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Soggy garden area. Solutions? Pond possibilities?

 
master pollinator
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We have an area of the garden that is so waterlogged in the spring that I can't transplant into it until a month into the growing season. The below pictures are from last spring, perhaps early April. The redbuds were blooming, it was before the last frost date for our area.





This year, we are going to fix this problem, by raising several beds. The Muscle, AKA The Kid, is doing the labor of moving mud. The hole... future pond? future hugel? Who knows, I just need my garden beds raised. We'll figure out what happens here later! We began the process in January, between soaking rains.



We mowed the Creeping charlie really low and piled up the dirt. To aid in the large clods not drying out, they are covered in leaves. We have heavy clay here. If the shovelfuls of wet clay dry out, it becomes nearly cement. This is not the desired outcome. Needs to go through a freeze-thaw cycle to return to usable soil texture. Closer to spring, we'll get a few loads of composted manure, remove as many leaves as possible, and top off the beds with compost. I did not do a hugel, I think I'll eventually do buried hugel paths. We only have to irrigate for two months here, and my priority is to get the beds raised.



We laid down cardboard for the paths. The metal pole is on the cardboard to keep it in place until The Muscle can harvest Pine needles from the neighborhood to cover it with pine needles. The pole will be removed as the needles are put in place. It's not fun chasing wind-blown cardboard into the next two neighbor's yards. Here, this will suppress weeds until early fall if you start with a 4-inch depth. For the remainder of the season, a conquerable amount of weeds will pop up, It just takes moments to remove, if you don't let it cascade.



Ooooh, look! Kale likes my leftover compost from last year! I'll transplant that into a row!



Yay. After a foot of snowmelt and another soaking rain. This can't be moved, too wet. Slightly uphill, another hole. Sigh. Looking more like a seasonal pond site!



We have one more bed to go, It currently has some kale in it. I'll be transplanting some of the better plants for seed this summer. We've had more rain, and more rain, and more rain. Maybe we'll get that last bed done before last frost?
 
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Your low area could be developed as a Bioretention cell rain garden designed to collect excess water and let it percolate into the aquifer. Similar to a French drain, but with plantings that like occasional or frequent watering. If there is a structure nearby water from a downspout can be diverted into the garden underground depending on grade and designed so nearby water flows into it. We have a couple in the city and plans for another to deal with excess water on our clay.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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We're on an acre and the nearest structure is over 100 feet away, upslope. About 100 feet downslope from the garden is a pond that is shared with excellent neighbors. This area of the garden drys out significantly in the summer months, so as I said, the maybe pond would be seasonal. Possibly it can be developed to get roof runoff... a switchback of ditches/swales would be needed for that though. Waaaay in the future.

Basically, the water pauses here, then continues on down.

I hope to get a property design done in this calendar year. I'll probably do it in patches though. I have a lot of trees to be planted from seeds in the next bit. Most will be for the property lines, which likely will need to be done as shell-shaped guilds due to the slope... More digging for The Muscle. He'll be thrilled.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Having consulted with the power that is, we're gonna go for a seasonal pond. Which upon rereading James' link, fits into his definition as well. Thank James!

Looking from the garden up the hill to the house, see the picture above with the cardboard paths showing. The bottom edge of the porch is at the top of the photo. The rise of the land from the edge of the hole to the house is about 5 feet. The area now designated as pond will be about 10 feet wide and 20 feet long. I expect it to be at most 3 feet deep. We will dig it out in a manner so that there will be different levels, or steps. I saw that done in a dry land area for their catchment ponds. As the water level drops, they use the newly exposed flat land for more crops.

Hmmm... Add a berm downward for a deeper pond, might be a good idea. From the high water mark in the lower level hole to the top edge of the higher soil could be 2 feet.




Here, the pond is at the Eastern edge of the page.



Thoughts, improvements?

 
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I think this could be a really exciting area.  I particularly like the idea of planting when the water level goes down, although in the UK seasonal ponds are particularly recognised for their wildlife value (see  Freshwater habitats page  ) since they tend to have no fish to eat insect larvae, tadpoles etc.  I have a seasonal pond at the bottom end of the holding we inadvertently made (the ground is very boggy there.  This is fed by surface water springs that tend to dry up in late spring, hopefully after the tadpoles have left.  Go ahead and see how it behaves over a year or so before deciding on a planting scheme.  You may end up with water all year in the deep parts perhaps.  We have no clay, just silty loam, so very poor water sealing properties, although poorly draining too...
 
