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Kelly Smith
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Location: In a rain shadow - Fremont County, Southern CO
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Hi All,
I have some questions related to earth works and flood irrigation. I live in an area where it is illegal to build ponds or dam up rainwater. It is illegal because the water I would be damming up feeds rivers, to which senior water rights that are further downstream have a claim to the water. This may seem weird to most people, but it’s a fact of life for many in the west.

As an alternative, here in Colorado, you can buy water rights/shares that entitle you to some of the river flows. This doesn’t allow you to dam up water or make ponds with rainwater. The water is typically delivered through a series of ditches or pipes via an irrigation company/coop. Water is flooded onto the property based on your share/rights with some restrictions. I have access to some of this type of water on my property. It can get pretty complicated with whose rights are more senior, more-so in drought years. To keep it simple here are the basics related to my questions:
1: Water is delivered via 8in pipe and the highest point on the property
2: A full 8in pipe of water should be flooded onto my property for 36 hours, per irrigation. Number of irrigations per year will depend on snowpack as well as water rights seniority. ** in the past I have worked it out with neighbors to where we both take half of the water for twice as long. This helps not wash everything downhill, as we recently replanted the pasture **
3: You cannot dam up the water, you must let it continue to flow towards whatever river it drains.
4: Once water begins to run off your property (tail water) the water is shut off regardless of whether you have time left or not (this doesn’t always happen)

My land slopes from north to south and slightly west to east. I would guestimate there is ~7-8 ft drop from north to south along the 660ft property. The soil is heavy clay; there is very little organic matter and it’s pretty compacted. It does hold water extremely well. We are Zone 6a, up from 5b last USDA update. 5300 ft altitude. The pasture is ~3.8acres.
I have 8 in adjustable gated pipe along the north end of the property (330ft) similar to this:

this is the most efficient way to irrigate according to the local extension office.
In the area, horse pasture is typically planted. A mix of orchard grass, brome, wheatgrass, and foxtail. Then alfalfa seeded over that. Corrugations are run downhill to aid in getting the water even throughout the property. I followed this model in hopes of getting the pasture established, and based on the looks I got when asking about planting around swales . Based on the current drought and the fact that we have been told not to plan on any irrigation this year, I have decided it is time to start earth shaping to maximize any water that we do end up getting from here on out. I am starting to see irrigation as a freak rain event, rather than a reliable source of water.

Here are a few pictures looking north.
You can see the pipe along the back of the property as well as the corrugations. The water is delivered to a box under the tree and flows from left to right through the gated pipe.


The field was irrigated 1 time in early May in 2012. The grasses have all died off, but the alfalfa seems to be coming back, but only in the areas where there was a good stand of grass. kochia weed grew after the grass had died back. the right side of the pasture in this picture continues down ~660ft.


Here is another picture, you can see even with corrugations, the water flows past some of spots. Anywhere I was able to get the water to slowly infiltrate, I was able to get a good stand of grass.


I would like input on ways I can form the land to slow down the irrigation water, while still keeping the spirit of the law in mind.
Here are some comments on things I have thought about:
swales- all swales would have to include stabilized overflows. This would allow water to continue to flow downhill, while retaining a few inches in the swales once flow stops. I am unsure how to spread the water from the overflows the corrugations? I’d prefer not to have to dig a trench to connect them all, but that seems like the only way I can come up with.

Slightly off contour swales – swales could drop at 1 ft per 75-100 ft with small one rock check dams along the way. Same problem as above, how to get the water back to the corrugations after the water flows around swale?

Brush berms- use some sort of brush berm on contour. Would allow water to flow through, but slows water down. Likely the least impact to the land.

French drain- some sort of trench on contour, filled with organic material that the water can fill up, and keep moving downhill once full?

Keyline plow / subsoil plow- on contour subsoil plow to help get water into the ground, also slows the water down. Doubt there is a keyline plow in my area, may be able to find a subsoil plow of some sort.

Furrow irrigation is another option: http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc6245/

We recently got a jersey cow and plan to use a paddock shift system. The goal is to get a good pasture, and have some trees planted on contour. I’m envisioning something like the irrigated pastures separated by trees present in a lot of keyline systems, only with the water held offsite and delivered via irrigation ditch.
I will be staking out contours via laser level in the next few weeks and can post pictures once complete.
Interested to hear feedback about what people think is possible or any ideas you have.

I just realized this post is way too long, so I will end it here.
Thanks in advance.
 
Adam Klaus
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Hi Kelly- I am in Western Colorado, and farm 8 acres of irrigated farmland, so am familiar with CO water law. I also flood irrigate through gated pipe, and understand the process well. I had two questions/clarifications that didnt seem to mesh with my use and understanding of CO water law. Namely, Points 3 and 4 in your outline.

Point 3- I believe you can dam your irrigation water as you see fit. Unless your irrigation ditch has specific covenants that are beyond the basic Colorado water law, your irrigation water is yours to use as you wish for agricultural purposes. Last summer I dug a large, close to 1 million gallon pond that is filled exclusively from our ditch water. For the sake of the state, it is refered to as a water storage structure, and is not regulated in any significant way. We use it to raise fish, and also to be able to collect and release irrigation water as we see fit for our pastures. Whereas before we irrigated based on what was flowing in the irrigation pipe, now we can irrigate at whatever rate we like from our Agri-drain in the resevoir. This is totally in line with CO water law.

Point 4- Tail water is not the responsibility of the irrigator. It is the responsibility of the downhill party. So if my neighbor uphill of me runs irrigation water across our property line, and it runs into my barn, that is mine to deal with. Again, maybe there is some specific covenant for your irrigation ditch that supercedes this. Hence my inquiry. But you should be under no legal obligation to worry about what happens to your water when it leaves your property. Your irrigation allocation should be based on shares of the diverted source water, and that water is yours to do with as you please.

If you could clarify points 3 and 4 that would be helpful for my advice to you. I think you may be slightly mistaken. I hope so, because there should be a lot that you can do with that irrigation water to green up your fields.

