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Water, Water, Everywhere!

 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 97
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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I need some design help.

I live on 4 very flat, very WET acres in northwest PA about 10 miles (as the crow flies) from Lake Erie. The water issue has just seemed to get worse and worse over the years. We had to relocate the fledgling food forest last year because much of that area is now under 2-3 inches of water all the time. The garden is now on the driest piece of land we have, but the former site used to be dry too.

I get the idea of swales, but right now my big issue is lack of money and lack of equipment. Anything I would do right now would have to be done by hand with shovels, and I have limited ability to do that. I can get my boys to help when they're available, but they're putting in long, hard hours at a local dairy farm, so their time is limited.

Any ideas for a quick, temporary solution until we can do something more permanent?
 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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I can sympathize with you. I am about 30 miles south of you and my yard gets extremely wet, but not to the extent that yours does. Even my dogs don't want to go into the yard at times and I have to boot them off the bottom step to get them into the yard.

I am working on putting in a food forest in the drier part of my yard. (In fact, there should be a number of fruit trees arriving tomorrow.) In the wetter area of the yard I do have some blueberries in a bed of woodchips that I put in last year. If I could get the rabbits to quite eating them down to 3-4 inches tall, I could determine how they will do there.

In the wettest area of the yard I have considered putting in a pond to see if I can store some of that rain for the summer when it generally isn't quite as wet and I also hope that it would drain/pull some of the water that is in the yard into it. I have a lot of clay in my soil, a high water table and the water generally sheets across. The water does sink in over time, but there are a couple of areas that are quite soupy still right now, one of which is my prime area if I install a pond.

I just sprinkled some alfalfa and clover seed to hopefully get some deep root structure in the soil and open it up a bit. The clover is more for nitrogen fixing and as a temptation for the rabbits, but the alfalfa was intentionally sowed for it's deep root structure. The gent at the feedmill looked at me odd and questioned me about wanting to sprinkle it in my lawn. When I explained why, he gave a nod of understanding and approval (not that I needed it).

Most of my trouble is in the spring with the combination of thaw and rain, as you well know. I live on top of a hill and I can only imagine how much of a mess it would be if I was in a valley. My lot is pretty flat, so water does not have a lot of reason to run off, but instead just sits on top of the clay.

I am sorry I cannot be of more help. My experiments are in the beginning stages, so I cannot advise of their success or not. I will be interested in seeing what others contribute to this post.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3717
Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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Willows can help dry out spots.

Can you make the water work for you as ponds/chinampas?

Why has the water level changed?

Pics?
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 97
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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We did start digging a tiny pond in the wettest spot. It's only a couple of feet deep right now because we're doing it with shovels as we have time, but we're going to keep at it.

Why has the water level changed? Frankly, I wish I knew. We are on the edge of a state game land with a major creek that runs just slightly south of our property. Obviously those things have not changed. We have not done anything to the land that would have changed the flow of water in the 11 years we have lived here. All I know is . . . it's worse. The soil is essentially a sheet of topsoil on a bed of hard clay, so the water just sits there. It is especially bad over by the barn - my 16.2 guy will sink to his chest in spots.

Last fall, we had a ditch dug along the south edge of the barn (the direction the water naturally flows), and that has helped somewhat. It really needs some pipe along the perimeter of the barn, but it was too late in the season to get that done. That's on the list for this year. The soil on the north side of the barn is like wet concrete, and it will take a week of no rain before it gets dry enough to even think about working over there.

I'm getting a willow with my next paycheck. Any other plants with food value that love water?

Jen, hi! It's nice to meet a neighbor! And yeah, I hear ya about the dogs. :

 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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I got to thinking...have there been a lot of trees cut or died in the area? If so, the ecology of the area could have become imbalanced because the trees would naturally take up and regulate the water, not as single soldiers, but definitely as a group.

Have you noticed an increase in the water flow of the stream since you have been there? Could there have been significant changes (like I asked about above) north of you (or further away along the stream) that might have contributed?

Might need to install some hard berms to help divert some of the water around the barn area, in addition to the swales helping to direct it to where you want it to go.

In order to get more growing area that is up and out of the water, you might also need to employ the hugelkultur concept. It would also help you to build soil. That is one thing that is priority one on my list is building soil. The more that I build, the more things like earthworms and the like will come, helping to aerate it. Can you get any root veggies in (daikon radishes, beets, turnips, radishes) and other tap and deep rooted plants to help open up the soil a bit. I am not thinking of planting them for food harvest, but for function of opening up the soil and building humus.

If you want me to come up and take a look and we could talk about things, let me know. Sometimes two heads are better than one.
 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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For a number of tree, bush and plant ideas, take a look at this website. http://www.newp.com/index.html
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3717
Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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Ferne Reid wrote:
I'm getting a willow with my next paycheck. Any other plants with food value that love water?


I just ordered a bunch of willows to plant and then I'll be pollarding them and feeding the tops to my livestock.

Tons of food plants love water - any other criteria? Cat tails fix nitrogen and are edible.
I've got a spreadsheet & I just filtered for plants that like moist soil & came up with 50.
Here are a few:
Asparagus
Bamboo
Blueberry
Comfrey
Cranberry
Ginsing
Leeks
Mint
stinging nettle
Sunchokes
Watercress
Wild Rice
 
Dan Grubbs
Posts: 501
Location: northwest Missouri, USA
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Would it be a crazy idea to adopt your crop plans to your conditions? I don't know very much about rice growing, but would your wet property be a candidate for cooler-climate rice? I know Whole-Systems Design folks on Falk's farm are doing rice. I bet there are some folks from rice-growing cultures not far from you that would be happy to spend some time with you to teach you about it. Just spitballing an idea.
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 97
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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Water in the stream seems pretty normal - obviously it's plus or minus depending on rainfall, but I haven't noticed anything I would consider unusual.