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Joylynn,

Feel free to correct me here.  From appearances your garden area looks as though it is at a high spot, but that water my be shedding over that particular spot.  Is that about correct?  Is the area swampy because water is running *over* the ground as oppose to being a low spot where water naturally wants to collect?

If this is the case, I am wondering if you could make some sort of diversion to prevent the water from flowing right over your garden.  Maybe a little berm?  I had a similar problem to this in that I have a pond outflow that ran close enough by one of my garden beds that in times of flooding the outflow would overflow the outflow and really soak my garden bed.  My solution was stupid simple--I buried some 2x lumber next to the stream to divert the flow.  The wood is mostly rotted by now but the berm it left is still diverting the water flow away from the garden bed.

BTW, I think the idea of the raised beds is a great idea and I think that will really get your beds out of the water.  You seem to live not terribly far from me and I recognize that clay you are digging up.  You are right that it is heavy stuff to work and it gets sloppy when wet, holding on to water for a long time.  I eventually amended mine with lots of organic matter--some wood, but mostly leaves and especially wood chips piled high--and it is amazing how that brown clay is now a black loam.  Keep piling on the organic matter and I think you will be pleased with the results.

I know it is some work but I think you have a good project ahead of you!

Eric
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Eric wrote:  ...is the area swampy because water is running *over* the ground as oppose to being a low spot where water naturally wants to collect?



Yes. The land is essentially a bowl. It is roughly 100x400 feet. Long and narrow. The front and back edges are about the same altitude. The big pond is of course at the bottom. It sits about 2/3rds of the way back and perhaps 12 feet lower than the road. In the drawing, you see only 1/3 of the available garden the rest lays to the South. I am still battling Chufa in that area. I also wish to do some raising of those beds as well, but it's not as urgent. That area kinda slopes to the Northwest, the pictured area but the water movement seems to be underground.


 
Eric Hanson
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Nice illustration.  I have seen others try to sketch out their land issues but I could never make sense of them.  

So if the water is moving underground, then that presents some challenges.  You *might* be able too dig some French drains, but get ready for some work and you will need a supply of gravel.  Actually I am thinking the raised beds are the best option.  Out of curiosity, what material do plan to use for your raised bed edges?  I, too, like using raised bed edges but I am always looking for the ideal material for an edge that won’t rot.  At the moment I am thinking about cement blocks.

Eric
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Perhaps a berm would work. But it is not a solution I want for the long term. I want the water in the soil under my garden, not diverted into an already soggier spot. I wish I could get more woodchips. I had three large loads a few years back, that were mostly used on the other portion of the garden, wasted on the evil Chufa. At least the bottom two beds pictured benefited. They are beautiful soil, not flooded because of having been lifted above the problem. I would like to also use the soggier area to the North as a garden. I'm thinking the pond would need a finger extending out that way as well. But that would be for another year.

Hunny is concerned about the stability of the pond edges, having seen them pre permaculture collapse into themselves. He wants something to stabilize the sides. He doesn't think the steps and plant roots will be enough. Suggestions?

We do have a soggy friendly groundcover I can transplant after the digging is done. It's unidentified, and it spreads quickly, doesn't die in the seasonal drought. I don't want the Chufa that will show up. Bullrushes and Cattails also aren't desired here. How do you think Stinging Nettles would do above the pond? It slopes up there, kinda awkward to mow it. My tiny patch will need to be relocated. I've been wanting some Horsetail. Perhaps the steps would be a good location?

Perhaps an elderberry above... trees won't be good, for reasons. Other plant suggestions?
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Edges that don't rot? Dandelions! Yes, seriously. They will stabilize the edges. I've done it before when the beds ran in the wrong direction, losing all that water. I've transplanted plantain into them, used spinach, other stuff that grows low. Ooooh! Common Violets have been multiplying, They should do well too. I just don't have the funds for edging. I have some trees that need topping, but I also need trellises, hoping for some mushroom logs... other projects.
 