I would start by considering digging a large irrigation resevoir at the top of your property. Generally, we get a lot more irrigation water than we need in the early season, and you could bank that in a resevoir for future use during the summer when you need it most.
The system of gated pipes irrigating downhill through furrows is standard practice throughout Colorado, and with clay soil, works quite well. I would consider digging a large swale on contour across the bottom of your field, so that any water that makes it to the bottom of your property can be spread out to soak into the soil, rather than run off into your neighbor's field. If you were to slow the flow of the water down, one problem is that the top of your field would end up much wetter than the bottom, which is not ideal. Allowing the water to travel down the furrow quickly facilitates even irrigation across your entire field. If there is surplus water, let it fill a swale at the bottom, or a resevoir at the top. Contour furrow irrigation, as per your link, would operate on totally different principles that I have never seen utilized here, so I cannot comment.

As far as pasture species, deep rooted plants are superior. The grasses you listed less so. Horse pasture means generally poor quality, low yield pasture that will hold up to set stocking. You will do much better with your rotational grazing, particularly if you select pasture species that work well with rest periods. For a dairy cow, a combination of alfalfa and chickory is excellent. More herbage species, like the chickory, and also plantain and dandilion will perform better with rotational grazing and limited water. A pasture that starts the year with orchard grass and dandelion, followed by alfalfa, broadleaf plantain, and chickory in the summer will make much more milk. Come fall, given your droughty site, I suspect you will be quite limited on dairy quality pasture and forced to feed high-quality alfalfa hay, which should be readily available in your area.

What have your neighbors suggested for irrigating your land? Remember the all-too-true addage that around here, whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over. Your neighbors will have a lot to do with how much fighting goes on. Know the state water law, know your legal water rights, but also realize that sometimes local politics doesnt quite play that way, especially when it comes to precious water.

 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Keyline is the quick easy improvement for now. You can buy a single point subsoiler for $200 new that will do the job, or you can buy an old chisel plow and re-work it to go deep.

I am doing your french drain idea as a buried Hugelbed for dealing with tailwater from the neighbor. It helps slow down that 36 hours to about a week. Simple trench dug the width of the machine and filled with sawmill scraps.

You can combine that with swales (deep swale with lots of organic matter in the uphill side) to repeat it again further down the hill.
 
Kelly Smith
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Hi Adam,
Thanks for the info! I was hoping there were other here that are using flood irrigation and your post was extremely helpful.
i have a call into the irrigation company to see if i can get something in writing related to damning up water. i know the few times i have mentioned it in the past, most have said it isnt allowed (neighbors and irrigation company folks) so we will see.

i was able to clarify the tailwater part.
i was told if the water is crossing private property lines, that is between the 2 property owners. The issue is when tailwater begins to flow onto county property. at that point the county has a standing request to have the water shut off, as the water is no longer considered "beneficial use". im not sure if this is a local thing or not.

I am still waiting to talk with the superintendent to clarify some of these things and will report back once i hear from him.

i plan on putting a large swale on contour along the lower part of the property to stop an water from leaving the property. a few stabilized overflows will help shed some water in the event we get to much water.
my only question with this is how large (wise/deep) should the swale be?

i hope to have a laser level this weekend so hopefully that will help.
thanks again for the reply.
you have a PM





 
Kelly Smith
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Hi R Scott,
I agree with the subsoil plow being a good start.
once i have some contour lines staked out, i think i will try to find someone who can make a few passes with a subsoiler of some sort.
depending on the results i will look into buying one ti use on the rest of the field.


i like your french drain / hugelbed idea.
are you having any issue with water taking to long soak in? in the past i have heard it mentioned, that if there is standing water to long, it can cut off oxygen to soil microbes, causing it to go anaerobic.
i believe this is in part why yeomans plans call for a fast flood of irrigation
 
R Scott
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Yes, it (going anaerobic) is a problem when dealing with compacted clay, BUT... Was there any life in that soil before? Not in mine.

Again, you don't want to HOLD the water permanently, just slow it down.
 
Kelly Smith
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R Scott wrote:YWas there any life in that soil before? Not in mine.

good point. not much currently to speak of in mine too.
maybe the standing water was more referenced to a mature system where the soil has more life?
 
R Scott
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Standing water is never good, unless you WANT to breed mosquitoes. Swales are better, but a buried COVERED woody bed is discrete.
 
Linc Vannah
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Location: western Colorado
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Kelly,

You're thinking about a lot of the same things as I am. I'm from western Colorado (hi Adam, it's Linc over on Pitkin Mesa). My land is similarly sloped as yours and has furrows to carry the water from the gated pipe at the top downhill to the tail ditch. I have plenty of early (snowmelt) water (lasts from end of May to as long as end of July), then very little (5 to 20 gpm) water for the rest of the summer (or last year, until only July 23rd, when the reservoir emptied).

I've divided the 3 acres of the field that I farm into four fenced paddocks for rotational grazing of goats, chickens, possibly other livestock in the future. Between each paddock is a fenced 15' wide strip for trees as windbreak, orchard, coppice material for the goats, etc.

Because of the limited water after the snowmelt water is gone, and because I really like the idea of a storage pond like Adam mentioned, along with swales with tree-planted hugelkulture mounds on the downhill side of the swales, I am starting to convert one paddock from standard gated pipe flood irrigation to a series of on-contour swales, each fed off of a ditch that runs downhill along the side of the paddock. I'm doing this mostly by hand, with not a lot of time this spring to work on it, but am hoping to have at least the first 100' or so of the first paddock done in a couple of weeks. I am thinking of creating a series of 70' wide (width down the hill) "terraces" with a feeder swale at the top of each terrace, and a catch swale with hugelkulture mound at the bottom of each terrace, then repeat. The feeder swale would be fed water by tarp dam (flag dam) out of the main ditch. This feeder swale could be called a Spreader Drain (see this link the basics of permaculture design) that hopefully will allow me to flood irrigate each terrace with the small amount of water that I may have available (first pond I make may be pretty small). The catch swale at the bottom will then catch the excess flood water and let it soak into the hugelkulture mound on the downhill berm of the swale.

