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Help needed with suburban lot.

 
Brandon Jensen
Posts: 6
Location: Summerville, SC
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New to permaculture, reading as much as I can. I understand the basic principals of hugelculture and swales, but having a hard time figuring out how to utilize these different techniques in my suburban lot. I am having a major water flow problem on my site. Along the south side of my property there is a continuous flow of water through the french drain which leads to the street then down the storm drain. I feel that this is a waste. I would love to utilize this abundance of water to have a large self watered garden full of edibles. Another problem is the pools of water that form after a rain in my back yard in three separate locations. These areas stay pooled for a day or so, then muddy for a long period of time. This does not go over well with my four legged friends that love to run through it. My last issue, is a large dry area in front of my home. I have dried planting edibles in a bed, but nothing seems to stay hydrated without watering. Any help would be much appreciated.
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S Bengi
Posts: 1356
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Have the water drain/flow to the otherside of the house to the dry front yard.
Have the water flow in a zigzag pattern thru the front yard so that everywhere gets some water.
Have a overflow that dumps in a depression in the front yard, maybe a mulch-pit.
You might have to mulch the entire front yard too, to help it retain that water and not dry out too quickly.
 
Brandon Jensen
Posts: 6
Location: Summerville, SC
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Here is an updated picture showing pipe from dispensing water onto property. Before I connected it to my french drain, my entire backyard was a swamp.
Homesite.jpg
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Zach Muller
gardener
Posts: 777
Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Without knowing the topography of the site it is hard to say what you could do. You show an arrow pointing downward in the back of the house so I assume this means it slopes toward the French drain, but it must not slope enough if your getting pooling in the yard. What is the terrain like over the French drain?

I have dogs as well and I have my swale hugel area blocked from them because of their destructive tendencies. Have you considered fencing in the front to keep the dogs, and then doing earthworks outback and on the south side for water retention and planting?

Another blessing/challenge is that you say the water is constantly flowing, is this water that you would want to divert into a stream that ran through your property?

If you made Swales and water was constantly flowing, they would always be full, and would turn into little ponds and a chinampas system rather than functioning like normal swales.
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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I'm going to assume these conclusions are true.

The high point on your property is on the north-east corner.
You use your french drain to facilitate water removal from your back yard.
Most of the flow from your french drain comes from the mystery pipe, so the water is primarily collecting on the south side of your property.

Do the waterlogged areas come flowing from the high ground or do they result from roof runoff?

The obvious solution is to get some if not all of that water flowing past the north side of your house into some sort of water catchment (swale, small pond, etc.) From these pictures I don't know if that is a foot of digging or 6 feet of digging to get deep enough to use gravity. If your flooding is caused mostly by roof runoff, I would look at rerouting your gutters to get that water to the north side of your property so you can direct it to the front yard.

On my tiny lot my french drains are really more like french swales. I dug a trench, meandered it through my yard, leveled it at the bottom, and filled it with rocks. It doesn't run the water off of my lot. It's a new system, but in our rains it has worked to eliminate flooding and absorb water into the dirt. I may have to build in an overflow at some point, but I don't expect to as it has been raining pretty heavily at times and is functioning perfectly. This may not work on your property as it has on mine, but it could retain your water while allowing it to soak in at sub flooding levels.

I hope this sparks some kind of idea that works on your property.
 
Brandon Jensen
Posts: 6
Location: Summerville, SC
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Thanks for the ideas. I believe the small pools are forming from roof run off. I installed gutters last month, two in back, each running to the corners of the house. But it is quite a good distance to the front of the house. I will have to think about how to get it to the front dry area, vs being dispensed on to the side of the house. On the south side, I was thinking about a pond/hugel area in the backyard, and then a couple below ground Hugel beds along the house and up by the road. But I think the flowing water will eventually overflow the beds, then I would be left with a wet mess on the rest of the lawn. Is there someway to have an overflow solution with hugelculture beds? Or should I use a series of micro ponds? I guess the amount of digging and earthworks required to deal with the water is a little overwelming to me. But I have been irrigating my raised garden bed on the south side of my home, all the while having great water flow in a drain right next to it. Seems like a waste. I would also love to include numerous veggie beds along this flow of water, essentially being self watered.
 
A Tabor
Posts: 16
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How about putting in cisterns to collect and hold the excess water (Where it will also evaporate far less than from an exposed pond) and use that to irrigate with? set it low enough that the wet areas can drain into it, but excess can then be allowed to flow into the drainage ditch (or spill over into an exposed pond/water feature, and then to the ditch.)
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1424
Location: Central New Jersey
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If I understand correctly, much of the water running through your french drain comes out of a pipe that dumps onto your property, and you do not know where it is coming from?

I would think it a good idea to have that ware tested before I started working out how to use it for my irrigation needs. IT may be clean runoff, but it also may be loaded with stuff you do not want to put into your yard.

