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When permaculture works too good.

 
pollinator
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Three years ago I started building hugelcultures and terraces in a really barren area on my property. The results have been pretty immediate and spectacular. I have four season production, chop and drop and plenty of mulch. This year it actually rained and the whole area is mush. It hasn’t rained here in ten days but the entire area and those adjacent are waterlogged. At the very top are small swales and hugelcultures. Today I dug a ditch to drain water away from the area. I’m not sure it will help because of the widespread wetness.
What are your thoughts?
 
pollinator
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I think you need to observe your hydrology very closely, especially now.

If your soil holds too much water, digging ditches and tiling won't do much. Soil tests might indicate specific mineral lacks that might unlock it a bit, calcium for some clays, for instance. Otherwise, I think it might be necessary to think about drainage over a certain level from the top swale down.

I do apologise, but this isn't permaculture working too well. It's water retention going overboard. The rain is staying where it falls, all right. It just... stays. Unless you want to start building chinampas in your swales and sodden areas, some planning towards drainage features and overflow might help.

You could stack features by thinking about your swale overflow like cold-air management, draining frost traps, or your area's equivalent. If it's going to be permanently sodden whatever you do, I would strongly suggest looking at which perennial crops like wet feet. I would also think about species like cottonwoods, that increase the ambient humidity through their own foliar respiration; they literally suck the water up through the roots and exhale it into the air.

Good luck, Scott, and I hope your work doesn't decide to go visit the downhill neighbours. Be safe, and keep us posted.

-CK
 
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Does having the soil too moist hinder the planting and the plants that you had originally intended to put in?
What kind of weather does your garden experience?
What kind of plant life grew there before you saturated the soil?

Would you care to tell me a little bit about your experience? I'm thinking of going overboard myself because I think a drought of biblical proportions is coming our way. Seeing as how they can push back against the desert in Africa with picks and shovels, I think it would be an appropriate measure to get ready.
 
Scott Stiller
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Thanks Chris. I have no plans of tilling and probably won’t do anything. I suspect the hardpan clay a few inches down has a lot to do with it. I don’t have any erosion issues because of the safeguards I’ve put in. If any soil does make it to the bottom it’s scooped out of the swale and taken to the top of the system. I fear that if I try to fix it I will pay for it later. I probably shouldn’t have even made a post at all lol.
 
Scott Stiller
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High Nathanial. In a typical year it rains in early spring then stops. The rain starts back in mid-late summer when tropical storms start. This year has been way different. It never stopped raining in spring and we had tropical storms six weeks earlier than normal. We’ve been hit by 9 tropical systems with another on the way tomorrow and Thursday. Even with the over saturated soil I got good production. A never ending supply of tomatoes, peppers, flowers and ground cherries occurred. Marshmallow root thrived because it likes wet feet. Other herbs died. Lavender, rosemary, and yarrow didn’t survive the water. Further up the hill they all did fine.
I’ve read articles by Geoff Lawton about new springs popping up in the right situation. That definitely has been on my mind. I have tried to put forth a terrific permaculture layout with fruit trees, guilds, annual and perennial gardens. I have done too good of a job keeping the water. A problem I never thought I’d have. The soil has went from hard red clay to rich and nutrient dense. As long as the good production continues I’ll deal with swishy, wet walks. With rampant climate change I may be happy I left it alone next summer.
 
gardener
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Scott Stiller wrote:

I suspect the hardpan clay a few inches down has a lot to do with it.

I remember reading that Sepp Holzer used a similar situation to actually harvest the water for house use by figuring out where it would collect and installing a pipe.

That said, I've also heard of people digging a series of holes in compacted soil, filling them with fresh compostable material and that can get the worms to break up the area to a greater depth.

I agree with your sentiment that maybe you shouldn't mess too much until you see if this weather is "the new normal" or just a blip.
 
pollinator
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Geoff Lawton recently made a video which discusses how to garden in extremely wet climates (2nd question of Q&A):  
 
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If this is the first time in 3 years there has been a problem, I wouldn't move too fast to fix it.  It sounds like you put in a ditch. Why not wait and see?
 
Scott Stiller
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I watched the Lawton video yesterday and really enjoyed it. That whole series is great! The issue I have is I’ve already done so much work to make the space right. The real issues are the two lower terraces. All of those hugelcultures and swales above them are really doing a great job.
I am interested the Jay’s comment about deep holes filled with compostable materials. I have made vertical hugelcultures with great success. I’ve started making new beds elsewhere and wondered if a few vertical holes under the horizontal beds would do much. Sounds like a fun experiment though!
 
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