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Dealing with high water table and brittle soil layer.

 
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
8
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I looked up the soil description in my area. The basic description is as follows:

They are gently sloping and deep, somewhat poorly drained silt loam soils formed in materials weathered from glacial till, that contains gray sandstone, shale, and some limestone. They have a very slowly permeable subsoil and a seasonal high water table at 0.5 to 1.5 feet below the surface during wet periods. Most use problems are related to seasonal high water table and very slow permeability.

The depth to which roots and moisture can penetrate is limited to about 17 inches by a firm and brittle layer. Artificial drainage increases the suitability of this soil for crops. Surface runoff is medium.
Conservation practices are needed to control erosion. Management concerns are mainly very slow permeability and a seasonal high water table.

How would you deal with the brittle layer with respect to soil development and high water table for water management? I will be starting to work on developing my urban permaculture landscape (.42 acres) this spring. I would like to try to work on the big site foundation projects first and lay the groundwork for future, smaller projects and plantings. I live in zone 5.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2389
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
126
forest garden solar
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I really would not worry about the water table or the 17+ inches of soil.
In my head I am picturing a area with high water table near a river, I see pecan/walnut, mulberry, grape, kiwi, prunus family, paw-paw, hazelnut, june berry crab-apple rootstock, gooseberry family, raspberry family, blueberry family, onion family, strawberry etc. It sounds like you have an awesome area to plant so many stuff
 
gardener
Posts: 582
Location: Lower Mainland British Columbia Canada Zone 8a/ Manchester Jamaica
10
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I think the thing to remember is that's a very vague and at the same time quite promising descriptive. 17 inches is an average, they didn't say in the valeys or on the ridges, over a rock or on the flats. That layer of caliche is minor and your soil is mineral rich, break through it and plant trees. When you punch holes in it they don't reform, it's probably calcium based but you have allot of potential mineral abundance which makes it minor if it's described as brittle. Raised earth plantings take care of the water table, and if you can use footpath's as swales you can squeeze in allot of ponds. I managed 6 in an 1/8 and i never fall in and they just add so many opportunities. I'm sad to say my live in landlord hasn't taken a blind bit of notice of all my work in 4 years, but really I have to thank layers of bamboo.

we have plenty of high water table where I live, the walls of the basement leak and the well overflows. I've trained my landscape to channel and drink water until every inch is subsoil saturated for the year, and when i've hit a limit I take the water elsewhere. I love having catails in the lawn from buried tire ponds. I've made chains of them and fed them water from downhill off a gutter that went through pvc pipes full of watercrest. Where I live I don't want to call urban because of the bears, but I suppose if I can get to a megaplex mall in 15 minutes it's urban enough to cost 1.25 million but I only pay 1600 in rent. I've done allot but it sounds like your working with about the same space as me and when it evolves and complexes people are overwhelmed and can't really see anything in particular.
 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
8
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Thanks for the feedback. My lot is really quite flat and what I have trouble with is the water actually draining. In the spring, it tends to lay on the surface and takes weeks to drain down. There really isn't much opportunity to get it to drain to a specific area unless I dig down and put some sort of french drain style system all through the yard. I have thought about using the pathways as water catchment areas and building up the beds on either side. It would require quite a bit of soil to be initially brought in, but I could work on that in stages.

The tire ponds sound really interesting. Do you have any pictures or links showing them?
 
S Bengi
pollinator
Posts: 2389
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
126
forest garden solar
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You cant send the water of to someone else so you are going to have to to dig a single pond or a series of them or aerate the entire land to hold X ft of water
If you dig a single 50ft by 50ft pond that is 3ft deep you will be able to collect the water that is settling.
If you line the pond you would be able to create a new habitat maybe even grow fish. Throw a bee hive nearby.
You could also dig series (about 15) of 1ft deep swales/pond that are about 100ft long (left side to right side of property) and 6ft wide.
You could could fill the swale/pond with mulch, etc and plant cover crops in it, maybe annual vegetables.
On the "hills" you would be able to plant your perennial fruits/nut. You could even go a step further and make the hills a hugelkultur.