Nancy Reading
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  Hunny is concerned about the stability of the pond edges, having seen them pre permaculture collapse into themselves. He wants something to stabilize the sides. He doesn't think the steps and plant roots will be enough. Suggestions?


If you're going for a natural clay liner (rather than a rubber or concrete etc) then I agree that you will not be able to have steep steps without collapse.  I believe you will be better with a constant gradual slope of maybe 30 degrees, like a saucer.  I'm no expert but I've done a bit of reading on this because I want to make a large clay lined pond (but have no natural clay so am thinking of importing some bentonite).  Depending on how much disturbance the edges get (dogs, ducks, deer....) there will still be a tendency for the soil to slump and fill in the pond, but if you can establish planting this will counteract this.  The plants will tend to find their own happy position at the depth they prefer.  A few slabs around the edge will give access with less danger of slipping into the pond.
 
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One option that might work for you is to use berms as others suggested but instead of regular veggies try planting blueberries on the berms. Often soggy areas will have a lower pH (more acidic). I have a very wet area on my own property and I'm slowly building a series of ponds along 2 seasonal stream channels--1 channel is natural the other is one I've recently started making. The middle between the channels will eventually be a small island (blueberry island!) and I'm going to have small channels to bring water into the middle areas of that island. On the island I'm going to build small berms (for blueberries) along the water channels with paths too for access. The soil should naturally stay acidic and the extra moisture should also help the blueberries thrive. Currently this time of year the whole area is just soggy but by creating a series of ponds and 2 defined channels I'm concentrating the water (while still spreading it out) and then that also creates a slightly drier area that I can still bring water to (through small side channels) in order to grow crops like blueberries on the berms. Your soggy area might be a good spot for a similar setup without the stream channels.

I'm going to add springbank clover and Pacific silverweed around the blueberries on the berms with cattails, sedges, rushes and some other plants growing along and in the channels--especially the northern channel with the southern one kept more open to make sure the berms get plenty of sunlight. There are also some other perennial veggies that like wet areas that I'm exploring/learning about.

Wet areas can be really great places to grow but traditional gardens often aren't the best use of these areas. But that doesn't mean you can't get great harvests from these areas. I hope that helps!
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Ooops!! I missed some replies!

Nancy Reading wrote: I believe you will be better with a constant gradual slope of maybe 30 degrees, like a saucer.


I was really hoping I could do 45* maybe a bit steeper. damn.

Darron, I love your Blueberry Island! I've got some shoots, kinda like water pouts that I didn't get transplanted this late winter. I couldn't decide where to place them. Maybe upwards of the pond would do in my situation. I'll see during the fall tornado/thunderstorm season.

Darron wrote:There are also some other perennial veggies that like wet areas that I'm exploring/learning about.  


I look forward to that article... Or did I miss that blog post?
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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The beds are above water! Hurray!!! They are planted, Now I have to learn the correct watering schedule needed to keep the compost damp enough for sprouting seeds. I've become used to the clay clinging to moisture. I hope the dry-wet cycle I've created won't kill my seeds. Some turnips and okra have popped up. Peas and onions from sets are going strong. Squash but for one is hiding under the compost. I'm counting on those things to feed us. Sprout already!!!

We have added a small berm on the downslope of the baby pond. It is not holding water, so I think some tamping will be needed to get rid of any air pockets. I also intend to make it a wider berm than it is currently. No pics yet. I have a dream of inserting a monk through which to drain the pond for watering the garden.

A length of hose siphoning is what will probably happen though. Submerging the hose in the pond to fill it. No tasting of mud wanted thank you very much!

We ended up doing two of the three beds I had intended, thinking maybe it wasn't needed. That third bed has only three bean plants sprouted. A thunderstorm is here now. I'll venture out to see if it is soggier than I thought.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Yup. Microbe food. So, One more bed to be done. I've got to pot up a group of tomatoes again. I guess they will go here after this bed is complete with compost.
IMG_20210504_165801775.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20210504_165801775.jpg]
 
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Have you considered wild rice? I experimented with it last year somewhere near where you are. At first glance it looks like it would work very well for your situation. There a few pix here.
 
