We farm near Ottawa. Our biggest problem is too much rain. I have taken several permaculture workshops and I am completely convinced of all the earth work changes in a dry or "getting drier" environment. I am yet to be convinced that the same earth works or other types of earth works, work in a wet and "getting wetter" location. Please convince me, please supply me with evidence/case studies/farmers who have made changes to improve my land for the better. I want to be convinced but am not as of yet. Thanks to everyone. george
George said "made changes to improve my land for the better"
I feel that in order to convince you of that we would need to know what you did to improve your land.
I and dear hubby had a problem with water washing across our land at a former location. The neighbor yelled at my husband about all the water crossing his property. The water all came from the neighbors on the other side because the land was a gentle slope.
I got out in the pouring rain with a hoe and dug a ditch down the side of the driveway so all the water would run into the ditch in front of the house. Later when we were able to buy supplies we made french drains that solved the problem.
Invasive plants are Earth's way of insisting we notice her medicines. Stephen Herrod Buhner
Everyone learns what works by learning what doesn't work. Stephen Herrod Buhner
Earthworks in my mind encompasses collecting rain in your land, but also creating well drained, dryer areas if that is what you need. If you have an area that collects water, you can create a path to move it on. If you have water that is running off your land, you can use earthworks to keep it on your land longer. If you need an area that drains better to allow you to plant apples trees, you can create a raised area to keep the roots from drowning. In my mind, techniques are not what permaculture is about. Working with nature, rather than against it is the basis for what I am doing.
I don't think you will find too many people that are interested in convincing you of anything. Permies to me is a place to go to ask if anyone has experience in a certain area, or doing a particular thing, or maybe has an idea of a better way to accomplish something. I know I personally don't have any interest in convincing you of anything, but if you have a particular question, I'm happy to give my opinion if it is an area I have done something in.
The Edible Acres youtube channel is a cool permaculture nursery in upstate NY with a very wet site. He has a number of videos about how he works with the water on his site. Earthworks to guide and concentrate the water as well as to raise up planting beds.
I will give you two Permieesque thoughts that might be worth considering to get your plants out of water.
First, as Mike already mentioned, think about making raised beds. I grow exclusively in raised beds made of 2x10 lumber (that’s about 25cm high). Actually, in order to level the bed I had to raise one half up about 4 inches/10cm so that makes the bed more like a foot tall. This really gets the plants out of the water (and we get plenty of rain here).
The other thought is to consider lots of organic matter in your bedding. This could be wood chips, finely shredded leaves, compost or any of the above all mixed together. My beds are filled with wood chips that have been thoroughly broken down by Wine Cap mushrooms. The Wine Caps leave behind a wonderfully fertile, moist, coffee ground like material that is perfect for growing veggies.
One of the beauties of combining these two techniques is that the bedding material stays nice and moist while excess water runs right out the bottom.
I hope this helps and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
I am not here to tell anyone what to do, but I think more info on your context would get better insights. "Very wet" is a relative term, and rainfall distribution is as important as annual totals. I live in a place where we have gotten close to 3m (115") of rain in the past year, at times 5"+/day, but 95%+ of that has been between October and May, when many plants are dormant.
It seems like it could immensely valuable for us to store as much winter water as high up on our steep property as possible with ponds, deeper soils, and to a smaller extent in tanks to supply us through the dry summer. Not only for drinking water and irrigation, but for fire risk mitigation and habitat improvements. Where I am, logging and the roads built for it that cause incised stream gullies, along with displacement of beavers, has greatly reduced the water holding capacity of what is now our land. So the earthworks we do will be types of restoration projects that happen to feed us and reduce our risk of catastrophic losses to wildfire.
Your context in the interior of Canada is likely very different than mine in northwestern California, but I encourage you to read the freely available "Keyline Plan" by P.A. Yeomans, as it explains this 70yr old design methodology that helps balance moisture in the landscape (sending water from saturated valleys to dry ridgelines, where it will migrate back to the valley naturally) while deepening living, aerobic soils that hold vast amounts of water before flooding. Like in my landscape, it does sound like given your concern about "too much water" that level sills and other passive backup overflows would be especially important for any earthworks that hold back water. Best of luck.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
All farmers near me tile drain their land on 25 foot centers now. Used to be 100, then 60, then 50, now 25. We get a lot of rain, we have a relatively high water table.
Even on hilly land local farmers tile the whole farm.
There is overland runoff and some erosion but the majority of the problem is high water table at times during the growing season. Our organic matter is about 7% and we have cover crops over the winter and spring.
Because we are organic and not no till like everyone else around, we do about 5 times the passes with tillage compared to notill. Unfortunate but the way it is.
I have taken many permaculture workshops but none convinced me that any of the earthworks.....work in a wet environment like ours. We are three hours north of Lake Placid NY.
We grow mostly grain crops so raised beds and small scale stuff does not work.
We have done some ridge tillage and planting with some success.
For the first ten years I farmed I would wait till the wet areas were almost dry and work them and plant all. I now farm around the wet areas. I have seeded mostly reed canary grass there, graze or bale it and get a relatively good production from it. The unfortunate problem is that to farm around wet spots is very inefficient from a tractor efficiency and compacted headlands all over the place. On a ten acre field, I feel I drive 12 and plant 7 from the inefficiency.
I just need some recommendations for earth works for an environment where water, rain, runoff, ditches, and ground water are all a problem.
George Wright wrote: We get a lot of rain, we have a relatively high water table.
Would making raised beds in order to allow the plants to grow deeper roots without running into the water table be feasable in your context?
Edit: sorry, i have re-read your post and you already stated that raised beds are no option for you.
Maybe you can excavate some depressions to concentrate water there and evaporate it using trees as John suggested.
If i was in your situation i would probably accept the fact that the area might not be ideal for grains and
switch to something that fits the place better. Have you thought about making it even wetter and creating ponds for raising fish?