I have never seen this done - just hoping it will work. If it does, I may convert more of the paddocks to this system. My main concern is that this system will be more labor intensive than the gated pipe and furrow system, but it may allow me to make better use of the small amount of water I have in mid to late summer.

The next problem will be figuring out how to keep the goats inside movable electric fencing and off of the trees on the hugelkulture mounds.

I am also planning on ripping the soil in each terrace on contour (not on keyline, just right on contour) this fall. I don't have a Yeoman's Plow, so will just use a single shank ripper (Northern Tool has one for $109, but it appears to not have any shear bolts, so risky in our rocky soil). I don't know how well ripping on keyline or contour will work if you also intend to have furrows down-slope. Seems like you'd have to remake the furrows after ripping. Might be better to do away with the furrows if you try the swale system so that you can sheet flow out of the feeder swale. Again, I don't know how well an on-contour feeder swale (or Spreader Drain, as described above) will work until I try it.

By the way, I planted a dryland pasture grass mix (cool season grasses that go dormant in summer), along with a mix of drought tolerant Ladak Alfalfa and Yellow Sweet Clover two years ago when we had a wet spring. It came up great and made it through the drought with no irrigation from late last July until this spring. That Ladak has some great water-seeking taproots.

We have another permies list reader in this valley who is doing somethings similar (hi Lisa, if you're reading this). She and her husband are in the process of creating a series of on-contour swales about 20' apart in their pasture. Each swale is fed by a main ditch that runs downhill along the side of the pasture (as I'm working on doing). On each side of each swale, they are planting trees. They are not planning on flood irrigating the pasture between each swale, but instead are hoping that the water in each swale will seep through the soil to sub-irrigate the pasture.

Anyone else out there with flood irrigation that has tried to go to contour irrigation, or swales instead of the downhill furrow flood irrigation?

link edited by moderator to make the post fit on page


 
Adam Klaus
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Hi Linc, glad to hear of your experiments-
I have a large swale on contour just above our vegetable garden. It is about 100 feet long, three feet wide, and two feet deep. It will completely fill when I irrigate the orchard just above the garden. But it seems to exert no influence whatsoever on the mositure levels in the garden that is immediately downhill. It is truly a 'swale', but it functions in our situation just like a huge catch ditch. This is with the swale dug down into the caliche subsoil, which I figured would facilitate water transport, but if it does, it sure is negligable. This is similar to along our mainline irrigation ditch, where the grass only stays lush for a few feet despite a constantly running source of water.

IME, the benefit to flooded furrow irrigation is that the soil gets moist right at the surface quickly, and then rapidly continues on down the hill. If the soil profile were to get saturated a full foot down, it would take an enormous amount of water to cover any distance down the furrow. But because of the tight nature of the fertile clay soil, coupled with our sloping topography, the water penetration is slow, so the distance covered is large. The clay holds so much water that plant growth is still excelllent, without water needs being excessive. Long after the furrow irrigation is stopped, the soil water continues to slowly penetrate downward, feeding the root zones of the deep taprooted plants.

Hope that makes some sense, and helps out others contemplating the benefits of flooded furrow irrigation. As always, keep experimenting and sharing, and
good luck!
 
Linc Vannah
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Location: western Colorado
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Adam,

That was great information about your observations regarding water transport from the swale and irrigation ditch in our heavy clay soil, thanks. I suspect that your theory is right, the clay soil is so tight that water doesn't carry far in it. It may be that with our dry climate, the moisture capillaries back up to the surface and evaporates faster than it transports (which could be resolved with mulch in the swale), or, it could be percolating down through the caliche and into more porous substrate below rather than moving horizontally to the garden. How long does it take the water in that swale to disappear after it's been filled?

I'm still hoping that a hugelkulture mound on the downhill berm of a catch swale will get enough water to keep the wood in the mound moist and decomposing, but I'm thinking I'll charge the mounds with water initially with drip tape laid along the tops. I can't help experimenting - it's just fun.

I need to start a new thread about how to get rizobium nitrogen fixing bacteria into the soil on an established field of alfalfa (my pasture alfalfa does not seem to have any nitrogen fixing nodules on the root hairs, though some growing in the garden did). The alfalfa seed was planted without inoculating the seed first.




 
Kelly Smith
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just wanted to add this here for now:
Nissen-Petersen (2006) Water from Small Dams: A handbook for technicians, farmers and others on site investigations, designs, cost estimates, construction and maintenance of small earth dams

will be back to read the updated posts.


 
Kelly Smith
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Adam Klaus wrote:
Point 3- I believe you can dam your irrigation water as you see fit. Unless your irrigation ditch has specific covenants that are beyond the basic Colorado water law, your irrigation water is yours to use as you wish for agricultural purposes. Last summer I dug a large, close to 1 million gallon pond that is filled exclusively from our ditch water. For the sake of the state, it is refered to as a water storage structure, and is not regulated in any significant way. We use it to raise fish, and also to be able to collect and release irrigation water as we see fit for our pastures. Whereas before we irrigated based on what was flowing in the irrigation pipe, now we can irrigate at whatever rate we like from our Agri-drain in the resevoir. This is totally in line with CO water law.



FWIW -
i am still waiting for a clear answer on this. I spoke with the water superintendent and he mentioned that because our irrigation company has storage rights, the irrigation water must be used within 48-72 hours of delivery.
I have a call in to the local water commissioner to try and get this straightened out.


 
Kelly Smith
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i received a call back and the news isnt good. according to the guy i talked to, ponds are not legal.

I was told that in certain circumstances, a head stabilization pond can be built, but that those are typically emptied within 72 hrs, and that is not they same thing as a pond. these are typically on long farms where a stable head is needed to irrigate some portions of the farm. (low head/ditch height normally)
to put a pond on my property i would have to essentially transfer some of the irrigation company's storage rights to my property. i would also have to dry up some currently irrigated land to account for evaporation loss of the pond. neither of which are going to happen.