The spots that hold "too much" water might be good places to plant "rain gardens" - collections of plants that will thrive on the wet conditions. If the pools were coming from your roof and your new gutters change the flow dynamic, the ponding may not be an issue anymore.

To have a gutter fill a rainbarrel on the north side of the house, and then run an irrigation line from there to your dry area in the front doesn't look like it would be all that much to do.

Assuming that the slope of your land across the entire property is downward from the back toward the front, I would think you might be able to do a slightly off contour swale that worked to move water from your back yard along the northerly end of the house and into your dry front yard.

Back to the water in the french drain - if that turns out to be clean water, then I might try to feed it from that incoming pioe, into a swale as described above, guiding it through the back yard, along the side and out into the dry area.

How much slope you have to deal with would be a big part of whether the swale idea would work on your property.
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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RE: gutter drainage you could take the drop from the northeast corner and run a pipe across to the northwest corner of the house, then your swale digging could be minimized. You might be putting yourself in a position to have to clean the downspout more than you'd like, but there may be ways around that as well. Barrels and cisterns are all excellent suggestions, but they tend to fill up much more quickly than you'd expect and you'll still need a runoff plan.

Hugels will absorb a bunch of water. If they don't absorb enough water it could be set up so that the lowest part of the french drain is near the hugels, but when it gets too full it will overflow into the street. It will end up like a long, narrow pond until the water gets above street level.

 
Brandon Jensen
Posts: 6
Location: Summerville, SC
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Thanks for all the advise. These are my thoughts, more of a start, Im sure edits will follow. I like the idea of extending a gutter drain pipe from the north east gutter to get water to the dry spot up in front of my house. I am thinking using some sort of water catchment to slow the water down. Either a swale or pond, or both. Suggestions?

Along the south side of my house. Thinking of possibly adding a series of swale and hugel beds along the hole side. But to aid in overflow, installing "monks" through the hugelkulture beds. Do you think that would work? This would involve removing the existing french drain pipe, which Im nervous to do. Because if my idea doesn't work, I would be left with quite a swamp, again.

That's what I have so far.... thoughts?

Homesite, Revised.jpeg
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John Elliott
pollinator
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Brandon, just because you live in the "Low Country" doesn't mean you have to have 3 pieces of it in the back yard. I'm afraid the only way those 3 low spots are going to stay dry is if you build the grade up a foot or so --maybe like put a hugelbed on top of them. It's either that or plant some bald cypress there and let the back yard revert to swampland.

Since you have a French drain, that is at least keeping the groundwater moving, or else your backyard wet spots would stay muddy a lot longer. Is your house a slab-on-grade, or do you have a crawl space? If it's the latter, you ought to check the crawl space after a heavy rain to see that the French drain is doing its job.

As to the "dry" spot in the front, it can't really be that dry with all the groundwater movement you have going on. Does it have lots of sand showing through the grass, with the grass looking like it is just hanging on and trying its hardest to spread and fill in? I'm thinking that your soil is either very sandy, or very little organic matter on top of compacted clay. In the case of the former, the water drains away too fast and the plant roots are high and dry; in the latter case, once the hot weather arrives, the clay becomes as hard as concrete and again, the plant roots are high and dry. The solution to both is hugelkultur -- lots of organic matter, as it will sit in that groundwater flow and wick it up to the roots.

There is only one reason that "nothing seems to stay hydrated without watering" in our climate: lack of soil organic matter. Everything you do to increase soil carbon, from building hugelmounds to adding biochar to tilling in wood chips is going to pay off for you.

 
Brandon Jensen
Posts: 6
Location: Summerville, SC
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John Elliott wrote:Brandon, just because you live in the "Low Country" doesn't mean you have to have 3 pieces of it in the back yard. I'm afraid the only way those 3 low spots are going to stay dry is if you build the grade up a foot or so --maybe like put a hugelbed on top of them. It's either that or plant some bald cypress there and let the back yard revert to swampland.

Since you have a French drain, that is at least keeping the groundwater moving, or else your backyard wet spots would stay muddy a lot longer. Is your house a slab-on-grade, or do you have a crawl space? If it's the latter, you ought to check the crawl space after a heavy rain to see that the French drain is doing its job.

As to the "dry" spot in the front, it can't really be that dry with all the groundwater movement you have going on. Does it have lots of sand showing through the grass, with the grass looking like it is just hanging on and trying its hardest to spread and fill in? I'm thinking that your soil is either very sandy, or very little organic matter on top of compacted clay. In the case of the former, the water drains away too fast and the plant roots are high and dry; in the latter case, once the hot weather arrives, the clay becomes as hard as concrete and again, the plant roots are high and dry. The solution to both is hugelkultur -- lots of organic matter, as it will sit in that groundwater flow and wick it up to the roots.

There is only one reason that "nothing seems to stay hydrated without watering" in our climate: lack of soil organic matter. Everything you do to increase soil carbon, from building hugelmounds to adding biochar to tilling in wood chips is going to pay off for you.



