We have all we need for everyone to live well.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Accelerando Verdure

Now things are happening quickly. The forsythia is blossoming. I spent some time yesterday plucking dandelions, and today digging thistles. The grass seems to be growing before one's eyes and some places we'll have to mow in the next few days or the growth will become rank. Over the weekend we removed the mowing deck from the little tractor, got everything clean and sharp and greased, and put back together again. This is a finish mower for around the house and gardens; for the more remote areas we have the rotary brush mower to mount on the back of the big tractor. But we're resolved this year to mow less than last: the novelty has worn off, it uses a lot of fuel, and we've got lots of other work to do.

The kale is making a big comeback and will be featured at dinner tonight in a potato-kale soup.

Another good task accomplished over the weekend was laying out the grid to plant the 150 cider apple trees to be delivered in a few day. The flags are all labeled with the names of the fifteen varieties we'll be planting, and laid out according to early, middle, and late harvest season. Saturday is the big day.

We also made further good progress clearing and burning brush from the downstream dam embankment, though after nine inches (!) of rain over the past week, it took a lot of persistence to get the fire going. Yet to do is the area in the foreground of this image, surrounding the outlet structures, then seeding the embankment to a "waterway mix" of grasses.

Aside from the dam, over the past several months we did a lot of other clearing and trimming of brush and invasive species such as honeysuckle and wild grape, and yesterday got a lot of that gathered into this large windrow behind the barn. We'd prefer to process this stuff with a chipper-shredder but so far haven't found one for sale used or at auction, and they can't be rented, so this pile may fuel another bonfire. All of this came from along the lane and verges of the farmstead, where to leave it in place would have been unsightly (we're possibly a little too fastidious about appearances); the brush that gets cut in the wood and along the fence lines we've left in place to decompose and as wildlife habitat.

In addition to the cider apples, we're putting a lot of other trees in the ground, including black and Northstar cherries, black walnut, and red and burr oaks. And now Alan is home from his day job, so it's time to pull on my boots again and head back outside to get these hardwoods planted.

Friday, April 19, 2013

After the Storm, Our Attention Pivots

The storm has passed but floodwaters gather, the ditches and gullies into receiving creeks and rivers, and on to the Mississippi, which will continue to rise in the Iowa-Illinois-Missouri region for the next week. At home, runoff into the pond turned the relatively clear water brown with silt and clay. The water surface continued to rise and we awoke yesterday morning to find the Bass Tender, despite being half-filled with rainwater, had opportunistically tried to escape (a yearning for independence, one suspects, and new horizons).

As an engineer who has designed and built earthen dams, I have a pretty good understanding of the forces at work, so I've been fascinated by the rising level of the pond, its implications for the area of land draining into it and how that area generates runoff, and the testing of structures: the dam embankment itself, the principal spillway, and the emergency spillway. Is everything stable and balanced? Will the pipe connections hold? Did we survey the spillway elevations correctly? Are we creating any downstream hazard?

Naturally, as the rains eased, the pond is filling more slowly as the rate of runoff slows, but also because the banks spread out, so that every next cubic foot of water entering the pond has less effect on raising the level.

And this is how it looks this morning – I think we can call it full. The emergency spillway is an earthen weir six inches higher than the pipe lip, and the top of the dam embankment is another two feet higher.

So, now: next Thursday the first cider apple trees are scheduled to arrive, our work team will assemble on Friday, and we'll plant those trees on Saturday. Ideally, we'll have quite dry weather between now and then so the planting tasks won't be so sloppy and muddy. Digging around in too-wet conditions destroys soil structure and this can take many years to recover. Once we have our own nursery established, timing won't be so crucial, but when the trees are being shipped from upstate New York, we've got to get them in the ground shortly after arrival.

We've accumulated some new kit recently. This is a PTO-driven generator, sufficient to power the farmstead in the case of outages. Overhead lines plus the history of ice storms in the area (not a good combination) drove the motivation for getting a generator, but also the need to operate power tools remotely.

This is a 3-point hitch-connected, hydraulically-driven post driver. The cider apples (on dwarfing rootstock) will be trellised, and the orchard protected from deer by electric fence. This implies a lot of post driving. We'll have to convert it from a Category 2 hitch (for tractors larger than ours) to a Category 1, and modify the tractor's hydraulic system to supply power to the driver.

And we're feeling quite official as a farm with the cleanup, painting, and installation of this diesel fuel tank. Because fuel taxes primarily fund road construction and maintenance, on-farm use of fuel is exempt from the taxes, so we can get a good discount by purchasing in volume for farm delivery, rather than fetching five gallons at a time from a gas station in town.

