Monthly Archives: November 2011

Water World

It’s gotten a little wet recently.  The beer-brewing tub I left outside a couple of months ago looks like it’s got 6 or 7 inches in it, most of which just appeared in the last two weeks.  The result is a return to that familiar swampy look in the Rainbow Road bottom lands.  The seasonal creek now has large shallow puddles and a few visible currents.

When it’s raining hard, the new ditch on the low side of the tunnel has significant currents mostly because we diverted an existing stream at the tunnel’s high end into the low side ditch. Meanwhile, the ditch on the tunnel’s high side just has a few trickles.

Inside the high tunnel, so far there is no evidence of groundwater coming up from below; that really was the point of this summer’s drainage exercise. But the rainy season is long so I’m not counting my chickens yet.

In the fall, I made raised beds for the garlic, knowing that they were in a particularly low area, possibly lying above a spring. After our recent rains, the top of the water in the walkways were close to the actual garlic seed level (which averages 4” below the soil surface), even though the tops of the beds are at least 12” above the bottom of the walkways in between beds. That was not good. The garlic has undoubtedly sent out roots which were now starting to suffocate.

So the garlic beds received an urgent intervention recently. I called in an apprentice hydrological engineer (daughter Laura) to tell me where to trench. She, with mattock, and me, with small shovel were able to lower standing water levels by 3-4”. It’s probably good enough for the season but I’ll be ready to dig some more if required.  In any case, it’s a good way to warm up 😉

And, once that’s done, I see my new plot at Dan’s also has a low spot or two.  The fun never ends!

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Writeoff and Rehabilitation

The farmland we borrow on Rainbow Road has two distinct soil types: Mexicana and Cowichan which, if they were a 70’s sitcom, might be called Oscar and Felix. One is a flat low-lying clayey area upon which I have built a high tunnel. The other is a shaded, sloped, gravel pit.  I previously wrote about both in Mexicowichan: The Soils of Chorus Frog Farm. Both have their positives and negatives but the Cowichan is the prize; (certainly not a Cadillac…but a lot better than steak knives).

I’m firing the Mexicana. Not only am I tired of picking rocks and cringing as they wear down rototiller tines but I despise all the water this soil requires. I can only practically irrigate using the expensive municipal source which is extra expensive in the summer, when it’s needed most. The Mexicana is well-shaded by one large maple, one monstrous maple and one medium apple tree. It is not shaded by the nearby firs but it does catch their showers of needles, making any leaf crop a real chore to clean. This section is also quite steep and polluted by blackberry in the fraction of it that might get enough sun. For next year I’ve toyed with the idea of using surplus seed from crops I don’t plan to grow out anymore and just broadcast it everywhere, taking whatever comes as a bonus, and feeding much of it to the chickens. But otherwise not spending much time on it. Let it permaculture itself.

The Cowichan, on the other hand, is less shaded (at least between Spring and Autumn equinoxes) and has enough water until the end of July when it too needs irrigation. Its main drawback is its clayey heaviness and its excess water in the spring. I’m hoping the ditches Dad dug this summer will help the excess water problem.

As for the clay, I’ve been working on it. Now that the tunnel plants are out and the soil is still dry, I’ve been beating the crap out of it with the tiller and my narrow-blade shovel, which allows me to get whatever the tiller can’t reach. Although the soil would prefer to be left alone (as all soil does), the process has been quite therapeutic for me as I witness its transformation to a soil that, at least temporarily, is nice and fluffy, apparently ready to accept new seedlings into comfy beds. Without amendments, though, any excess water will once again turn it into a slippery paste and then, by summer’s end, a tarmac.

And so it is that I’ve been collecting leaves in the last couple of weeks. I used the tractor with the dump cart to collect about 3 cubic yards of them which I spread evenly throughout the tunnel. I was thinking of getting a truckload of sand but I think I might be too cheap. I guess I’m not sure how much sand it would take to make a difference and, besides, I can already tell I’ll have an easier time planting next spring, and the leaves can only help.

The keen-eyed among you may have noticed the two arms I added to each of the centre support posts to distribute holding force at the top of the tunnel out to a wider area. On one hand, I can’t wait for a huge dump of snow, so I’d know for sure that it can handle it.  On the other hand, I don’t need to know that bad.