It’s All About the Water

We have LOTS of water around here. Heavy rainfall (57″ annually), a couple of springs, a creek, wetlands. And yet, during the summer we still had to haul 275 gallons of water from home every week to refill two more totes plus pump water to a third tote from a spring – all three used to irrigate newly planted nut trees.  In addition to that we pumped water from a small, hand dug pond to a 3000 gallon cistern to irrigate newly planted fruit trees. Now that summer is over, we have to shift gears and think about how to keep the next 9 months of heavy rains from flooding out our soon-to-be-completed barn and future home site.  Go figure…

Part of the plan was to install a curtain drain around the perimeter of the barn and house site.  Once it was dug – I was not prepared for it to be quite so drastic and severe.  Having been a city and suburb dweller most my life, I guess scale is much harder for me to fathom out here and I balked.  “How did our beautiful, soft rolling hillside turn into a giant bowl?” I cried to M.

that's what you call a "2 to 1" slope
that’s what you call a “2 to 1” slope
Joe digging the curtain drain and smoothing the slope on his trackhoe
J digging the curtain drain and smoothing the slope on his excavator.  Magpie checking out the barn site.

Originally we were going to dig a smaller and more narrow trench around the perimeter of the cleared site in a horseshoe shape and fill it with drain rock.  It would drain off on either side of the building site into ponds that will be dug later.  However, with the delay in getting the barn built (our contractor had a stroke but he’s back on the job and doing great) and some earlier and heavier than normal rains, we had to change the plan as it was too muddy (we have heavy clay loam soil) to have the equipment hauling rock in and out.  The new plan was  to dig an open ditch with a 2 to 1 slope to keep our building site from being flooded out this winter.  As described in earlier posts, there is a lot of water that comes down this hill so we had to do something.

It all sounded so much more unobtrusive when described to me. It also sounded pretty good when they said it would cost a whole lot less money in the long run because of the amount of drain rock we would have needed had we gone the other route.  Heavy sigh…

Keeping a stiff upper lip, we are thinking of clever ways to landscape around it to minimize the “living in a bowl” feel.  We were already going to plant pacific willows on the west side of the site because they coppice well and it turns out they are also good for erosion control.  Another “bonus” (see – I am trying) is that it improves our deer fencing options – we won’t have to go quite as tall and sturdy if we fence at the top of the slope because deer have poor depth perception and will avoid areas they don’t think they can clear (it’s that steep!). I’m sure once it is planted out it won’t seem so drastic. I’m just going to keep telling myself that…

This is the trench on the east side of the building site that transitions the curtain drain over to what will eventually a large pond with a dam.  Installing the drain pipe allows us to drive over to our camp trailer and storage shed.

This is the trench on the east side of the building site that transitions the curtain drain over to what will eventually be a large pond with a dam. Installing the drain pipe allows us to drive over to our camp trailer and storage shed.  We also brought in more rock to extend the road from the barn over to this trench which will make access to the trailer a whole lot easier this winter.



About La Femme Farmer

Starting up a small farm is the goal for the second half of my life. It's a late start I know, but better late than NEVER! Growing food, cooking and eating are my passions and now I get to do it full-time (and then some). and yes, that's a tomato from my garden!
This entry was posted in Construction, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Sustainability, Water Management and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to It’s All About the Water

  1. DM says:

    never heard of a curtain drain before but it makes sense. I think I would have had the same reaction as you as far as the magnitude of the thing. it all comes down to numbers (cost, volume of water, etc) but I’m wondering if after a year or so and you still don’t like the look of the curtain drain, if you could bury some perforated tile into the trench, for less $ than a ditch filled with rock, and do moderate the 2 to1 ditch look…I’m out of my area of expertise, but one thing I’ve discovered in the construction field is this, there is definitely more than one way to do things, and just because one person tells you this is what you need to do, if you really start to ask around, you may discover another option out there that combines $, and looks more to your liking. the other thing is, after a year or two, you may not even think about it, and it will grow on you. I can see you guys have done your homework and are doing this whole project first class. If we lived closer, I would love to check out the site. DM

  2. Thanks DM – that is pretty much what M said to me, so I’m starting to feel a little less freaked out about it. Spreading straw over the whole thing softened it up a bit already so I’m sure it will all look different next summer when it is all green again. Thanks so much for the feedback – it is greatly appreciated.
    If you ever make your way back over to the PNW you have a standing invitation!

  3. It does look a bit drastic, but living in the PNW like you, I am well aware of just how much water you are dealing with in the fall/winter/spring. The drain is probably necessary. I can’t say I’ve seen one like this around here, but just about everyone here puts in perimeter drainage ditches, and many put in a perforated pipe, as DM mentions. Maybe you could go with the flow so to speak and make it into a moat.

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