When i asked about berms on the lower side of the property, he said technically those are illegal too. he said the water cant stand for longer than 72hrs, but if it is pooling, it could be considered wasting, and your irrigation could be shut off. he did say this is rarely enforced and is pretty low on the priority list.
He also mentioned only being able to use the water once. you are not supposed to catch water (at the lower end of the property) and reuse it again.

i got the feeling that some of these things aren't enforced unless someone calls and complains.
i would be interested in how this is being justified on the western slope, as he did say these rules are statewide, not per district. i havent been out to the western slope, but i hear there is a lot more water out there, maybe that has something to do with it?

for now i think i will put in a few swales in for now and keep searching for ideas.
i found an older picture of the property, you can see where the neighbors water runs into our property.

i think i will start with a swale behind the corral/round pen (where our garden is now), and one at the lower end of the field (the brown part of the field)

i think ill also look into some sort of sub soiler.

feedback appreciated.
 
Kelly Smith
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hi Linc,
sorry it took me so long to reply.

i like the idea of breaking up the pastures with rows of trees. did you plant on contour?

i read the info on spreader dams, but i dont see any info on how to make them. normally you dont want water to overflow a swale, but this looks like the swale helps keep the overflow level. any idea on how you build these to they dont erode away? seems like taking the dirt away would be better then allowing it to erode on the downhill side? maybe compact the downhill portion so it doesnt erode?
this seems like if i can figure out how to make them, its worth giving a try. if i can slow the water down on contour, allow a foot of water or so to pool then continue on downhill, i think that would really help.

when you are talking about build a terrace 70 wide, how high will the swale dam water up the terrace? is the swale on the end on contour or does it drain back to the main downhill ditch?

im also looking for a subsoiler/chisel plow of some sort. i i think if i can make one pass on contour, it shouldnt mess the corrugations up to bad, and hopefully slow the water down a bit.

do you have any pictures of what you are doing? i would love to see it. (Lisa you too!)


i should also mention, we drove around the neighborhood and saw PLENTY of ponds. most dry but some were full. makes me wonder if they are only an issue if someone complains... maybe forgiveness is better than permission?
 
Kelly Smith
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Kelly Smith wrote:
i think i will start with a swale behind the corral/round pen (where our garden is now), and one at the lower end of the field (the brown part of the field)
feedback appreciated.


looks like there is a timeout on the edit function?

here is a pic with lines where the swales would be (generally)
 
Kelly Smith
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hi again everyone.
we recently got our irrigation water, and had a chance to put the newly installed swales to the test.
the swale behind the garden held great. it is slightly off contour to allow water to drain of the right side and continue "downstream"
I added a smaller swale to keep the water out of the cow's area also.
I will check to see if we got any pictures and post them if we did.


i had a friend over and she recommended laying some erosion control tubes on contour as a way to slow the water down:
here is a link to what she thought my work: http://www.teksupply.com/contractor/supplies/ProductDisplay?catalogId=13552&storeId=10001&langId=-1&division=TekSupply&productId=237292



feed appreciated.
 
Kelly Smith
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because a picture is worth a 1000 words. ive attached a picture of what the field looks like now (after 1 watering and some rain (less than 4 in)
mostly alfalfa (only thing that survived from last year) and some kochia (info here) weed.

im hoping the ground drys up some so i can let the cow out into the field with her compacting everything.
IMG_20130812_191349.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20130812_191349.jpg]
 
Kelly Smith
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also, here is a picture of the swale i put in, its about ~125 ft long. it slopes slightly downhill (towards the hay bales in the picture)
I havent had the time or materials to mulch/plant the downhill side of the swale, but i will get to that.

im wondering if anyone has any ways to slow water via swales, but then allow that water to irrigate the land downhill of the swale. i cant seem to figure out how to spread the water once it is pouring out the end of the swale.

or should i not be adding swales in the irrigation path, and only at the lower end of the field, as to stop water from running off the land?

thanks in advance.
IMG_20130812_191428.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20130812_191428.jpg]
 
Adam Klaus
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Your field looks great Kelly, huge improvement that must feel satisfying! Alfalfa is such a wonder plant.

I would reccomend waiting until the alfalfa is starting to flower before you graze it. The alfalfa has a better energy:protein ratio at that stage, higher mineral content, and you would get more dry matter. You want to be sure to get it grazed before it gets frosted, as then it can cause bloat problems. But at this point in the year I would let it continue to grow and flower, and then graze it at maximum size and nutritional value.

For your question on spreading the water below the swale, that is definitely one of the drawbacks to swales mid-field. You could use a shovel to make a cut in the swale bank to let water flood out where you want it, and then re-patch the swale dam when you are ready for the water to go somewhere else. Temporarily use the dirt from the cut to dam the swale, so that the water is forced out through your cut. With a heavy clay soil, it will be easy to get the dam to reseal. This would basically be a variation on earthen ditch and dam irrigation, like was used before the advent of gated pipe.
 
Kelly Smith
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Adam Klaus wrote:Your field looks great Kelly, huge improvement that must feel satisfying! Alfalfa is such a wonder plant.

I would reccomend waiting until the alfalfa is starting to flower before you graze it. The alfalfa has a better energy:protein ratio at that stage, higher mineral content, and you would get more dry matter. You want to be sure to get it grazed before it gets frosted, as then it can cause bloat problems. But at this point in the year I would let it continue to grow and flower, and then graze it at maximum size and nutritional value.

Thanks Adam,
We do plan to wait until the onset of flowering to graze. i think the issue may be getting it all grazed before it gets frosted. last time it took ~2.5 months to rotate her through the field. we are planning to allow her to eat less thing time (no more that 50%, preferably only ~33%) so maybe it will go faster.
i am still a bit confused on what happens after she is through the field and the field goes dormant? we have a sacrifice area that she is kept in when things are wet/growing. should she stay in there until the field is ready for her again (onset of flowering in 2014?)