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Using logs incorporated into your berm will prevent errosion to the point of the berms failure. I have read aboth failing berms i. The past and this was the solution.
 
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I had to build (dig out) a mote in my yard until I could haul in enough material to fill the low areas of my half acre.  I feel the pain of swamp life every few years, but have now planted more water loving plants and bermed up against the house to provide negative drainage from there.  I installed gutters and have 8 foot drain pipe from the downspouts which can be moved around to whichever area needs more water.  I love your layout and drawings.  I do that too, since my space is tight and I'm terrified of goofing this all up and having to start over before I get my perennials established.  Well done!  Happy gardening!
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Hmmm...  Rice. We have removed it from our diet, But it could be a good experiment anyway. Eating 10 pounds over the course of a year ought not hurt us. I'll keep that in mind for next year. Is there a variety that you would recommend? Just whatever from the grocery store?
 
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It's not true rice. It's extremely nutritious though & often considered a superfood. Tasty too. I don't think it can be grown from store bought (dried) wild rice. It was shipped in a mylar package containing stinky moist soil. Here's where I bought my seeds & some other info. The USDA had good info but their webpage seems to be having issues at the moment.


https://www.everwilde.com/store/Zizania-aquatica-Seed.html

https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ZIAQ

https://midwestpermaculture.ning.com/forum/topics/a-wild-ricepond-guild?groupUrl=plantguilds&
 
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River cane type bamboo.

(I didn't pay attention to where you live)

Put some water loving bamboo there.

Then use it as trellis faster than it bugs the neighbors.

BAMBOO Plant BAMBOO.

.

 
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My ponds in the clay bottom part of the farm dry during our dry season so I fill them with grass clippings to prevent undesirable weeds from seeding there. As the clay hardens the moles tunnel to the dry ponds which still are soft because of the mulch and the loosen up more soil which gets removed with the mulch and put on the planting bed when the rains start to fill the ponds again. Each year the field which is about a 5 degree slope away from the pond swale grows taller and stay greener so between my work and the moles it seems to be working even though our dry period has been getting longer with climate change.
 
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Here is some great information on Chufa: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyperus_esculentus It is a persistent weed but the corm is edible.  The best way to get rid of it is the out compete it by multiple planting and tilling often.  The corms or nuts can sit in the soil for a long time .  I have seen the shoots grow through potatoes which is not a good thing.  If it all becomes too much plant shrubs and trees with a secondary function such as fruit or nut production.  The nuts can enable the plant to migrate and also grow under concrete as well as through cracks.  When you are getting it out, you must take all pieces of the plant out, place in a black plastic bag or under glass to cook the corm. Do not discard back into your garden anywhere - not even in the liquid compost.

As for your wet areas, create a collection point as you appear to be doing and use that water point for some sustainable aquaculture.  The circulating water will have increased nutrient levels and the water moving back down the hill will give off the nutrients to the plants.  Add gypsum to the soil to make it more friable and able to utilise the water/ slow it down.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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My Chufa battle. It continues... Updates are due.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Update...

EDIT: We found that we needed to dig the paths out as well, to about four inches deep.

This is working very well. My small pond is collecting lots of water. During our seasonal drought the pond seeps through its bottom. This water travels underground watering the lower beds as it continues down hill. Last summer I did not have to water this section of the garden at all, even after the pond dried out.

I do want to deepen the pond some more. I have visions of a pipe placed under water, which attaches to a french drain on the other side of a path. There would be a vlave/monk in the pond that can be opened or closed as appropriate to release the water underground.  This water would travel to the north, above that garden section, watering this additional area during our dry season. The monk is explained in the 6th section of this article.

But this probably won't happen this season. It's a dream for the future.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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I have visions of a pipe placed under water, which attaches to a french drain on the other side of a path. There would be a vlave/monk in the pond that can be opened or closed as appropriate to release the water underground.  This water would travel to the north, above that garden section, watering this additional area during our dry season. The monk is explained in the 6th section of this article.



Ummmm. No. Not enough slope to pull this off.

This area once again did not need watering during our seasonal drought.

EDIT: I can safely plant seeds straight into the soil! YAY!
 
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Joylynn, I feel that watery pain!