My house is built on a slab. And your right about the clay, it's everywhere. I honestly believe the builder put sod right on top of clay. That's why I built the raised bed to have a little garden. So it sounds like hugelkultur is my weapon of choice. But I think I might need a little more planning for the south side of my lot. There is just so much water.
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Brandon Jensen wrote:

My house is built on a slab.....But I think I might need a little more planning for the south side of my lot. There is just so much water.


This is something that is difficult for me to understand. Twenty years ago, when I first moved to this area, I looked at lots and lots of houses, and not a single one was slab-on-grade. But today it seems to be the only kind that is being built! Does the builder really save that much money by forming up concrete slabs instead of making block piers?

What you should do, as you drive around Charleston, is to keep your eye open for all the small, unobtrusive drainage ditches that criss-cross the area. Notice how they drain the area so that a couple hours after the rain stops, the water in the higher areas has made it to the ditch and the land dries out while the level of water in the ditch slowly goes down over a few days. If you get a dry spell of a week or two, the water level in the ditch can be 3' below grade.

It seems to me that the whole Charleston metro area is one big chinampa. Of course, with a chinampa, you have to keep adding biomass year after year to keep it built up as the stuff on the bottom decomposes and sinks, and this hasn't been done. In the fall, people get their big paper sacks from Wal-Mart or Lowes and they set out their biomass to be hauled off to the landfill. Dumb. Without that biomass, the land reverts to being quite inhospitable for plants, as there are no nutrients left in the sand, and the clay binds them too tightly.

If your neighbor on the south side is having the same type problems, maybe the solution is to dig a drainage ditch along the property line from the back all the way out to the street. That way, there will be a channel that can conduct large amounts of water out to the street where it can drain away.
 
Erik Fossnes
Posts: 6
Location: Zone 5, New Hampshire
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I have a vernal pool 25ft from my house...its quite big but will dry up by July. There is a french drain leading from the vernal pool and around the house to the front corner where there is another pool area way smaller.
My question is regarding the french drain...It has a rope at the outlet that is tight into the ground and tight going into the outlet. Is this a wildlife plug or a cleaning plug? I've searched google and just haven't seen anything. House was built and 20yrs ago and drain installed then. I have no idea...I'm concerned because the inlet has a green grate with holes but half of it is broken and and small debris are going thru.
 
Pam Marshall
Posts: 13
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I am having water problems with my property too. Have heard from plumbers and landscapers, but believe the solution should be a permaculture one. I do ok until we get a lot of storm water. My next door neighbour drained and joined his sump pump onto our property to drain his water on our side of the drainage ditch. He moved shortly after doing this. Our new next door neighbours home flooded the day they moved in. Want to get the new neighbours sump pump dump off our property. The ditch they and my neighbours are dumping into is backing up into our driveway, then garage, then basement occasionally. Anytime is too often though. Before our neighbour redirected his water we had flood issues less often and less severe, in the same sequence.

If permaculture can be used to change a desert I want to learn how it can change a damaged suburban area from a stormwater flood area.

Amsterdam is built below sea level, but liveable. I don't live in Amsterdam, but feel like it when there is a storm.

We have lots of clay. I don't want a garden built on clay to wash away and clog the storm ditches. Am thinking of cutting down a maple tree privacy hedge. Maybe by cutting a deep ditch next to the drainage ditch and filling with hugelkulture berm to keep the storm water in the drainage ditch. By digging deep I could still get a full size berm without having it too high that my neighbours would complain to hoa.

Also have water from our property that drains to the stormwater ditch. I don't want the berm to prevent water from our property from draining. Am thinking that the water draining from our property should be treated as grey water. I don't know what was do e to it before it flowed onto our small .7 acre. My permaculture playing card on Greywater says, "clay-lined catchment is more natural and healthy to the plants and other creatures." It also says "You can clean the wAter faster by growing by growing a variety of water cleansing plants." Further the card presents how positive my water is even though I am frustrated when I have too much of it at one time. "Wicking beds become habitat for frogs and a source of drinking water for birds, bees, and other beneficial creatures. Without water, your system is incomplete." All of the quoted text comes from Paul Wheaton's Permaculture Playing Card, the 10 of Hearts.

Am not sure if I have too much water for this to work. It will work during non storm times, I think. When I try to explain this to non-permaculture folks they typically say it won't work. I am not sure what plants to use. I want plants that will absorb a lot of water. Often plants are recommended because they make dry, desert like a r was moist. I want to do the opposite. Sometimes when wet season is over the area dry some, but irises I've planted there have never dried out.

After I've improved the property I want to sell and buy land that would provide more control of swale sizes. Need to fix to improve it before I can move.
 
I've got no option but to sell you all for scientific experiments. Or a tiny ad:
2017 Permaculture Design Course and Appropriate Technology Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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