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Of Wetlands, Duck Poop, Previous Owners, and the “Department of Sad”

 
Nicole Alderman
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We have a lovely 5 acre property with a flock of 18 wonderful ducks. A third of our property is protected wetlands. Most of that is off to one side with a stream and I view it as our zone 7. We do, however, have two small wetlands, the bottom one flows into my neighbors much larger wetland pond. The previous owner of our property, however, did not care that those were protected wetlands. He dug a ditch all the way through them and diverted our house’s gutter water via a French drain into this ditch, as well as added culverts and paths through them..

This French drain is also where a lot of our duck’s poop ends up going, as they poop all over our patio and the rain washes it into the French drain and down through culverts into the wetlands.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if all that water stayed on our property, in our own wetland, but it flows into a much larger one, that is habitat for beavers, herons, native waterfowl, etc.

I’m worried that our ducks might be adding too much nitrogen to this system, but I don’t know what to do. The ditch, of course, is not supposed to be there, and if the “Department of Sad” ever found out, I’m sure they’d make us pay fines and pay to fix it their way, even though we didn’t make the ditch. We don’t have money to pay fines, so it’s not like I can ask their advice about it.

I’d like to somehow manage to “fix” the ditch to look and function more naturally. That way, the duck poop doesn’t’ simply wash out to the neighbors property. I also like to fix it so that if the “Department of Sad” ever did come by, they would look at it and think it were natural and wouldn’t fine us for the ditch.

As you can see, the previous owner made paths, as well as the ditch, through the wetlands. He also put in a few culverts, and I still don’t quite know where they all go (there’s more than those on the map)... I don’t really have the time to mess with the culverts, nor to clear bramble and totally remake all the paths. But, I would really like to help absorb more of this nitrogen and make it look more natural without toooooooo much digging and bramble clearing.

Any ideas?

My second image has some of the ideas that have come to mind, such as making the lower ditch a little more shallow and wide (it’s currently 2 feet deep with straight sides) and making it more meandering. Then, where it makes that sharp angle, I’d dig out some more to add some more shallow wetlands that will have more random edges. In the process, I’d remove the nasty non-native hedge at the “top” (north) end, and transplant those lilacs somewhere else. Then, I’ll perhaps plant in some arrowheads on the south side and cattails on the north side to help take in more nitrogen. I might add another Service Berry or two, since they are native and like the wet. I could also transplant some stink current there, as well.

I think prioritizing on that portion of the ditch and wetlands is probably best, but maybe you've got some better ideas. I'd love to hear them!

Help Me Fix My Ditch copy.jpg
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Map of Current Property/Ditch/Wetlands/etc
Ideas on Fixing copy.jpg
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Map with ideas on how to fix it...
 
Nicole Alderman
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Here's a picture with my current ideas for absorbing more nitrogen by making the wetlands more natural. The two southern-most serviceberries are already there. I'm sure the salmonberries (which is what most of the hedge/greenery around the ditch is composed of) will come back all by itself. Hopefully the cattails and arrowhead will be able to get stabilized before the salmonberry takes over. I'm not too worried about it taking over, though. This is supposed to be a natural wetlands. Once I set it up, I don't plan on disturbing it much--as it wasn't supposed to have been disturbed in the first place!

Hmmm, kind of makes me wonder if I could/should find old satellite images of the property before the previous owner dug the ditch, and try to restore it to looking more like that...
Plans with Plants to Fix Wetlands.jpg
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Nicole Alderman
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Went out and took more pictures of the lower wetland, where I'd first like to focus my efforts. The first picture is viewing the L-shaped portion of the ditch, as well as the lower wetland. You can see the lilacs and weird horrible hedge.

The second picture is of the culvert that leads from the ditch to the lowest portion of the wetlands.

The third picture is viewing the ditch from the southeast (I'm standing just above the hugels).
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Lowest portion of wetlands, with my ducks photobombing it :D
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The L-shaped ditch, with the culvert that leads to the lower wetlands
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Viewing the L-shaped ditch from the southeast
 
Dale Hodgins
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Tyler Ludens
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I agree with Dale, and will add that if you just want to solve the poop problem quickly, cattails are a way to go. Super easy to grow and productive. Good for mulch materials, basketry, or food.

 
Nicole Alderman
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The poop currently flows, via culvert straight into the southern-most designated "wetland" area. It's not much of a wetland now due to the ditch and culverts. I don't know exactly where the culvert is underground. The previous owner put in quite a few random culverts that I only see the exit of--I have no idea where they come from or how convoluted their paths are. I don't trust much of what the man did. For example, he "fixed" our septic system by removing pipe and replacing it with gravel, hoping the septic would pump uphill through gravel, and in another area he wrapped plastic sheeting around a pipe, fixed on by duct tape...

Anyay, back to the subject at hand. To put in a swale, I would either be (1) Digging up the culvert to place the swale in the area next to the wetland, where I'm technically not supposed to be digging as it's too close to a wetland. It's also where my clothesline is, as well as a bindweed infestation that I started to solarize this year. Or, (2) putting the swale in the wetland and trying to make it look like a natural wetland.

If I were to go for option number two, what are some native nutrient hungry plants that I could plant in there that would help it look natural? Cattails sound good--I'd like to try eating them. Are there other nutrient-hungry native plants to help it not be a monoculture?