Behind the tank is one of our collections of stuff we've found around the place, much of this uncovered while tilling the east garden. Some of it will always be junk, but other bits we expect will find a use in art projects. The Fred Smith Memorial Sculpture Garden awaits its first installations and, by the way, we're accepting applications for exhibition of others' work, and even for artists-in-residence.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fingers Crossed

A day after installing the new principal spillway for the dam that creates the pond, rains fell and there was nothing to do but wait for the water to rise and see if the repairs held. In this image you can see the old shoreline, just about dividing the beach into halves.

Here is the contraption: a five-inch diameter PVC pipe inserted about eight feet into the old CMP, with an elbow and a riser. The top of the riser is cut at a 45-degree angle for vortex prevention. If, when the spillway is in operation, a vortex or whirlpool forms on the water surface, the pipe flow will be decreased by the volume of air sucked down. We're all about efficiency around here – at least the two-thirds of us that are engineers.

The cage is intended to protect the spillway against impacts from floating debris and ice damage. We salvaged the chunk of hog panel from elsewhere on the property and fastened it to the small-diameter pipes, which in turn rest on steel posts driven into the pond bottom. The riser tips backward a bit because the CMP runs through the embankment at a slant and we used a 90-degree elbow joint.

As we inserted the long end of the PVC pipe into the CMP, we applied an expansive adhesive/sealant, the final bead of which you can see in the next image as the black-grey donut at the joint.

Early results were promising. Water rose up to the joint then over it and, putting my ear to the riser opening, I could hear nothing to indicate leakage. Water began to creep into the Isthmus, which had been dry since early last summer.

With some good help by Frank and Debbie, we took the next step in dam maintenance, moving the trees and brush we had felled on the downstream embankment into a pile and burning what we could not harvest as poles and logs. This image is looking north; the trees remaining on the slope are in the vicinity of the spillway outlet, so we're taking more care in felling the big ones, particularly so the valve stem of the drain won't be damaged.

We still have a fair amount to do, but considering the entire slope used to be covered with woody vegetation, as shown here looking the other direction, we made a good beginning.

Through the tangle of cut brush – the smaller stuff – is the drain valve stem adjacent to the principal spillway outlet. There's no shortage of work to do here!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring Arrives with an Icy Roar

At the equinox, Alan was away so I set the sunrise marker on the observatory on my own. From the west side of the field I sighted east through the aluminum pole in the center of the field, to the eastern horizon as the sun appeared. Then I pounded this stake in the ground with a large hammer. It came out pretty close to the autumnal equinox stake from last September, as it should. We'll keep adjusting these points as time goes on, until we figure out what to use for permanent monuments around the perimeter of this 11-acre field.

As I did in September, after setting the stake I hurried down to our entrance at the county road, to watch another sunrise from below the top of the bluff and demonstrate how precisely east-west is the road alignment. It was so cold! About 10℉ and -5℉ windchill, painful to face and fingers.


And a few days later, another snowfall. For hours and hours, in barely-freezing temperatures. Perhaps for the last time this season, the farm was transformed into a winter dreamland.

This is the back end of the shooting range, the 80-yard rifle targets. You can see the platform in the background. The "chimes" are 1/2" plate steel and stainless steel.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mechanical Means

It's a pretty big pond. After we pulled off the failed inlet and primary spillway, the water level got down to the bottom of the corrugated metal pipe and then inflow seemed about equal to outflow and it wasn't going down any more than the trickle through a muck of rotted leaves and algae. We intended to use an expansive foam adhesive and sealant to install a new riser and inlet by inserting this construction into the CMP, and that required clean and no-wetter-than-damp conditions. How now to lower the water level enough to dry and clean the inside of the pipe?

The CMP comes out of the embankment on the downstream side about 20 feet below the inlet, so a siphon ought to be possible. Alan suggested garden hose and I went to fetch those, but I saw this flexible drainspout hose and brought it back instead. We stuck one end down the pipe and struggled for quite a while to establish a siphon, but never really came close. The hose was too flexible in volume and too large in diameter to hold a charge of water after we filled it and shoved one end down the CMP. As soon as we released that end of the hose, water drained out faster than we could lower it, so the siphon never caught. But we worked our hands raw in the icy water. The sensation of cold was...notable.

Our discussion returned briefly to the garden hoses, but it would have required more than a half-dozen of them to move very much water. We had no way to keep them from clogging, and they were stiff and brittle in the cold in any event.

We were bested. Our hands were chapped and scraped and took three days to heal.

We called the pump rental place.

The last half-inch is the hardest:

Alan brought home a 3" trash pump, which we estimated could lower the pond by six inches within a couple of days. We set it up on the top of the embankment – you can see that it is quite steep, and the vibrating contraption would have jiggled into the pond if we tried to put it on the slope.