Adam Klaus wrote:
For your question on spreading the water below the swale, that is definitely one of the drawbacks to swales mid-field. You could use a shovel to make a cut in the swale bank to let water flood out where you want it, and then re-patch the swale dam when you are ready for the water to go somewhere else. Temporarily use the dirt from the cut to dam the swale, so that the water is forced out through your cut. With a heavy clay soil, it will be easy to get the dam to reseal. This would basically be a variation on earthen ditch and dam irrigation, like was used before the advent of gated pipe.


i was hoping to have a system that didnt include moving/repairing swales. maybe something similar to yeomans flood irrigation gates would work at the end of the swale?


i have been thinking it may be better to have the swale dump into a small pond , then try to get the pond deep enough to irrigate off the pond. sort of like a head stabilization pond, but midway down the pasture. i would have to get some more/smaller pipe, but it seems like easiest way to get the water spread back out after being stopped by the swale.
i've attached a picture of what im thinking so it makes it easier to see.
the blue lines would be swales that overflow into a small pond. the pond would be set up so once it was full, a gate opened and water would then go into a new set of pipes (black line), thus spreading it back out over the field (behind the swale)
swales.JPG
[Thumbnail for swales.JPG]
 
gani et se
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Hi Kelly,
What about smaller (length) swales/berms which, when they overflow, overflow to another swale/berm downhill? Slows the water, spreads the water. Make boomerang or smile shaped berms, leave one end a little lower than the other to control overflow, then place the next berm downhill of the overflow side of the berm. Rinse, repeat. With a specified amount of water coming at you, you could eventually get fairly accurate about sizing the berms. The smaller berms can be shorter in height -- just sized to capture the water.
If I were doing it, with a berm already in place, I would observe how much water the big berm is NOT catching, and build small berms that I think would catch that much water. Build them upstream of the large berm. At the next watering cycle, if you have guessed correctly, you should see the water come into the berms and not overflow.
That said, I am reading Brad Lancaster, and he suggests that the length of time to inflitration for a berm is ideally just a couple hours. So if the water takes a very long time to infiltrate, build more smaller berms. He also recommends rock reinforcing for the spillway.
All theoretical for me, I'm afraid. Hoping to begin earthworks when the rains start for us here this fall.
Good luck!
Gani
 
Kelly Smith
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we recently found out google has updated the satellite images of our area.
the new picture show the swales that were built, and should help give people a better visual of what i am talking about.
you can also see that even with furrows going downhill, the water doesnt always follow them

the swale, in the post 4 above this one, has been lined in red; as well as one just above the sacrifice area.

hopefully this will help with some feedback on adding another swale and a pond like in the post 2 above this one.


thanks in advance

Overhead1.JPG
[Thumbnail for Overhead1.JPG]
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hi Fellow Coloradans,

I'm on the earthworks forum for the first time, and up til now I never saw more than Adam, and a guy in Fruita, on the permies forum from Western Colorado. Wouldn't you know we would be a majority here with our irrigation water shares.

I've got a swale or two on my property. I have just 2.6 acres, so it is a small operation. I also have a slope down to east and north, and am very lucky to have my irrigation water arrive at the highest point on my land, the sw corner. The supply ditch crosses the corner, so I have three different ways to take water from the supply ditch. Also, the supply ditch passes through a grate then goes into a culvert under a road, as it leaves my property. Any time the wind blows, that grate and a hundred others plug up. I clean it (rather than have the supply ditch flood my house). Therefore, I am on good terms with the ditch riders. Count me lucky several times over.

Anyway, about how to get the water from one swale to the next, what I have done is make the boomerang, eyebrow, crescent shaped swales that follow the contour, with the lower end adjusted in height so that water collects in the swale, soaking in, but also filing the swale. When the swale has filled, the water flows out the other end into a ditch/crease/ furrow or pipe, to take the water to the next swale. (think of long beads on a string, and you can space those beads as far apart as you want) So, I have not impounded the water, it is not a pond after all, just a little bit deeper and wider section of ditch. (well, sometimes 4 feet deeper and 4 feet wider, but still). In order to get good saturation (my soil is pretty sandy), I fill the big swale and let it soak in 3 times in succession. By the third filling, it still does not take 72 hours for it to be all gone.

I think also, Kelly, it takes some adjusting, some tinkering with to get it just right. If you have clay soil then until you get the carbon built up in your soil your water is not likely to go in very far, or very fast, as pointed out already. Taking the idea of the French drain, here is a fun idea: If you get a power post hole auger and drill holes in the bottom of your swale as deep as you can (4 feet) and about 12 inch diameter, and fill the holes not with rock but wood chips, you are creating more surface area for water to soak in, you are putting a sponge down there to hold water, you are creating habitat for earthworms and the myriad creatures that inhabit healthy soil. Though the wood chips will "rob" some nitrogen from the soil for a time, if the clay is really pure stuff, I am guessing there are not many roots down there to use the nitrogen than isn't there anyway, and eventually the wood will decompose. Then, what is there will not be clay, and you won't have lost the surface area to water penetration. It will be wonderful moisture holding soil.

Growing up with adobe soils, I learned about the polishing that happens at the sides of holes, making them almost impermeable. If you do use a post hole digger, or even a shovel to punch these holes, before filling them with the wood chips, make the walls of the holes as rough as possible, use a steel digging bar to cut notches and ridges. It makes more surface area for water penetration, if a root does find its way in, it won't get trapped in there going round and round like in a root bound pot.

I really like to keep the idea in mind that the whole point is getting water into the ground for the best storage. Once it is in there, life can follow, and then deep soil can develop. If you can get water down 4 feet, it won't have an easy time evaporating back out again. And if you irrigate again before it dries out, you will be pushing the water further into the soil. I think last summer I finally got enough water into my soil that it will not be dry by spring. I also dream that when I do get soil development down a couple of feet, I will not need to irrigate as frequently, and by the time I have perennial root penetration down 10 feet, I doubt that I will need to water more than once every 6 weeks... except where I am still planting annuals in rows.

Wasn't that nice of google to provide you with before and after ariel photos! It is looking good. It just takes awhile.