I am swamped as well, so thank you for your post!  I like your plans and everyone's ideas!  
I bought this half-acre place in the Fall of 2013 and have spent thousands of dollars on bringing in belly-dump truckloads of fill and sand and soil. The first Spring my top soil literally left the yard via overland flow from my neighbor's pond-building exploits which apparently was a 'favor' to a previous owner who wanted some flood irrigation water.  The whole east side mud sill of my house is gone from rot, so I know it may have gotten well flooded many times. I still get water flowing onto the property but have set railroad ties and brought up the elevation again, however it doesn't stop the water from coming up from below.  I use raised beds everywhere and have success planting early and covering.  Also, I had to have 7 huge cottonwood and elm trees removed due to disease so now I have created a monster, as nothing drinks as much as trees.  My wooden raised beds rot fast so last year I started using metal raised beds to slowly replace the wood ones, and I also hope to buy the very tall ones which may wick more water from below.  I use old horse water troughs with bottoms in them for plants that cannot get that much water. These are filled with old logs first then compost and some worms. Also, I am taking cuttings of my elderberries and stabbing them into the swampy perimeter on the north and east sides of the property where the water comes from. For some reason they like the swampy side here.  My chickens will enjoy the extra berries.  Also, since I have a ridiculous amount of seeds in storage, I will be attempting to get perennial flowers and herbs to 'take' among the elders.  I have found that leaving my 'lawn' in natural, edible plants/weeds, I am eating sorrel, clover and dandelions, sheep's foot and plantain very early in the growing season and the water doesn't phase them. My goal is to plant the crap out of the perimeter fences and also to create thickly planted islands as someone else mentioned.  The spaces where we walk will just keep getting wood chips which are becoming a nice mulch which will get dug out and used around plants before getting replaced every few years.  For the chickens, whose coop run is under about 8 inches of water until the ground thaws, I created board walks and climbing things for breaks from the mud in spring.  I usually gather most of the floating worms and toss in the raised beds when I have time. This year, a business that lies north about 1/2 acre away has removed all the trees and scrub along that border to install tall chain link around their facility.  I foresee a change in flow which may be worse, but we shall see. Benefit is I don't ever have to water my 'lawns' and last year I only had to water 1 greenhouse, but the ants and voles and moles make use of all of the beds until the heat starts up, the ground thaws, and in a snap the 'drain is opened' and we get back to mud. I think that hauling in wood chips and compost and creating more of Joel Salatin's  "carbonaceous diaper" for the yards  will be next here, since I cannot seem to make enough compost any other way.  I look forward to seeing what your place looks like once it is all planted out!  Thank you for letting us follow your progress!
 
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When we first bought this farm I built a hog pen below the dam by my house as it had a steady stream of water to water the hogs and create a wallow.  When were done raising hogs they had cleared out all plant life and dug everything up amazingly well so I used it as a garden.  That constant water running though was too much and just swamped my garden and killed everything off.  



The next year I dug some ditches and thought I could run the excess  water off and do better... No such luck, the soil was just too wet and again the garden failed.



So year 3 I decided to increase the size of the waterways and raise the planting soil up another foot to 2 feet in some areas.  Then I covered the water ways over with wood planks and then white plastic fence panels and then soil over the fence panels.






These pictures do not show the full extent of it all, I dumped around 30 tons of rotting hay in there and over a period of 3 years about 100 yards of forest humus and soil.  I raised the ground level by up to 3 feet in some areas.

In the end it was well worth the effort, I had a garden that would taw out a couple months earlier than normal due to the water flow allowing me to work the garden earlier.  I had subsurface water for the plants to tap into that was high in nitrogen from the snow melt and from the tens of thousands of catfish in the pond above the garden.  I didn't have to water the garden at all until about mid July with all the water running through below the garden surface.

Year four and beyond I began to grow awesome gardens..








You could do something like I did and raise your growing area up "raised beds to an extent", or you could go with hugelkulture.  Lay down some waste wood and build it up then lay in hay/woodchips and top off with soil.  The wood will soak up the water and hold it in for the plants to use.  Either way should work well for you, just go with what is more affordable to you time/effort wise and with any monetary considerations you may have.  While wet areas are a pain they also have the potential of being a blessing




 
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