Monday, March 21, 2016

Ditch Maintenance

Weather: Warm afternoons with mornings below freezing; dry with low humidity in the afternoons; sun no longer coming into my eyes in the house in the mornings; last snow 2/23.

What’s blooming: Siberian elms, some types of crab apples, Bradford pears, forsythia, dandelions.

What’s coming up: Chives, Queen Anne’s lace, sidalcea, bindweed.

What has new growth: New leaves on some types of crab apples, yellow potentilla, privet.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Gold finch, full-sized gecko, small red ants.

Weekly update: No one likes to clean ditches. After the Civil War, freedmen in South Carolina were willing to plant and harvest crops, but refused to help maintain or rebuild the irrigation systems’ dykes. In one case described by Robert Preston Brooks, the army intervened to force the ex-slaves to do off-season work.

The local ditch association has budgeted $3,500 to clean ditches this year. At their last meeting in February, they’d only received two bids for the work, but had had inquiries from two others. Last year, one area had to remove two feet of dirt that had accumulated above the original level.

For better or worse, I don’t have a ditch running across my land, so don’t have that annual chore. Instead, I have culverts that run under my driveway that collect mud.

They’ve been there for more than twenty years, and never been cleaned. Last fall, I took a hoe and pulled out what dirt I could from each end of the one nearest my house.

That left me with a wheelbarrow full of muck.

On the west side of the house moving water had removed, not deposited dirt. Water from the peak of the roof dripped down, and June grass sprouted in the wet places. Its clumps further eroded the path by channeling water down their blades.

On the other side, dirt washed away, leaving a low place between that collected water. In winter the trough turned to ice.

Two years ago I bought some bricks to pave the area. The man who sold them to me told me I should lay a bed of sand first. I got that far, and discovered the sand was quite sufficient to prevent the winter hazard.

It wouldn’t stop the erosion, though. For that, I took some of the no longer needed bricks and laid a low retaining wall on the downside of the path. That’s where I dumped the muck. It wouldn’t level then because it was too wet. Now it’s too hard.

The change in design left me with a lot of bricks stacked in my drive. I looked at the other side of the house where I had bordered a bed with one row of bricks set on edge. Since, I’m basically lazy, and I had laid the bricks on top of the ground.

Over time they seem to have sunk into the ground. Grass and hollyhocks grew in front, blocking my view of what I’d planted. I decided to lay another bed of bricks in front as a barrier.

When I started working, I discovered it wasn’t that the bricks had sunk, but that they’d become buried. Apparently, in the years when I was being inundated with water from up the hill, it had washed down more dirt than I realized. The winds must have added their own contribution.

Now, I had to dig out several inches of dirt just to get the new bricks, which were laying flat, to be even with the tops of those on edge. Sometimes, I found remains of the original grass that had been buried.

Water and washed down top soil are the essence of life for plants, especially the grasses whose seeds come for the ride. For the gardener, they create problems by stealth, so gradually one doesn’t realize what’s happening until there’s real work to be done.

Brooks, Robert Preston. An Elementary History of Georgia, 1918.

La Mesilla Community Ditch. Meeting minutes, 10 February 2016.

1. Apricot flowers, 19 March 2016.

2. Peach bud, innocent of its coming martyrdom, 19 March 2016

3. Culvert after mud and leaves had been hoed out, 19 March 2016.

4. Path, house side on the right, with June grass volunteers on both sides. You can see the middle is a concave trough, 9 July 2013.

5. Same general area leveled with sand left over from a neighbor’s stucco project, 9 July 2013.

6. Path today, house side on left and new brick wall on the right. The tiles on the left were once level with the path. The muck from the culvert hardened into a crown in the middle, 19 March 2016.

7. Bed on other side of the house bordered with bricks laying on edge on the ground, 10 August 2006.

8. Brick edging when I was trying to find the level earlier this week. In ten years, three inches of dirt accumulated in front, 16 March 2016.

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