Thekla
 
Kelly Smith
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BUMP

I wanted to update this thread, as it has been a while.

a few things i have learned that pertains to this discussion:
as Adam mentioned - i see very little downhill water movement though the soil. my heavy clay soil is great about keeping moisture in once wet, but water doesnt seem to travel downhill much. my low slope might also be a factor in that (see pics)
i added ~7 more "swales" between the red lines and planted ~50 trees in there last year. what seems to have worked: impounding the water, allowing it to soak in and keeping the soil covered so the wind/low humidity doesnt dry it out (vs relying on under soil water plumes from swales above)
a storage pond is out of the question (for now) - the problem isnt getting to much water - the problem is getting the water everywhere, everytime. that said - i would like to design in some small catch ponds in that would fill in heavy rains.
if i design for irrigation water rights and it catches rainwater - even better.


i am still trying to figure out a way to flood irrigate while stopping/slowing water. the main issue for me has always been - how do i spread the water back out once it has been slowed/stopped in a way that will irrigate my pasture effectively.
I think adding more piping is the most effective way to do this. (a cheaper option is an on contour ditch and flag dam)

I have added an updated overhead drawing with close-ish contour line below to help better understand the property:


Here are some pictures from around the pasture to help show what small slope i have. we also less that 8ft of drop over ~660ft of property length.
1. -taken from #1 spot in picture.


2. -taken from spot 2


3. - taken from spot 3



here is the current plan. add a swale with a 1/400 drop. setup overflow so it can be directed into gated pipe. plant trees on both sides of the swale:



what do you think? swale to low? to high? other opinions?
thanks in advance.
 
Michael Cox
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Is your objective to sink water into the subsoil for long term storage, or spread it thin and soak it over as wide an area as possible? Both have beneifts.

Concentrating and sinking will keep trees and deeper rooted plants supplied for longer after each irrigation event. This is what your swales are doing - concentrating and sinking. I think you said that when you get irrigation water you get to run it until water is leaving your land downhill? Swales will temporarily catch the water and slow it potentially meaning you get to irrigate for longer before water runs out.

As far as making use of water from a swale overflow, you could try a series of staggered swales with their spillways at opposite ends of your field... one spills into the next, the water spreads along the length of the next swale before overflowing again and crossing back in the other direction. You won't get the sheet effect and uniform water distribution, but your swale impact will be much greater. Think about the water zig-zagging back and forth across the slope.

You have alfalfa at present - fodder for horses? - but have mentioned planting trees. Trees will give shade, drop leaf litter and be more drought resistant. I'd be looking at getting them in pretty quick and leaving your alfalfa to grow in the inter-swale areas.
 
Michael Cox
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yellow is swales on contour and tree rows
blue is water flow
swales.png
[Thumbnail for swales.png]
Consecutive swales spilling into each other to spread water laterally
 
Kelly Smith
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Michael Cox wrote:Is your objective to sink water into the subsoil for long term storage, or spread it thin and soak it over as wide an area as possible? Both have beneifts.

i was hoping to do both.
i plan to continue to irrigate the pasture via the gated 8in pipe.
i would also like to slow/sink the water and grow fodder type trees in the pasture, with the added benefit of collecting the water into 1 point for easier handling during irrigation cycles

Michael Cox wrote:
As far as making use of water from a swale overflow, you could try a series of staggered swales with their spillways at opposite ends of your field... one spills into the next, the water spreads along the length of the next swale before overflowing again and crossing back in the other direction. You won't get the sheet effect and uniform water distribution, but your swale impact will be much greater. Think about the water zig-zagging back and forth across the slope.

without applying water to the pasture portion, nothing will grow.
with cascading swales, the only portion that would grow is where the water runs. i thought a bout a series of wide shallow swales like in one of geoff lawtons videos, but that didnt solve the pasture irrigating problem.

Michael Cox wrote:
You have alfalfa at present - fodder for horses? - but have mentioned planting trees. Trees will give shade, drop leaf litter and be more drought resistant. I'd be looking at getting them in pretty quick and leaving your alfalfa to grow in the inter-swale areas.

the pasture is mainly alfalfa now, only because that is the only plant that survived the drought (see my no water no growies comment above)
we have seeded grasses, chicory, dandelion, clover etc into it and are starting to see some diversity improvements this year.

thanks for the reply.
 
Kelly Smith
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Michael Cox wrote:yellow is swales on contour and tree rows
blue is water flow

how do I irrigate the pink parts though. see attached

please do not take offense, I find it is hard to get people to think that not all water comes from the sky
swales.png
[Thumbnail for swales.png]
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hi Kelly, Hi Michael, I just got the thread activity notification.

I can't tell how far apart the swales are, so I don't know how big an area is in between them. I think it looks like it would work, if the pictures are giving a good representation of how much slope you have.

Right now I am interested in soil development, the idea that establishing soil micro community will help with everything. So, I think about the water that you are getting to go deep, and the trees in partnership with the water. With time, the texture of the soil will change, and the water should penetrate more widely. When you have micro aggregates, you also have pore space, and water flows through pore spaces, and as I've noted before, in my soil, the water even flows up because of capillarity. Air flows through the pore spaces, and roots zoom down them too.

You can have tremendous soil that develops from all clay. Often, what has got clay soil to be so impermeable is that it's been tilled repeatedly for generations. When tilled, the fungi component of the soil is killed and killed until there is nothing there. The fungal fibers are what make the micro aggregates (along with the glues from the bacteria).

Other problems with soil that make into something where nothing will grow are anaerobic conditions and compaction.

If your soil has been subjected to modern mechanized agriculture tilling, probably you don't have much micro community in there. Currently I'm studying how to reestablish the micro community, but it has not come as easily as I would have liked.

I was thinking if you get your swales and your trees, the soil microorganisms will move out from those areas. And with luck, you'll learn faster than I am, how to reestablish the living community that does all the work, feeds the plants, carries minerals, even suppresses pests. It is said that once established the soil community (this a quote from a project done in an arid part of Australia) the grape vines on that ground utilized 70 percent less water.

And, with the people who know how to jump start the soil micro organisms, they see increased productivity and decreased costs and labor the first year.

Have you any idea what the historical use of your soil has been?

