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help with boggy, compacted, rush-infested soil  RSS feed

 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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We have an area that is problematic. It's probably about 1/4 - 1/3 of an acre. it may be the site of an old mill pond. It is very flat and very wet. We initially thought it was a very high water table / natural bog, but my opinion has changed. I believe that the biggest reason it is so wet is that the soil is extremely compacted. There are deep ruts, and we know there was a lot of heavy machinery used in the area. Our septic tank is on one side of it and I think that the drainage field includes this wet area but we are certain that the system is function properly and the wetness is not due to that. We had a relatively dry summer and it all dried out. But as soon as wetter weather starts (now till spring) when it is rare to go more than a few days without rain, the ruts are just filled with standing water. Vegetation in this area is creeping buttercup and an infestation of common rush ((J. effusus L.) .
I want to use the area for a forest garden because it gets good sun and is much more sheltered than other parts of the property. I'm trying to find out how best to accomplish this.

After reading more about rush, I am thinking to mow it all down to ground level, then use a rear-tine tiller / walking tractor to till over the area - the one we use can till down to about 6-8". Tilling would hopefully interfere with the rhizomes enough (I will then rake and pick them out by hand) and also begin to loosen the soil. I may lime the area as apparently rush indicates acidic soil. And then see if I can plant things like daikon to start opening up the soil some more. I think that would have to wait until spring time though?

Does this strategy make any sense at all? Does anyone have any other suggestions for how to start getting rid of the rush, and decompacting and drying out the area? Thank you
 
allen lumley
pollinator
Posts: 4154
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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S. Carreg : Do a test dig, down to about 3 feet, I think you will probably hit clay ! Sometimes if you are very lucky your clay layer is not that thick and below it is
fine sand that does drain well ! Good luck Big AL !
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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Thank you. I'm pretty sure that if I dig down 3 feet I till probably hit the water table haha. This flat area is bounded by an earth and rock wall and on the other side of that is a small river (used to feed the mill). I don't think the top soil is very thick at all, and yes it's probably clay underneath. But then how is the best way to get it to drain through the clay?
 
allen lumley
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Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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S Carreg : You can go look at the Rivers banks and get a pretty good clue about what is under your top soil. You can drain to the river and probably
Get under the wall with a little hydraulic mining, which sounds much worse than it really is! ( You do it with a garden hose ) But 1st try and determine
how deep your clay runs, and what is under it ! I have seen clay 4' thick here and 300 yards away nothing, it may be easier to create dry wells by
digging down through 6'' of clay and back filling the hole with rocks then it would be to make french drains all the way to the river ! A.L.
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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Hmmm. That is definitely something to look into. But I am very wary about actually breaking through or under the bank and creating pathways for water between the land and the river, as the bank was constructed as a flood defense. The river does not normally flood, but it has happened on rare occassions so it's not a risk I want to increase.
 
linda besfort
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thanks allen lumley, i've been having the same issues and you've brought new insight.
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 469
Location: Eastern Kansas
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I have always lived in dry areas, so please consider the source when I say this, but perhaps you can grow water-loving plants?

Where I live asparagus does well next to the streams, as does elderberries and willow. I have heard that on our East Coast there is a kind of hay that tolerates standing water, and they cut it in the Fall when the land temporarily dries up enough to take the weight of a tractor.

Farmers in this country will sometimes rip the farmland deeply to cut through a compacted layer that can form just under the plow, but that layer is not usually a thick one and your clay might be.
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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Thank you terri. That had been my initial thought - that we should just treat this area as a permanent wet zone and only plant tolerant plants. I have started planting alder there, with willow to follow (some is coming up as volunteers anyway). But after a year of observation I now think that it is behaving as a permanent wet zone mostly because of recent soil compaction, rather than it's 'natural' state. Which led me to think, if I can find a way to decompact it, it would aid drainage, and then make the space more useful for growing a wider variety of things. Which is of interest to me because this is by far the most sheltered area of the property, so would have good potential for growing lots of food, if we could sort it out. Ugh, it's so hard to figure it out!

I think we are going to try tilling a small section as an experiment. We are just starting our wettest time of the year, so if we till it up now we can observe if that changes the way the ground behaves over the winter, and then go from there.

If we don't have success that way, I will just work on getting lots more alder and willow established there so at least we can have firewood and fix some nitrogen.
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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We started tilling today and results are mixed. It's hard going, but it is going. At least we are breaking up the rush rhizomes and freeing up the top few inches of soil. Now im trying to decide what to do with it over winter. Any ideas? I could plant more alder in (seedlings from 2'-saplings 7' freely available) although ideally I would ultimately like to have more food production going on here. Though I guess I could plant the alder for now and take it out in time when the area is in better shape for other things. I could mulch over winter - either with water permeable landscape fabric or with lots of biomatter (the scythed rush, and lots of rotten ahy/mulch) and try to plant radish tiller in the spring? I could also put in fruit trees but I think it's probably too wet for almost anything, at the moment.
 
David Hartley
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Ha! After reading the first post, I immediately thought of Alder I definitely think an Alder grove might be a great ideal. Plant the grove after last frost. Coppice it the following winter. Then coppice it once more in ~5 years and plant what you would like. I'm guessing a 1~1.5 meter spacing would be about ideal for the Alder?
 
Eric Thompson
Posts: 376
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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Elderberry and Serviceberry will probably go ok. If it's too waterlogged, hill up the soil 2-3 feet - you may even be able to get plums to do well.
 
leanna jones
Posts: 38
Location: Pennines, northern England, zone 7b, avg annual rainfall 50"
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hi, sounds like you're in the uk like us? we have a one year old market garden on boggy, rush-y land.

what worked for us was digging a pond in the lowest part, and digging land drains to it. we put the earth from the pond around the area to raise the level.

scythed rushes make a good mulch, I expect this is their role in nature- as they die down they bulk up the level of the ground- but they do this in a way that is too slow, and too clumpy for us, so scything and spreading them out speeds up this process.

I would not till, or run heavy machinery on, land that is already. suffering from compaction, as both processes increase compaction (spot the no-dig gardener!). instead I would build soil by mulching and like you say, plant deep-rooted N fixers.

we've had to dig individual French drains around many of our veg beds but the veg has been very happy, albeit in a relatively dry uk year.

alder and willow are a great idea
 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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I remembered this thread and when linking it, realised Leanna is the OP there
 
leanna jones
Posts: 38
Location: Pennines, northern England, zone 7b, avg annual rainfall 50"
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this guy is in wales, embracing boggy, rushy areas:

http://www.konsk.co.uk/design/water/causeway.htm
 
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