So we have a septic field that never seems to get semi dry, even in the hottest driest summer. I can't afford to replace or connect to city sewer and I don't want to lose all the good nutrients to compost. Currently I compost the grass clippings, but I would prefer to not mow over it. I would also like to make it a more friendly area for birds and bees as well. Is it possible to plant a horizontal reed bed over the current leech field?
I am in southern Indiana, zone 6b
Trying to becoming more ecologically integrated on the small homestead.
I'm in no way someone with enough knowledge on this topic to know what is possible with your septic field. If it's a standard septic field then the general consensus that I've heard throughout the years is to not plant anything on it, especially trees/bushes, because the roots will penetrate the leach pipes and plug them up.
There are ways to create a septic system that grows trees and bushes though, and I thought it may possibly be of interest to you or give you some ideas. Look up Watson Wick, it's fairly simple, and I seem to recall that there is one that was installed over 30 years ago which is still functioning today.
Don't know if that'll be of any help, but that's about all I know on the subject.
My Food Forest - Mile elevation. Zone 6a. Southern Idaho <--I moved in year two...unfinished...probably has cattle on it.
MichaelJ Bailey wrote:So we have a septic field that never seems to get semi dry, even in the hottest driest summer.
It depends on what you mean by "to get semi-dry", because with a functioning septic system nothing should ever be wet. Now if you mean green, yes as there is ample liquid coming out of the system by its design, and the heat of composting will keep the ground from freezing in the winter, but the ground should always be firm. That is because the drainage rock used in the system allows for the water to perculate downward and dray off.
If it is indeed wet, you have one or two issues:
1. The amount of sweage has increased beyond what the septic leach field was designed for. That may mean the house was designed for a family of four, and 13 people live there, or second house was added to the system. This is probably not the case.
2. More than likely there is a broken pipe in the system and that needs to be fixed.
There are great permicultural ways to deal with this situation, but a person has to have a septic system of some type. A permiculutural way is a system, and the typical system of pipes and rock is a system as well, but morally and ethically, a person has to have a working system; dumping raw sewage into the ground is just not good. If a particular area is wet, them it is causing human waste contamination in the soil.
Most likely the leak is a broken pipe about a foot deep orso. That means it can be shoveled out by hand, and a new $10 coupler put in. Now if the entire area of the leach field is wet, then you have bigger issues at play and will need an engineer to sort out.
Of all the septic systems my family has had through the years only the one at our current house is not wet at the surface. These other systems were not "broken" they simply were never made correctly. 4 messed up systems versus 1 which works!
I have installed lots of septic systems, but here in Maine all use a series of pipes that distribute the black water over a big bed of drainage rock. How big the area is depends upon the size of the house, and what the ground has for surrounding soil. This is determined by a percolation test...how fast the soil drains water.
If you have a broken pipe you have to dig up the area where the area is always wet and just fix the pipe. The pipes are not down very far because by design the black water leaches into the ground. That is why a person never wants to drive a piece of equipment bigger than a farm tractor over them as the weight could break the pipes close to the surface.
If you have a broken pipe, swales and berms will do nothing for pollution control because ALL the black water is being deposited in one spot and leaching into the soil. The system is designed to disperse it over a broad area.
For instance, my leach field is the smallest allowed at 20 x 20 feet, but it can be this "small" because I have gravel underneath naturally. In other words the soil rapidly and safely drains the black water. Now if I had clay, then my leach field would be 60 x 40 feet. Now keep in mind this is indeed just black water. This is a system of pipes that come from the back of the septic tank. The septic tank is like a filter and accumulates human manure scum. Every 5 years the tank has to be cleaned out by having someone come out and pump it clean. It costs me $150 to do this, BUT doing so prevents the sludge from going into my leach field and plugging it up. If that happens, the entire leach field has to be dug up. That is a $7000 bill here in Maine.