You could try checking the compaction, you could take up a hand full of soil and see if it has micro aggregates. All this soil stuff in addition to your swales... I could talk more about it if you are interested.

How is that new baby Kelly? half a year, or a year and a half? Time flies.

Thekla
 
S Bengi
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It looks like you have little 3 inch deep ditches about 3 feet apart that run down the property channeling water OFF your land as soon as possible.

What if you made those tiny ditches run across your land on contour. The would slow the water a tiny bit and allow the water to soak in. You would then have a super healthy row of alfalfa ever 3ft and between it just OK looking roww of pasture maybe with something that has at least 3ft root that can make it up and down to the next ditch.

The hard part is that it would take alot of work. but someone already did alot of work making the ditches going the wrong direction so we know it is doable
 
Michael Cox
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Kelly Smith wrote:
Michael Cox wrote:yellow is swales on contour and tree rows
blue is water flow

how do I irrigate the pink parts though. see attached

please do not take offense, I find it is hard to get people to think that not all water comes from the sky


Kelly - perhaps you need to flip your thinking around. You are trying to force a crop to grow in near desert conditions using irrigation water. Your soil looks totally parched of life and organic matter so has near zero water holding capacity. If you were to establish belts of trees and swales you would be able to kickstart the soil food web in those belts, and over time build up carbon levels in the soil to store even more moisture. Those belts will become expanding bands of life as conditions improve.

Irrigating desert to grow grass/alfalfa isn't really a permaculture approach as it is very wasteful of all that water and isn't building the long term fertility and vitality of the land.
 
Rebecca Norman
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I am not going to get on your case for irrigation. I live in a place even drier and even higher, where definitely nothing grows without irrigation.

I have a question, though. Are you planning to have irrigation water go in a zigzag, so you don't have to monitor and move it? We tried that, years ago, and it failed. We made our little canals in zigzag patterns with the idea that you could let either the all-day low flow greywater, or the occasional high flow irrigation pond, flow down the zigzag reaching lots of different trees without anyone having to pay attention. And over the years, the trees at the upper end thrived, got huge, were pollarded several times, and create a shady lovely area, while the trees down at the lower end of the zigzag never thrived, never got big in 10 years. So finally we straightened out the canals and water each shorter straighter line one by one. Finally those scrawny trees are having their first pollarding this week -- at 20 years of age -- whereas their brothers a few feet feet away have been pollarded about 4 times and give huge amounts of wood.

If I've misunderstood the diagram, or if you are using drip pipes rather than little canals, please forgive my intrusion.
 
Kelly Smith
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Hi Kelly,

I can't tell how far apart the swales are, so I don't know how big an area is in between them. I think it looks like it would work, if the pictures are giving a good representation of how much slope you have.

we only have 5 ac (2ha) here, though we do lease other land for haymaking as well. the property is ~330ft x 660ft.
my hope was to make ~3/4 paddocks and rotate the cows through and hay the portions we cant graze fast enough. we have such an extreme in forage availability between growing and no growing season, that im having a hard time trying to figure out a good management strategy.

Thekla McDaniels wrote:
Have you any idea what the historical use of your soil has been?

my place used to be a therapeutic riding center. as i understand it, there were 4-6 horse set stocked on the land before i got here.
if you look at my post made on "posted 8/13/2013 11:19:53 AM" you will see an overhead shot of the property when we bought it. it was barren and super compacted.
the soil has very little organic matter in it.
we have been working on compaction and getting organic material into the soil. we have planted as many taprooted species as we can. i am really starting to ramp up my compost making and plan to spread that out on the pasture as well.
that said, we have seen water soak ~1ft deep into the soil. i suspect there is a hardpan under there some where though. i would love to run a subsoiler through it.




Thekla McDaniels wrote:
How is that new baby Kelly? half a year, or a year and a half? Time flies.
Thekla

thanks Thekla, he is doing great. he is ~6 months now. time does seem to have sped up now that he is here, but in a good way

thanks again fort he help!
hope all is well on that side of the divide
 
Kelly Smith
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Michael Cox wrote:
Kelly - perhaps you need to flip your thinking around. You are trying to force a crop to grow in near desert conditions using irrigation water. Your soil looks totally parched of life and organic matter so has near zero water holding capacity. If you were to establish belts of trees and swales you would be able to kickstart the soil food web in those belts, and over time build up carbon levels in the soil to store even more moisture. Those belts will become expanding bands of life as conditions improve.

Thanks for the reply Michael,
my soil, is parched and there is very little organic matter in it, thus my thread about what plants would be best: http://www.permies.com/t/33453/plants/irrigated-pasture-planting-suggestions
also, as i understand it, grasses are MUCH more efficient in putting carbon in the ground. i have heard Darren Doherty say that when properly grown and gazed properly, grasses are like 8 lane highways adding carbon into the soil.


Michael Cox wrote:
Irrigating desert to grow grass/alfalfa isn't really a permaculture approach as it is very wasteful of all that water and isn't building the long term fertility and vitality of the land.

funny no one has this response for Adam K, who is doing, basically what i am.

i guess now i see what paul wheaton was talking about. i guess what im doing is not permaculture.
 
Kelly Smith
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S Bengi wrote:It looks like you have little 3 inch deep ditches about 3 feet apart that run down the property channeling water OFF your land as soon as possible.

those are small furrows that keep the water moving downhill, and prevent the water for falling directly towards the valley.
those essentially prevent the "water moves downhill 90* to contour" that is often mentioned.

S Bengi wrote:What if you made those tiny ditches run across your land on contour. The would slow the water a tiny bit and allow the water to soak in. You would then have a super healthy row of alfalfa ever 3ft and between it just OK looking roww of pasture maybe with something that has at least 3ft root that can make it up and down to the next ditch.

i think you are referring to "contour furrows" as was done in days past. this would work, but i found i would have to buy more new pipe, as i would have to have pipe on all the high points on the land.
FWIW - the water is able to bridge the 30" furrows. i am able to get a full stand on any area that gets wet. from the very pack of my property to ~1/2 down gets all the water is can stand.
im am simply looking for a way to bring all that water back under control and fan it back out evenly.
 
