It rained all night Saturday night. We could hear the back creek roaring while we were in bed. There was a small discussion on whether Tex would show up after it rained all night, but he had my number and had not called so we figured he was going to come regardless. He did show up but I had already decided that we were not going to work out in the mud. I considered working on the inside of the barn and putting up the wooden runners on the barn walls for our new round hay bales but I need the 2×6 boards to finish the outside fencing. In the end I figured he could wash the walls one last time in the spare room and we would hang the new closet kit in the spare room and put all the furniture back in the room. I set him up with water and rags and went outside to feed the animals. I can use my coveralls and stay clean while feeding.
I did notice that the back creek was very high. After feeding the sheep I was driving the tractor toward the cows when I noticed the orchard flooding.
I called Annmarie and asked her to send Tex outside. I wanted him to bring the pickup down into the orchard. I thought the issue was the culvert that is too high. My plan was to rip out the culvert and let the water run down the ditch. The problem with this plan was once I drove off the side of the ditch I was going to get the tractor stuck. So I dove off the edge, and Tex would hook onto the tractor box blade with the pickup and pull me out. Tex did not pay attention to how much mud he was getting on himself in his zeal to be helpful. I secretly think he thought if he was dirty enough I would not let him back in the house to wash walls.
Once we got the culvert out the water level started to drop. I then noticed a few high spots in the ditch. So we started digging them out. I would dive off the edge, get a scoop of mud and he would pull me out with the pickup. We had done this about 12 times when I noticed that the water level kept rising!
It finally dawned on me that the reason the water level was rising was that more water was in the front channel. I told Tex to gas up the tractor and I would go grab some hand tools. I snagged a metal dirt rake, two shovels, and two double bladed axes. As I came out of the woodshed I could see the front spring getting higher. I told Tex to leave the tractor as we would probably just get it stuck in the mud. We needed to hoof it quickly up the creek and find the blockage. As we started up the creek there was water in the lower field, way more than there was supposed to be. It just got worse the farther up we got.
The upper two planted grass fields looked like lakes not fields! It took me two weeks to plant those fields and I was afraid Mother Nature was going to ruin them in a matter of hours. I figured the problem was up in the seven acre field. There are Sumac bushes growing alongside the creek the entire length of the field. I have been ignoring them since we moved back 12 years ago. Two years before that my Father-in-law had to hire someone to come dig the blockages out of the creek during a storm and that person got their backhoe stuck then got their CAT stuck and spent 3 days fighting mud to get their vehicles unstuck.
The water was pouring over the dike wall into the field causing many problems. The main problem was we could not just go to the problem area. This section of creek has a concrete weir poured into the banks and its the narrowest spot. I was sure the water was damned up behind it. I was right. We climbed it onto the flotsam and started to pull branches and thistles out of it and toss them onto the bank. The water is definitely runoff from the snowmelt as it was very cold. We cleared the first jam and moved up the creek.
It looked pretty good when we finished.
The trouble we found as we moved up the creek was that there were more live trees in the actual creek bed and the fence had gotten involved in the act. I forgot to grab a se told fence pliers. It never even occurred to me that the fence would be an issue for us. This is the actual creek below, it started to get this massive pile of small debris that was forming this incredibly dense fibrous mat. At one point I cut the fence with an axe. Tex lost one of the axes into the creek. If someone finds an axe between here and Pendleton its mine!
Tex just hung in there and we kept at it until we had most of the water contained back in the stream bed. We went 6 hours with no food, no water and working nonstop. Tex just kept working without any complaints. He managed to not fall into the creek and I accidentally stepped off the edge, it was hidden under running water and dropped four feet into the ice cold water, luckily Tex was right there and was able to pull me out. I am not sure I could have crawled back out on my own.
We found a dead deer with its leg stuck in the fence and a cow elk dead alongside the road. You really don’t want to dig around in the deep weeds, you never know what will turn up. The entire fence alongside that stream for 1/4 mile will need to be moved and redone.
On the way back to the house the fields were already starting to look better. I need to dig some deeper ditches. We had to dig out the ditch in the upper prime field.
