Thursday, May 28, 2015

Solving Drainage Issues

Most of our property is flat with heavy clay soils. As a result, our garden is wet, poorly drained, and we occasionally lose crops to standing water.

The Chief Gardener began serving as a board member on the Delaware County (Ohio) Soil & Water Conservation District a few years ago. The organization is a member of the state and national Association of Districts that began as a response to the 1930s Dust Bowl. Today, the country has about 3,000 conservation districts which help farmers, developers and homeowners manage soil and water conservation issues.

When we learned that the District was looking for a site to host a public drainage workshop, we volunteered. To prep for the event, I hung out with a couple of Delaware SWCD staff as they investigated the property. Here's what I learned:
  • Drainage tiles have been used by farmers for decades to move water from a field while keeping the soil in place. Formerly made of terra cotta, tiles are generally buried two to three feet below the surface. Today's tiles are made of corrugated plastic tubing with holes in the top to allow the water to enter. Excess rain drains through the soil, into the tile and is channelled off the property via gravity.
  • If your property was ever farmed - even 100 years ago - there's a good chance you've got access to tiles. The tiles continue to function unless they're crushed or become clogged (usually by lawn debris or tree roots).
  • Your local Soil & Water Conservation District office staff will come out, free of charge, to locate tiles and make recommendations. Any excavation, tile replacement, tree removal, etc. is at the homeowner's expense.
  • Most US residents have access to a SWCD office. While each district has programs unique to their location, most offices offer information on soil health, wildlife, water (including rain barrels), and even offer grants for conservation practices, including drainage tile, cover crops and hoop houses. Find your local office here. 

SWCD staff look for existing buried tiles. They begin with arial photos which can
 reveal where tiles are buried based on historical wet and dry patterns. Metal rods are pushed
into the ground to the locate the tiles. The rods make a unique noise when they strike a tile.

Once the tiles are located, the line is marked with flags.

This line is probably clogged with the roots from this cottonwood tree. We may have to remove it.
I'll continue to share progress as we host the workshop, replace tile and improve drainage and soil health. We're hoping next year to boost production and create a few more garden plots. 

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