I attached a picture of the area where the culvert lies, as well as the approximate locations of the wetland and ditch are.
Where to Put Swale copy.jpg
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Location of ditch and "wetland," as well as where the culvert from the french drain might be...
 
Tyler Ludens
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Duck Potatoes are also very easy to grow http://www.eattheweeds.com/wapato-all-its-quacked-up-to-be/

Also Lizard's Tail (not sure if it's native to your area, and it's not especially edible) http://www.foragingtexas.com/2005/09/lizards-tail.html

I personally adore Canna but it is only native in the South http://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/08/canna-lily.html

If I can grow these things, anybody can.
 
Tristan Vitali
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If you can get that duck poop before it gets to the culvert, do it. This might be a good place to put in a small garden pond and grow duckweed, cattails and arrowhead (all three are easy and, soak up lots of nitrogen, and your ducks will love them). If that's not doable, then the idea of catching it after the first culvert before it flows out to the larger wetland is probably best. I also like the idea of making the straight ditch more of a meandering stream. However, if you can get rid of the ditch entirely, replacing it with a series of swales, that'd probably be ideal and the most healthy solution for protecting the wetland downstream.

The way I see it, the dept of making you sad is always going to be a threat, no matter what you do, unless you seek them out and have them dictate to you what you should do. This is even if your solution would work 100 times better than theirs.

And even then, they might still come back in 10 years and say that the person who told you to do X was wrong, you shouldn't have listened to them and it's now your responsibility to do Y instead (and pay them fines with money you don't have, of course).

The best thing is to do everything you can to ensure that they NEVER have reason to visit If they do anyway, try to make it so they never have reason to look closely. If it looks healthy and natural, and water quality is better than average, there should be no red flags thrown.

I'm no expert, but from where I sit, your current plans look to be on the right track Just be really careful when stirring up sediment and muddying those waters. Try to go easy with it especially when expecting heavy rains.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Tristan Vitali wrote:
The best thing is to do everything you can to ensure that they NEVER have reason to visit If they do anyway, try to make it so they never have reason to look closely. If it looks healthy and natural, and water quality is better than average, there should be no red flags thrown.


So very, very true. Now to try to persuade my husband NOT to dig that giant catfish pond he wants. From what I gather, the counties around here actually look at satellite images to find people who are digging big ponds and then come out to investigate and fine. The last thing I need is for them to notice us!

Thank you for all the great advice, especially about muddying the waters. I hadn't thought about that! I'll have to make sure when I do the digging that there isn't too much rain in the forcast, and to do the digging while it's still relatively dry out there!

Duck weed is a big no-no invasive plant around here. I don't think places can even sell it anymore, though we do have some in my husband's aquarium. So, I'll be avoiding introducing that to the wetland. But the cattails and arrowhead look like real winners, and they're native!

Speaking of arrowhead, do you have any suggestions on where to procure arrowhead plants? The places I'm finding them online are pretty stinkin' expensive, especially if I want to plant a bunch at once to get them established fast enough to out-compete the other vegetation. Hopefully I'm just looking in all the wrong places and there are cheaper places out there!

Thanks!
 
Tyler Ludens
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I got mine from here: http://www.tricker.com/Item/giant_arrowhead
 
Tristan Vitali
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The whole out-competing weeds thing could be an issue if the area is going to be dry often or long enough, but I've had good luck with just going from seed even in flats and paddies that were "dry" (no standing water, just a bit muddy) for 3 of 6 months this season. If they'll be planted where it's standing water, even only 1/2" deep most of the time, most other things can't get a foothold before they take over. I used prairiemoon to source my seed:
http://www.prairiemoon.com/seeds/wildflowers-forbs/sagittaria-latifolia-common-arrowhead.html (common - likely what you want)
http://www.prairiemoon.com/seeds/wildflowers-forbs/sagittaria-cuneata-arumleaf-arrowhead.html (arum leaf)

Also, do note that the seed needs to do the whole cold-strat thing - plant this fall and it should be happily springing up come springtime if it gets cool enough where you are (should considering they're native in your area).

As far as cattails, well, they spread like wildfire by rhizomes once they get their roots going so just pull a couple from a swampy area when no one's looking Just try to be sure to grab from at least two different locations so you have some decent genetic variation to bring to the wind-pollination-party.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Thank you for the link, Tristan! That seems like a much more affordable option, though I do worry that I'll manage to mess it up. I'm relatively new to gardening (this was/is my second growing season), and seeds still don't like me very much, sigh.

I worry about the moisture levels in the soil right now, too. It's been such an insanely dry summer that most of the soil is dusty-dry . Our soil is never this dry! I've been digging out the area where the wetland will go (and using the dirt to finish a hugel ), and I'm amazed at how dry it is. It's only moist for about two feet in either direction of the "stream," the rest of the "wetland" is dry enough to make dust. The stream itself hasn't even flowed even once since spring, even with our heavy rains recently--all the plants are just soaking it up before it has a chance to fill the streams.

Considering how dry it is, I'll probably have to start the seeds in pots on a tray to keep them moist. That should help them get cold enough, too, right? We usually get below freezing during the winter, though with El Nino so strong and it being such a warm summer and previous winter, I really can't assume much of anything!
 
Acetylsalicylic acid is aspirin. This could be handy too:
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