Posts Tagged ‘cleaning ditches’

Culvert cleaning after rain

We are just over a month past Solstice and already I can tell the days are getting longer, allowing and encouraging more outside work, as weather permits.  Just a week ago I spent a couple of hours cleaning out the restored culvert inlets and ditches on the road up to the hill pastures, following a heavy rain event that washed bushels of fallen leaves downstream to clog anything that impeded the water’s progress.

During our working visit June of 2009 Bear spent days unearthing four neglected culverts along the road up the hill, buried under years of accumulated washout and filled with roots, rocks and impacted dirt.  Drainage ditches and culverts are critical elements of a sustainable dirt road in hilly rain country.  A good road has enough culverts to divert runoff every hundred feet or so, and is graded to angle into the slope so the water flows down a ditch into the culvert, instead of choosing its own course down a tire rut, unimpeded for long stretches, a destructive earth-moving force where you don’t need one.

There is still a day of road-grading to do, once the leaves are all scooped up, to restore the proper drainage path of rain water into the roadside ditch, rather than the road’s ruts, which is just starting to wash out the road.  Two years ago I spent several days on the tractor regrading the steep sections and encouraging the water to flow in the crease between road and hill, into the culverts and away from the road surface.  It is time to do that again.

Of course, I’ll need just the right temperatures and lack of precipitation, so that project may wait awhile for all the supporting elements to coincide.

For now, as I can, I am laying dense grade aggregate on the portions of permanent pasture lanes I’ve established that have begun to demonstrate muddiness from either traffic or low-lying topography.  It is a slow task, one that may take me all winter.  Until you drive across sodded ground repetitively, you don’t know how it will hold up to vehicle traffic when rain events are factored in.  My little gator, with its balloon tires and relatively light weight, isn’t a rut-maker, but the tractor is.  So until I get an initial layer of roadbase laid on my driving lanes, the tractor only crosses fields in the mornings when the ground is frozen.

Road building past pond

Like this morning, when I moved two large round bales of hay from where they’d been stored to where I am forking hay out to feed.  I looked at the 10-day forecast and realized I only had one more below-freezing morning before rain will likely set in, followed by a warming trend.  That means mud.  That means, no driving the tractor up there.  So, I moved two bales of hay this morning.  All good.

My current pile of aggregate is frozen solid, so between rain and freezing temps the roadbuilding endeavor is much delayed.  I’m fine with that, as it’s slow, monotonous work, and it would drive me crazy to do it too many days in a row.  There’s always firewood to split, cows to feed, ducks to butcher, and a kitchen to paint.  Spring and house guests will be here before I know it.


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hilltop hayfield in june

Our ten days at the Farm in late May/early June were work-filled and blessed with mainly good, clear weather.  It is a pity I was not able to cut the pastures, as the ground was fairly dry and we had a week with no rain; it has rained regularly since we left and they may not get mowed until well into July.  But we had other things to do, and Bobby can mow when things dry out again. 

The folks took the opportunity to drive out to Oklahoma to visit family, meet a new great-grandaughter, and get away from the Farm for a bit.  With us there to look after the dogs, it was as simple as jumping in the truck and driving West.  We appreciated having the place to ourselves for the week; we enjoy their company but when we’re there to work non-stop on specific tasks, it’s nice to set our own meal times (supper usually waits until after dark, past nine) and not have to explain what we’re doing and make conversation as we fly in and out of the little house.  At least for me, that’s the benefit.  My type-A dawn-to-dusk work practices are not always easy for laid-back retired folks to understand.

I had every intention and was well-prepared to tackle two projects this visit:  building steps for the back door to replace the unsafe stack of cinderblocks that Alene had tumbled down once already, and repainting and moving to storage the rusting corral panels that once served as a stock handling pen.  The cinderblock stoop was completely inadequate and the corral, 20 panels or so, is placed too close to the Big Pond and has been weathering unnecessarily, unused since 2002.  I will set it up in a better location as a round pen for training the horses, when that time comes.

The back door steps idea morphed into a full-blown porch, a 6′ x 10′ deck with two wide steps and a sturdy railing porch building finishedcapped with 2 x 8’s, built strong and solid on four posts embedded in concrete footers with a concrete pad at the base of the steps; safe, roomy, useful, enduring.  And beautiful, I think.  It took me 9 days to finish, from digging the footer holes to putting the last coat of stain on the deck.  Halfway through the week I realized my pace was slower than I’d planned, and the corral panels would have to wait another year for their sanding and new coat of green Rustoleum paint.  But doing something well is always worth taking your time.

Derril left me alone with my carpentry project and worked on digging out culverts and drainage ditches on the road up to the hill.  He also replaced the kitchen faucet and fixed a few problems around the house.  Carpentry is not really his thing, and I will admit I work better by myself on projects like this where I am learning and figuring things out as I go.  So he worked at his pace and I at mine, and we were both pleased with what we accomplished on this trip.

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It snowed our first day at the farm – big, fluffy flakes drifting down lazily, unhurried, barely covering the ground.  A pretty sight indeed.  Temperatures hovered near 20 dF both days, but we’d brought lots of layers and hats and gloves, expecting that. 

It was a good working visit, if a little short and cold, but we got all the upkeep and repairs done that we came to do.  Well, almost all…the topmost culvert on the road had filled in but the fill was too frozen to dig out, so that’ll have to wait until the next visit.  But I got all the leaves cleaned out of the upper road ditch, something that needs done every year to keep the drainage working properly, otherwise the water starts to travel downhill out in the road away from the ditch and makes gullies. 

The year before last – 2007 that is – the road was so badly washed out that Bobby had to “fix” it after every rain, but he was just scraping loose fill into the gullies and not really dealing with the underlying problem of the culverts not doing their job and the road grade not working to ditch-cleaning-with-dog-copychannel the water to the side.  So last spring we spent four days digging out all the culverts and grading the steep upper section of road, re-establishing the grade into the side of the hill so the water didn’t take the straight line down the middle.    It held up pretty well, I must say, and he only had to run the box scraper over it once this past year.  The culvert mouths were filling back in, which I expected, but the grade was still intact and it looked like the water was travelling in the ditch like it should.

Raking leaves up on the hill with the light snow falling, listening to the birds call through the forest and squirrels rustling in the leaves as they dashed from tree to tree, I felt deeply contented.  It was slow going in the cold and a long stretch of road, but I was happy to be on my farm, tending to necessary work.  I paused every now and then to walk among the trees, making mental notes about how much to thin and which trees would need removed first.  There’s lots of post and pole material for fences there, as well as some good saw logs out of the bottom of damaged, crooked and crowded trees.  Lots of forest work to do here. 

Wednesday afternoon I spent up on the ladder cleaning the leaves and ice out of the shop gutters, while Derril fixed the big security light on the front of the shop.  Good to get all that done, as Bobby’s knee surgery and arthritis make ladder work quite difficult for him.   He really has no business being up on ladders these days.

The folks are looking at a little house on 5 acres down the road near the Elk Horn turn off; they like this area and don’t want to leave the doctors they’ve established care with.  Their grown children are in Florida and Oklahoma but they don’t want to live in either place.  Alene said they were a little concerned about not having family close by and I assured her we would always take care of them – said they were like folks to us, and she replied we were just like their own children to them.  I can see they’ll always have an attachment to the farm, but would be happy to live close by on a smaller place.  I hope it works out that way.

We left for Virginia to see Jason and the horses early Thursday morning, in the pre-dawn darkness before the folks were even up.  The stars were shining brightly.

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