I am assuming that on the ~18,000 sqft you only have 1/2 foot of water standing for more than a day.
In which case you need some where to hold 9,000 cubic feet of water. If you however have more/less land under water and or more/less standing water please adjust accordingly.

 
Saybian Morgan
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Posts: 582
Location: Lower Mainland British Columbia Canada Zone 8a/ Manchester Jamaica
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You can make this as big or as small as the tire you can get, there great no think ponds you can lay down in a half hour. It won't take the standing water away but footpath swales would allow the drop in level in order for the earth to weep water and surface flow to drop into a channel. If you have to bring in soil to make a raised bed that does suck, but even raising a bed 3 inches with the soil from the footpath just trippled your drainage compared to last year. Most of my raised bed where made of pure mud thrown onto a trench of hay, woodchips and rabbit manure. If you can keep the mud draining all winter you wont end up with a brick in summer. I look at my beds after a season and I can't believe I use to be standing where 2 feet of loose your boot break your hip mud once was. I've done allot of pseudo hugelkulter by digging a hole filling with with material and then putting the soil back at ground level to form a raised bed. I don't know where it all goes but I have a few spots that seem to now take an endless amount of water without flooding.

Check out a few examples of tyre ponds, it's in the design manual which of course made me run out and fill my trunk with trip after trip of free used tires.
tyrePond.jpg
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fountains-ponds-large.png
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Saybian Morgan
gardener
Posts: 582
Location: Lower Mainland British Columbia Canada Zone 8a/ Manchester Jamaica
10
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I remember now what you need to drain your land and produce fuel and structural timber at the same time. You need willow and bamboo clumps in the stagnant "anerobagizing" flood zones. The willow won't pump you dry because you regulate it's root mass by coppicing the tree at waist height every other year, you don't have to go as far as using up your swales as transpiration pumps but if you really have a flood plain then you might. I already inherited a willow that takes off allot the excess or I'd think we'd be under water instead of it always being under our boot. I put the ducks away tonight and the ground felt like walking on wet pillows, if you started to put in willow as a fence on the catchment side of your property you could begin to stem the inflow. But if it's really that flat the situation is larger than your property and all you can do is pump it off in zones.
 
pollinator
Posts: 304
Location: Montana
70
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For a situation like this it is important to see the land and where the water is coming from. To work with a landscape naturally you need to understand it's place in the greater landscape. Find where the water naturally flows and keep it there. Giving the land some texture, ie hugelkulturs, terraces, krater gardens, and high beds, will help establish wet and dry zones that you can work within. Look at the landscape and think about how nature would develop it. Where does the water come from? Where does it go? Where can I keep it? Put yourself in the situation of the plants, in the situation of the soil.

It sounds like your land has been heavily compacted at some point. Adding texture to the land with earthworks will help alleviate this problem. As you make the earthworks the soil is loosened, this will help break up the hard brittle layer you are describing. It is very important for the surface of the soil not to see the sun. This will cause it to dry out and make your problems even worse. Lupins, nettles, and other deep rooted soil improving plants will also help break up this brittle layer.

Judith, Johnny, Zach and Team Holzer AgroEcology
 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
8
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Zach Weiss wrote:It sounds like your land has been heavily compacted at some point. Adding texture to the land with earthworks will help alleviate this problem. As you make the earthworks the soil is loosened, this will help break up the hard brittle layer you are describing. It is very important for the surface of the soil not to see the sun. This will cause it to dry out and make your problems even worse. Lupins, nettles, and other deep rooted soil improving plants will also help break up this brittle layer.



I agree that there has been some serious compaction previously. Adding texture to the soil is a top priority. I don't want to get rid of the water that lays on top for weeks during the wet seasons, but I want to get the soil to a point where it will readily drain and absorb the water, to be used by the plants over an extended period of time. This winter, I have been collecting seeds and plants with varying root depths and purposes and in the spring I would like to start the process of heavily planting things to begin the process of building the soil.

Thanks for the words of encouragement.
 
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