We had a bit of a challenge priming the pump – with the inlet and outlet running steeply downhill, it took a lot of water to fill the pump and the inlet hose and enough of the outlet hose that the pump would keep operating once started, and until we got the inlet into the pond. By elevating and filling the hoses and the pump, then flinging the inlet into the pond as the engine caught and the pump turned, we began to move water.

The inlet hose barely extended to the water, and kept clogging with all the muck in the shallow water near the bank.

You can see that the outlet flow doesn't amount to much, compared to the flow shown in the previous post when we pulled out the old riser.

Alan worked diligently to keep the pump inlet clear of muck, but we would have been doing this for the next 48 hours. How to get better performance out of the pump?

You can see how low the pond is. This image looks south along the dam and the lane. We call this area the Isthmus. Just beyond the falling snag is the emergency spillway, and the dam is designed to impound water to nearly that level, about three feet above where it is now. If we can fill it again to that level by installing a primary spillway that doesn't leak, we can increase the area of the pond by a good third, maybe a half – a huge difference.

We needed a construction barge and at Alan's inspiration, I shipped the anchors on the Deck Dock and poled it from the beach to the work site.

Now we could get the inlet into deep water where it wouldn't clog, and run the pump at full capacity.

The outlet hose wasn't long enough. We tied it and duct-taped it to the failed siphon drain hose, and ran that down over a layer of geotextile to prevent erosion of the embankment, and into the channel at the outlet works. You can see how much more water we were moving now. We ran the pump until 9:30 p.m. and the pond level was down a couple inches, below the bottom of the CMP.

The next day we ran the pump another four hours, and that afternoon installed the new primary spillway. Now we wait for the pond to rise again.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Big Thaw, and a Big Dam Problem

But eventually springtime asserts itself, thawing temperatures and snowmelt, and the creek swells to bank full and all the little draws and gullies and seeps and swales are flowing vigorously on their own. The log bridge at Squeaky Tree washed away, and quite a bit of sediment moved downhill, as some of the gullies moved uphill. The bluff wants to fall into the Mississippi floodplain; all we can do is try to slow it down, 'cause we can't stop it.

This was one of the largest flooding events we've witnessed here – a bank-full event, maybe a 3-month or 6-month return period flood. I took these photos several hours after the peak had passed through.

The ford is one place we can usually rely upon to have a crossing point, but I had to go back upstream and use one of the large-log animal crossings, a bit precarious.

Just to the right of this photo's field of vision is the weir at the road culvert. Apparently, when it was built, the creek bed was perhaps fifteen feet lower, and what was at first a deep, cool swimming hole and wetlands eventually filled in with fallen down bluff and created the meandering creek we have now. With the outlet controlled by the wier, the creek through the farm will continue to look more U-shaped than V-shaped, except at the edges.

The gullies will require a different treatment than benign neglect, actual structures, terraces, impoundments, weirs, energy dissipation.

This is the bottom terrace in the observatory field, the big 11-ac field that comprises the southwest quarter of the farm. Like the other terraces, its drainage system failed some time ago, long enough that this willow colony has grown up and thrives on the periodic ponding.

With the drainage pipe failed, runoff ponds behind the terrace until it overtops, and erosion works back until there's not much earthwork left. We continue to cogitate about how to move big chunks of concrete – a raw material we have in ample supply on the property – to build erosion control structures. We're thinking of building a derrick or crane with a winch, powered by tractor hydraulics or pto or independently.

The pond rose dramatically in this thaw, to a level we'd not seen before but still well-below the outlet level of the primary spillway, a PVC pipe with an elbow joint into a corrugated metal pipe that passes through the dam embankment. The previous owners insisted to Alan and Donna that the pond had always been at the spillway level during their two years on the place.

You can see how much the ice sheet lifted, and how much larger the pond surface area became.

And then we noticed a sound of rushing water in the spillway pipe. The sound grew louder over the next couple days, and the pond level was dropping.

We had to conclude that the ice had damaged the outlet and we now had a big leak. 

There was nothing for it. The connection of PVC to CMP was rudimentary, ill-fitting, and the adhesives and clamps had crapped out. There was little choice but to pull it apart, and start to dewater the pond to the point where we could access the pipe and make repairs. After we pulled off the riser, water was free to gush down the CMP, and it made quite a flood at the outlet.

Here's the mysterious outlet works. Mysterious in that we can't figure out what the hell is going on here. There's a valve somewhere down there that we've not dared to turn. Below that is a crude well made of a tractor wheel rim plastered in concrete. It has an inlet, presumably from the valve, and an outlet through flexible plastic pipe.

But the well has rusted through and the outlet level is now below the drain pipe, so the water cut a channel instead. All the flow you see here is a result of the broken inlet up on the other side; we'd only ever seen seepage conditions here before.

So, all that set us a pretty good puzzle.