Thursday, January 12, 2012

My House & Garden, Elephants and Blind Men

I'm sure you all have heard the story of the blind men and the elephant, but just in case... In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side, tail, leg or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.

The point is that we reach different conclusions depending on our exposure to partial facts.

I have been struggling with designing a drainage system to address the runoff from the hillside behind my house all the way down across my garden areas and on to the creek. I have this personal experience to add to the design considerations:

Three years ago I did extensive work on my garden area, building fluffy raised wide rows between narrow compacted walkways, all perpendicular to the creek. I was careful to only walk on the pathways, but I could plant and manage the vegetables from a path on either side of each bed. By the second year the rows were barely above what had been the paths, and by the third year, non-existent. I don't know how much of the soil went into the creek as run-off, but probably a lot between runoff and flooding. I'm sure some soil was trapped in the 20 foot wide grass swath between the garden beds and the creek, but not much.

Secondly, I also know from my own experience with drainage on the place my mother owned that drainage ditches fill up, and so does buried perforated plastic drain pipe in a gravel-filled ditch. They can fill up in as little as 2-3 years.

I had decided that some terracing in the slope in back of this house, using a hugelkulture bed idea on the lower edge of each terrace might work better than drainage ditches. And it still might be the easiest thing to do.

Then last week I came across this series of videos, which made me realize I was the blind man observing only part of the elephant (the area just behind the house). Our steep woods run behind/above the house, and then run parallel with the ridge behind the next several houses along the road. It's steep, but there are 4WD cart paths running through some of it; access to the paths is limited and I don't have one of those fancy carts, so I've never been up there. I need to get the local forestry person here anyway to talk to me about woodland management.

The first video segment in the series (linked above) is just an over-view and I didn't learn anything much from it except reminding me of how the rivers in the US carry topsoil down to the Mississippi Delta. However, starting with the 2nd video and building on it in subsequent segments, I began to see and understand "my part of the elephant" in a whole new light as a whole elephant, and some things that can actually be done to help the drainage/runoff. 

There is at least one more spring on our property, behind the next house 1000' up the road. I've never seen it, and don't know what feeds it, but it's on the lower part of the hillside about 200' from the road. For all I know, there may be more springs. It's a lousy steward who doesn't know the land entrusted to her care!

I am hoping there might be state or federal money available for woodland management, which might include planting trees to replace what was timbered out before we bought this place, as well as management of water runoff. If nothing else, at least there should be forestry advice available.


  1. Hi Darius You maybe experencing some soil compaction from a loss of organic matter I'm not that you have not put any organic matter in but you may have not put enough in some thimes we donot add enough in try some wood chips from a tree trimmer they a volumne i to soil Iknow you added hay last year tree trimming chips take a few years to break down and adds fiber and fill to break up soils and make it lighter
    Have Fun

    1. I added 6 pick-up loads of chips and fines in addition to the hay.


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