I was utterly exhausted and soaking wet. It’s hard to be cold when you are doing that much manual labor. Just as we got into the barn lot you could see that one fence was pushed over. I tried to clear branches from the culvert at the creek crossing and ended up falling on my back in the silt mud. I got the branches but I was ready to get home. Tex’s extra railroad tie next to the bridge had floated away. He will have to pt it back. Most of the creek crossings are filled with debris and will need to be cleaned out but at this time food and sleep are the most important things on my mind. I stripped on the back porch and got money to pay Tex. I told him there was a hazard pay bonus and sent him on his way. I washed my hands, ate a sandwich, took a shower, took medications and I was in bed by 1600. Annmarie woke me up at 1815, made me eat more dinner, drink more water and then I went back to bed with a large glass of water to drink through the night. I have not been that tired in a long time.
Well the elk did make it down to our orchard, luckily not very many of them came down onto the bottoms. This was a boon to us as they did dig in the snow and try to find the grass. We had one cow elk that stayed low and even spent the night in the machine shed with the alpaca one night. The weather has finally warmed up and the snow is slowly melting off. One of our greatest worries was that the elk would get down into our newly planted grass hay pastures and tear them up. I have been driving up to the upper end of the farm three times a week to look at the pastures and check for elk damage. I can go all winter without ever normally seeing the other end of the farm. I am unclear how me watching for damage will change anything but it did not stop me from looking. People ask why the elk are different than deer. The picture below is a great example. You can see above where the elk dug down and ate the grass. When you look at the picture below you can see the yellow spots on the ground. Those yellow spots are where the elk dug down and ate the grass. They will tear up the grass and eat the roots. In a couple of weeks we will know how much damage was done to the pasture but since it needed replanted we are not going to worry about it. The elk started moving up the hillsides as the snow started to melt off. They did not want to stay low and only came down because the weather forced them out of the mountains.
Our back creek is running a little muddy but it is doing great. We have a rock on the creek bank we use to measure the depth of the water. This rock has been buried but the creek has gone down again and it is visible. The water is starting to run clear also. All in all if this will continue for the next 6-8 weeks it is going to be a glorious Spring!
Well the weather finally let me get into the upper fields. I drove the mistress up the road, stopped and talked to one of our neighbors on the way then made my way up to the far end of the property. I was able to get into the upper wheat field and drive along the bottom pasture. We do own a four wheel drive pickup but the problem with it is its heavy and it sinks down into the mud. The mistress has four wheel drive and is very light, she also has a bucket that can be used to drag or push you out of any place you get stuck. I have learned how to use the bucket to rescue myself. This does not work if you actually get stuck in a deep hole. You need a second vehicle at that point. I have only needed a second vehicle four times to extricate the mistress out of tight jams. The ground is truly soaked at this point. It is starting to give up water and is now running down the center of the field. I was hoping to get a single large pond that held the water but it does not look like that is going to happen. I also did not dig a channel down the middle of the field like I did in the lower field. It looks like the water is working on creating its own channel. When it dries out this summer I am going to have to deepen the channel that is made by the runoff. This will allow me to install a culvert so I can cross the ditch with the tractor and implements. I don’t want to bother with installing any buried tile network to drain off the moisture. My goal is to get the grass established and get a nice double cutting from the subterranean water soaked ground. If I have to give up some land due to too much moisture then so be it. Unfortunately, the ground is so sloped that there is no pond or reservoir like effect occurring. I am not so sure the ducks will like a mud pit. This is the bottom half of the upper pasture. I still need names for the two fields in the middle. Currently I have the Upper Prime Pasture which is the 4 acres just past the barn lot, two unnamed grass hay fields and the upper field which will forever be called the “7 acres”. I will have to consult the wife as to what the names should be. You can see that the lower channel has a tendency to widen and splits near the fence. The best part of this is that the elk have not gotten into the field and rooted up the grass seedlings!
Here is the lower of the two fields. This field has a channel dug into the center of it from five years ago. The water seems to be going directly to that channel. I would really like it to go to the already dug old original channel at the middle left of the screen. That is the original ditch from the 30s. I think I could easily direct it that way as you can see a low spot is already there. I would just need to encourage that water to make the jump to the front ditch instead of creating its own. This is the lower pasture. Last year I created a series of small connecting channels and they are working. This entire area in the picture used to be a mud fest area. I don’t dare go out in either field for at least two more months. The deer are living in the bottoms with the elk living on the hillside and up on top in the CRP. This is a good thing and I have high hopes for our grass hay crop this year.
