Digging Ditches (& on my pasture soapbox)and a new fun discovery

We’re finally getting rain like in the old days…that is, before the several drought years. One thing that is different in the last few years is that the news media now has days of coverage Before The Storm. It’s good to have warning of hurricanes, floods, etc, but sometimes I think that there is a little overkill on the Before reporting. There must be other news…oh wait, I guess if it is the political climate instead of the atmospheric climate  maybe I’d rather hear about the weather after all.

I was gone Friday night (that’s for another blog post). Heavy rain had been predicted  rain through the whole weekend. The scene below is not abnormal for a regular (non-drought) winter here. We don’t handle winter well at our facility.fullsizerenderThe first thing you’ll notice in this photo is the pink line. That’s my new discovery–that I can draw on my photos!!! Yippee! More fun with photos! I’ll try not to overdo it once I’m done with this post. The pink outlines the waterlogged wet area behind the barn, around the Mt. Meridian (the compost/manure pile). The arrow indicates how that water eventually has to drain IF it can flow away. Or it eventually evaporates or soaks into the ground. That is a slow process with our clay soil that is already waterlogged.

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This photo is taken from the same location as the last but at the fence that borders the ditch (irrigation in the summer, run-off in the winter). It’s hard for me to tell if the water level around the manure pile is lower or higher than the level in the ditch right now. At times when I’m irrigating the irrigation water flows backward into the barn area because it flows through gopher or ground squirrel holes. I don’t want to dig a ditch if it’s going to drain the ditch water back towards the barn area. So I started digging. The water was flowing the right direction.img_5959

Here is where I cut through to the ditch. You can see the water flowing into the ditch although the levels aren’t that much different.

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The water has to flow east in the ditch and then south. It leaves the property near that tree by going under the driveway to the south and into the canal.

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Even in the summer I have a hard time getting the ditch to drain quickly. I walked to the ditch going south. You can see where the water has to go. There is much less water here than in the east-west ditch. This one is much smaller and full of grass. I started digging out dallisgrass clumps. I walked the whole ditch back and forth looking for the next problem spot–where the grass seemed to be hindering the water flow. I didn’t by any means dig the whole thing bigger and deeper but I think I made some difference in the flow.

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This is taken when standing in the corner near that tree and looking west. The arrow indicates the tail-water ditch where water flows after irrigating. The pastures are saturated and some water is flowing there now, but notice the overgrown dallisgrass.

While I’m almost on my dallisgrass soapbox I’ll point out the green parts of these last two photos. This is a Mediterranean climate and that means that we have winter rains and dry summers. When it rains in the fall the grass and forbs start to grow. This growth is dependent on temperature and light. When it warms up in the spring the grass takes off and grows like crazy. By May or June things dry out and grass sets seed and it dries out. So…in the spring I count on that annual growth for feeding sheep. I count on the clovers and trefoil (which I have because I irrigate) to sustain us through the summer. Dallisgrass is a perennial grass that grows in the summer and eventually gets out of control and too coarse and fast growing for the sheep to keep up with. The last few years I have mowed after grazing to keep it manageable. These photos show why that is important. The green parts in the photo above shows green growth in the paddocks I mowed. Where it is brown is the overgrown dallisgrass where hardly anything grows. Same with the photo  below. The roadsides are covered with green grass and forbs but the overgrown dallisgrass that wasn’t eaten or mowed blocks everything. That means less feed.

Back to the issue at hand, which is water and ditches.fullsizerender-7

This photo shows where the water leaves the property, flowing under the driveway to the south and into the canal.

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After doing what I could in that ditch I walked back to where I had started digging near the barn. Water was still flowing.

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So I went into Faulkner’s pen and started digging north towards the manure pile and barn. Here is a closeup of some of my ditch from the other direction. The fence is at the top of this photo. You can see how the water is flowing UNDER the surface through rodent hoels.

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My ditch isn’t nearly big enough to drain everything, but it’s better than nothing. At least it feels like progress.

There will be another blog post later about my fantastic Friday/Saturday AWAY from the farm. Maybe fewer marked up photos too. Right now I am going to Higby’s to get new rubber boots because mine are too old and water is seeping through at the ankles.

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