Kelly Smith
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Rebecca Norman wrote:

I have a question, though. Are you planning to have irrigation water go in a zigzag, so you don't have to monitor and move it?

generally, we do have to monitor the water. it is only every few hours that i go out and change the gates - im normally watering ~45ft wide sections at a time.
the water doesnt zigzag though.

Rebecca Norman wrote:
We tried that, years ago, and it failed. We made our little canals in zigzag patterns with the idea that you could let either the all-day low flow greywater, or the occasional high flow irrigation pond, flow down the zigzag reaching lots of different trees without anyone having to pay attention. And over the years, the trees at the upper end thrived, got huge, were pollarded several times, and create a shady lovely area, while the trees down at the lower end of the zigzag never thrived, never got big in 10 years. So finally we straightened out the canals and water each shorter straighter line one by one. Finally those scrawny trees are having their first pollarding this week -- at 20 years of age -- whereas their brothers a few feet feet away have been pollarded about 4 times and give huge amounts of wood.

what you describe is why the furrows (locally called "corrugations" ) run downhill, vs zigzagging back and forth.
that said, i have enough water that i was hoping to be able to get water down to trees, while leaving some in the swales along the way.

thanks for your response.
 
Kelly Smith
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i have added a better overhead view of the property with some zones to help understand where im coming from.

i also added a layout of the small swale system that i installed last year.

maybe this will help explain more about where im coming from.
Zones.png
[Thumbnail for Zones.png]
swalesntrees.png
[Thumbnail for swalesntrees.png]
 
Thekla McDaniels
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I don't see what you are doing as "non-permaculture", Kelly. Who was it that said you don't DO permaculture, you use permaculture principles in what you are doing. Probably Larry Santoyo

Taking a long view of it, if you rescue the soil, which there is no reason not to assume was once fertile soil, turn it into one of those incredibly productive soils that are possible anywhere on earth, and you decrease water needs by 70 %, and your animals graze, and carbon is sequestered and the atmosphere is improved, and you have no run off from your place, contributing to floods, and because your soil becomes permeable through your management, and therefore you help, on your small piece of earth, to restore the small and local water cycle, and thereby do your part to end the drought flood cycle, then what better work is there in a lifetime? And concurrently you fed your family, and earned some money to pay your taxes and for your water. How is that not permaculture?

We can't all afford premium land, and maybe what we can afford and is available is the marginal land, and if we restore it, how is that not permaculture?

If you look at Geoff Lawtons work in the middle east, at the outset it is resource and labor intensive and requires water from somewhere other than the parched earth he is developing.

I face the same thing on my place. Sure it is labor intensive to establish, and it does require water. Right now The Colorado Water Plan, or what ever it is called is in the news so much that even my neighbors and the people at the ag conferences I attend, and the irrigation experts are beginning to parrot the idea that anything but drip irrigation should be outlawed because it is not efficient use of the resources, and that water should go to others who will "properly " utilize it-- whether they be on the Front Range in new subdivisions, or somewhere between me and LA, where irrigation water is already being sold to the megalopolises for urban household use. OK, kind of a rant there, but I get really tired of the idea that we at higher elevations should let the water flow downstream for someone ELSE to use. At lower elevations, down stream from YOU, are the plains. Historically, their yearly cycle includes more annual rainfall spread over greater parts of the year. With proper soil management, they would not need to irrigate. How bout THEY get savvy to the potentials of restoration agricultural practices. Down stream from me are Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. Do THEY have a greater claim on the water that passes through here as snow melt? And what are THEY going to use the water for? Golf courses and car washes are part of what they consider "proper" utilization. When my place is set, I won't need the water I pay for every year, and I'll have the skills to rehabilitate MORE acreage. Starting with the dusty compacted dry lots of my neighbors' places... I get their dirt inside my house every spring when our windy season turns the sky yellow.

If what I'm doing is not "permaculture" then I don't care. I set out to do what is reasonable, and that was before the word permaculture was invented. My identity is not associated with "permaculture". I've found the permaculture community to so rich and resourceful that I took my PDC, and attend such events as Permaculture Voices I and listen to what ever Diego puts on line in his pod casts.

Done with the rant.
This morning I was looking on line for LIVE soil resources, and found a great lecture by Kris Nichols PhD. I heard her in January in Delta, Colorado. I like her manner of presentation. here is the link if you are interested:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14fDrB8n08E

Whenever you need encouragement, snuggle your nose into the folds of your dear son's neck and inhale deeply, for as long as he will let you!

Oh, and about the compaction, if you can get a good compost and make it into a good extract, and inject it beneath the compaction layer, it is supposed to work miracles. Things to be careful of: the compost did not contain the organisms you want. The first application is not adequate, and you have to reapply before the original set of organisms dies completely off. The sprayer or injector or pump you might try to use injures or kills the microbes by its functioning.

I have used a posthole digger the mechanized king, and drilled holes in the earth. In clay soil you would have to rough up the sides of the hole so you do not have a polished surface, creating an in ground pot. Anyway, drilled the hole and filled it with wood chips. I figured that it would be an area that the organisms would move out FROM. More recently I've learned of the function of living roots in feeding microorganisms. This year, I'll probably plant some grass seed (maybe big blue stem) and red clover, and what ever in the tops of any of those holes I can find.

Thekla

 
Becki Leitman
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Hello, I just found this list when doing some research. I live in Western Colorado (Loma) and have a 6 acre horse pasture. We get one cutting in the Spring and pasture the horses for several hours a day (rotate pastures) for the rest of the year. We have worked hard to bring the strand back and now get @ 375-400 small bales off our field, which feed the horses for the year. Two things have come up this year that I am researching. First is using treated "biosolids" from a local municipality to spread on the field as fertilizer. I've always hated using chemical fertilizers but when we tried other stuff, it was very expensive and the yield was pitiful. Anybody have experience with that? Second is a recommendation from our neighbor to "chisel" our field to help w/ compaction and get oxygen back in the soil. I'd be interested in anybody's experience with either of these issues. Thanks in advance!
 
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