I just had a flash of inspiration, though ... my neighbor owns the fields around us. Picture a "U" shape, and my house is in the opening of the "U". He used to grow hay and soybeans. Emphasis on used to. He is getting up there in years and hasn't planted for about 3 years now.

That's what changed. Duh.

OK. Now that it makes more sense, we can deal with it.

I like the hugelkultur concept, although I don't know a lot about it yet. I'll have to do some reading. Building soil is not a big issue - we have tons of manure and we compost everything. The garden did really well until it flooded out. But it's all built on a big clay slab, and so the water eventually stops going down.

So I'm thinking that we need some more big trees and water loving plants to sop up the water that used to be absorbed by my neighbor's crops. I can't put a tree back by the barn - too close to the septic - but if I put a little group of plants further back, that might take care of the water before it even gets to the barn.

Rice wouldn't be a bad idea if we were looking for a crop, but we have horses and so we're more interested in drying out the pastures and getting a food forest going for our own needs. And getting chickens again. We gave up on them because it's just too wet, although the ducks and geese are quite happy. You know there's a problem when they are swimming in the backyard and you don't have a pond.

Thanks for helping me think this through!

 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Glad to hear that we could help you think this through. Depending on what type and quantity of seed for things you are looking for, you might want to consider Ernst Conservation Seed as a source. http://www.ernstseed.com/files/documents/2014-wholesale-pricelist.pdf They carry quite a large variety of permie friendly seeds for a plethera of purposes and they don't sell to the big guys. They are local to us, too, so you could pick up the seeds instead of encurring shipping.
 
Mike Cantrell
Posts: 533
Location: Mid-Michigan
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Ferne Reid wrote:
I'm getting a willow with my next paycheck. Any other plants with food value that love water?



Don't forget that if you've got one mature willow, you can easily make hundreds more. They're notoriously easy to propagate- cut off a piece, stick it in the ground. They root enthusiastically.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5613
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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I think I would add cattails to the list, good for fiber, flour and surely chopped for mulches; and maybe some of John Elliot's cypress...not an edible but valuable for many other reasons.
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 97
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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I actually have cattails growing in the front pasture. They seem quite happy there. I'll see if I can move them to the non-pasture side of the fence and put a tree where they are now, because the goal is to eventually do something really crazy in the pasture -like, you know, grow timothy and clover. I'd like to throw in some alfalfa eventually, but I need to correct the pH first. I'm just coming off a 2 year long bout of illness where my total income was $1,000/month, so liming the pastures just didn't make the list. The pH was 6 when I last checked it - it's probably 4 by now. :

I had actually gotten some willow cuttings from a friend last fall and put them back there, but they weren't well established by the time winter hit and I'm not sure they survived. I haven't attempted to go back there yet and check on them, because it's all boot sucking mud right now. But I think I'm going to buy a tree anyway. They're not expensive, and my friend has moved to a willow-less property. Despite the water issues around here, willows are scarce. I guess people think they are too messy or something. I'll need built a little box around it, or our paint will attempt to transplant it. He's helpful like that.

Jen, thank you for that link! I had no idea that company existed. I would much rather buy from someplace local. It looks like they have everything I could possibly want and then some.

I really appreciate everyone's help.
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 97
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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I went to a local KMart that is going out of business and found all of their trees 25% off. I bought a river birch and a magnolia. They didn't have willow. And yes, I know the magnolia isn't going to help me a whole lot with the water issue, but I wanted it.

Now I have to decide which area I want to start drying up first.
 
Ghislaine de Lessines
Posts: 198
Location: Vermont, annual average precipitation is 39.87 Inches
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Good luck getting it all figured out! I had to laugh about the ducks in the back yard! The same thing happens here. I've got raised beds in the back yard but its always a little disconcerting when there is enough water for the ducks to swim between them!
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 97
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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OK, I just walked back there. It looks like my baby willows survived!!!

Also, that tiny little pond we dug seems to have done a lot to help the situation. It's overflowing right there, but the surrounding area is much less mucky. I think we might have already solved a lot of the issues in that corner, which means we can concentrate on the soupy areas in the pasture and around the barn.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1356
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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You really have to address the issue before it enters your property.
I would build a dam/berm all around my property where the water enters the property.
Then I would plant trees on the otherside before it even enters the property.
Then I might even dig a shallow well then pump out all the water in the surface aquifer and send it down to the stream.
If non of that works, then you will have to take a strip of land 15ft wide and raise it at least 2ft. Where will this 2ft of soil come from.
Well it will come from the next 15ft of land. Just keep alternating this, 15ft garden, followed by 15ft swamp/water/pond, then another 15ft of garden then another 15ft of swamp/water/pond.
You will end up not losing any land, you will just have to harvest in 2ft of water. In fact you might even be able to raise fish in the water.


 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 97
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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That does sound like the best solution to the problem, but it is simply not doable for us right now.
 
No. No. No. No. Changed my mind. Wanna come down. To see this tiny ad:
2017 Permaculture Design Course and Appropriate Technology Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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