would make for a nice pond location. Marlene and I liked the idea of a pond but didn't think it would be something we could afford.
My neighbor then said he could put a 1/3 acre pond in for $3,500. I looked at Marlene and knew what she was thinking. I don't think it took me more than 5 seconds to tell my neighbor that we could afford that, and we would love to have a pond.
We were excited about the prospect of a pond. In the ariel view above, you can see my neighbor's pond. That pond was the source of a lot of fun for my kids when they were growing up. The picture at the top of this blog post is my son James jumping off the dock of that pond.
I loved the idea of a pond because it would be a reservoir of water that I could tap into and gravity-feed to a frost-proof hydrant in a future garden area I have planned for the lower portion of the field.
So the heavy equipment came in. A bulldozer pushed the top soil off the pond area. Then my neighbor left the project to focus on harvesting his 100 acres of buckwheat. He had equipment problems with getting the crop in. More than a week went by. The rains held off, but they would surely be coming. We were getting a little nervous, knowing how much water normally ran over the land. I had told my neighbor it was a LOT of water.
Finally, he got back to the pond with the trackhoe below. Everything was going to come together. What a relief.
Our house is located past the woods, out of sight, in the upper right corner of the ariel view above. I could hear the heavy equipment getting to work. And then, a short while later, my neighbor drove into my driveway. He got out of his truck and told me he had some bad news. Oh? What kind of bad news?...
The picture above shows the bad news. It's solid rock, around 5' down. Actually, it's not solid. It's shale. It's full of cracks and fissures.
I wondered what our options were. My neighbor said he could still dig the pond and berm it up. It wouldn't be as deep as he would like to see it, and it might not hold water. Besides that, he was concerned about the scanty clay later under the soil. The clay was necessary to build a good pond. He figured he would have to dig more clay off a larger section of land, and that would cost more. So it was up to me to decide whether or not to proceed. The pond project was on hold.
This was a total shock to Marlene and I, and a huge disappointment. We had visions of a nice farm pond and family activities around the pond. It never occurred to us that there would be rock like that down there. It never occurred to our neighbor either, and he does all kinds of digging around here. There are numerous farm ponds around us.
I did some internet research on ponds, and shale, and sealing with clay, or using a liner. Nothing was a clear and compelling solution to our problem. Everything was more money. I finally decided that the best course of action would be to fill it all in and get the open ditch dug, before the fall rains came.
I figured that if God wanted us to have a pond, He would not have put a rock down there like that.
I told my neighbor what I decided and that we needed to really get that ditch dug because it was surely going to rain soon. A couple days went by.... and the rains came. Then my neighbor showed up to dig the ditch. But it was much too wet.
Some days after the rain, he managed to get most of the top soil spread back over the pond area, but he said there was too much water to dig the ditch.
So, our plans to improve our land in 2015 were a total failure. The land and the water problem is now actually worse now than it was before we commenced to make our improvements. Without the established sod in the field, it is a giant mud hole. Very discouraging.
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With all the water, and no heavy equipment to dig a ditch, I decided to just hand-dig a shallow ditch down through the field, hoping to channel much of the water flows coming up out of the ground in so many places. And that's what I did.
That simple little ditch made a huge difference. It is channeling a LOT of water in a steady stream. Were it an open ditch, as I had wanted to have, it would be a nice babbling brook. And wet sections of field on either side could be tiled into the ditch. Hopefully, next year we can get this done!
This next picture shows where my little ditch/stream empties into the open ditch behind the house.
This next picture is a view of the stream that the ditch leads to. The stream is fed in large part by springs about a mile away. When it rains, the stream swells (like in this picture), but it flows to some degree all the time. Only once, in the decades we've lived here, have I seen the stream totally dry.
In retrospect, that shale bed in the field was totally unexpected, but not a total surprise. The picture below shows a section of shale bank in the stream that is along the field.