The Big Muddy: Adventures in the Ditch

The spring rains of 2013 lasted far longer than usual: well into July.  Daily rains filled the ditches and saturated the ground.  As startling amounts of rain water rolled down from the mountain slopes, across our yard and garden, ending at Mom’s driveway, they had torn the living daylights out of her driveway (off the shop drive) and had rutted up our house drive some.  Not too bad, but badly enough I could not repair it by dragging gravel around with a garden rake. Repairs were needed and prevention was indicated. When the rains eased up we undertook a land maintenance project with six goals in mind.

  1. Repair Moms driveway.
  2. Repair the lower end of the shop driveway.
  3. Repair the driveway to our house.
  4. Install a ditch to handle rain run-off at Mom’s driveway.
  5. Repair the eroded areas in the yard.
  6. Don’t kill Doug by making him do it all by hand.

We had our driveway guy come give us an estimate, he treated us very fairly, and we said, “Schedule it.”  That was weeks ago.  Not that he had blown us off, but you can’t excavate mud.  If it had been just our driveway; which only needed a good scraping, he could have done that long ago.  But for Mom’s drive we needed to put in a ditch alongside her driveway to keep run-off from the yard from flowing over into the drive and washing all the gravel out into the shop drive (or Sam’s yard, across the main drive).  Then re-rock the driveway.

drainage ditch before excavationI dug a small ditch by hand last summer – just a shovel wide and 8” or so deep.  I tossed what I dug out onto the low side to build that up.  It handled a normal rain just fine; but not a gully-washer.  Donny (the driveway guy) is an expert at this sort of stuff so when he asked what kind of ditch I wanted and where it should run, I told him to use his best judgment.  He said he’d take good care of us.

In my mind’s eye, I envisioned a “ditch” as being a fairly deep, kinda narrow channel (a couple of feet wide by maybe 12” deep).  I figured it would play havoc with my mowing and moving things around the property because I would no longer be able to come up Mom’s driveway and cut across into the low-side yard.  My little hand-dug ditch was narrow enough that if I came in at an angle, the tractor and trailer could “step” over it and not get stuck. I thought, maybe I could build a bridge over the new ditch…  Otherwise I‘d have to go all the way up the driveway to the workshop and come into the yard from the top.  (There is a good sized drainage ditch alongside the shop driveway that goes into a culvert under Mom’s driveway and on down to the county ditch alongside the hard-road.  The ditch can be crossed only at Mom’s driveway.)

One of the problems was because of the slope that was already there, one side of the ditch was going to be considerably higher than the other.  That might make bridge building difficult.

drainage ditch after excavationTo my great surprise, when Donny was finally able to work the ground, he started carving out a LOT of grass.  What he crafted was a wide, shallow ditch: maybe 4 to 5 feet wide and a foot or so deep.  Maybe a little deeper, it’s hard to say.   The banks of the ditch are so gentle that I can still drive the tractor through the ditch (I *think* – I haven’t tried it yet) and when it’s time to mow, I can just run the walk-behind along the length of the ditch to trim it up.  And… it isn’t UGLY like a channel dug in the dirt would be (and was).

Well, OK, it IS pretty ugly right now because it’s all dirt.  But I laid out some grass seed and covered it with straw and I water it a couple times a day.  It’s probably a wasted effort: grass seed never grows for me, and on the rare occasion that it does sprout it withers and dies quickly.  Grass seed hates me; I’m thinking I’ll price some sod.  Maybe we can afford enough sod out of Marie’s next bonus to cover the yard-side bank.  The driveway-side bank will get covered in big river rocks: we have extra from the big ditch Donny put in by the house a few years ago.  Except for one area that I’ll leave as a ford for the tractor & trailer.

There is also a mountain of red clay and grass that was cut out (hiding behind the barn in the shot above) that I have to move elsewhere.  I asked Donny to leave it because there are many areas that have eroded badly and need to be filled back in.  I figured I could use this.  But, it’s red clay: sticky and gloppy when wet, hard as concrete when dry.  I’ll need to let it dry out, break up the big clumps, shovel them into my trailer, haul them up to the balds, fill in the eroded areas and wet them down enough to get them to settle.  Then hope the next few rains are gentle, not gully-washers that will rip the repairs out.  More feeble attempts to get grass to grow so the bare spots will become stable and all will be good.

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