We are going to work on our taxes this weekend. I need to do the farm categories and the chicken spreadsheets. Once that is done we are going to work on our loan application for the hay equipment.
I had some gravel delivered this week, 10 yards of 3/4″- and 1.5″- for use around the farm. We have purchased at least 100 yards of gravel over the years probably closer to 150 yards. I now set all the railroad fence ties in gravel as they are a lot more secure and not as prone to softening in the spring. We were running low and I am thinking about drilling holes in the barn lot to create a pen for the bull and rams so we can start controlling our time of delivery on all babies. The bigger rock is for the road that loops behind the machine shed. The road was always just a dirt path but we have slowly started to gravel it in and build it up. The single most important reason is that is how the garbage man loops around and leaves the property. Trash pickup at our house is a luxury and we want to make it easy for them. We also realize that our weather is changing and we get a lot more rain than we used to, this has caused some drainage issues and access problems. Gravel is a wonderful cure all for a lot of those problems. I spread about 8 yards out onto the dirt path behind the shed. We will give it a couple of months then have some 3/4″- brought in and have them dump it directly over the road. We will be ordering some more panels for our barn to help sort sheep and they will come on a semitruck. Also our new haying equipment will come on a semitruck, access is vital for us to have year round. I took the last two yards and spread it in front of the corral loading chute. We now have year round access to the chute and mud will no longer be an issue. This also happens to be where the mobile slaughter parks and since I moved the gate opening this process should go a lot smoother also. The mistress is doing well. She needs a bath and I still need to bang that dent out of the hood but she is a trooper. I remembered lunch after completing these tasks and then went back out to check on the upper prime pasture. Annmarie told me we had water running into the ditch in it.
Water is my nemesis! We just don’t get along and after Annmarie told me it was running in the upper field I just knew the Mistress and I needed to tackle the next problem. Or in my history, create one involving water.
There was indeed water running in the upper prime pasture. It had gotten to the blackberry bush but was not running any further. I dug out the ditch on our side of the blackberry bush and used it to try and level off the area near the fence there. It is very hard to get the tractor by as the hill is slanted into the bush. I will keep using the soil I dig out of the ditch to level this off. I went down the ditch farther near the hand dug well and dug out a trench in the ditch. The ditch. Is covered in grass and if I dig down about a foot then the water runs faster and it will create a low spot where the animals can drink. We just opened the upper prime pasture to the sheep yesterday. The horses are confined to the barn lot so they cannot fallow on all this fresh new green grass.
I drove up through the upper prime pasture into the next one (still working on a name) and noticed that the water was just starting to run out the end and form a swamp by all appearances this started in the last 1-2 days. I had a trench at one point from the central ditch running across the field to the original spring starting point. This got worked away during the hay growing process. I went in and dig a ditch starting at the spring so there was no water in the ditch I was creating. I built up a berm on one side so we can find it and we will just have to work around the ditch. It is needed as another swamp is not needed if we can avoid it. The spring in the middle of the field is running again. The only way to make a pond here is to line it. I have tried twice and the stream just cuts through the berm or the water gets absorbed. If I put a lining in we could have a little pond up here for about 6 months out of the year, probably enough to get a pair of ducks to stop and have babies. This is a project for a later time. The water coming out of this second spring is almost as much as the first so the downstream load is doubled. I expect this to cause us problems down in the barn lot. We think it may actually start running and eroding another path above ground. We may have to put in a culvert to allow us to cross the water. I am trying to avoid any crossings where we drive through the water. It’s not always possible but with the front spring the water is slow and not crazy, just persistent.
I went up and drug out an old ditch on the wheat side of that same field and then dug it back out. There was a 50 yard section that had filled back in over time. I dug it back out. I think when I rent a backhoe next time I will dig this down another 3 feet. If I can get it lower I think it will help drain the field. I need to finish the fence in this section so we can turn the animals loose in this area to forage and eat it down. I will be keeping it clean and weed free this summer in preparation for planting in the fall. We are going to plant Round up resistant alfalfa.
You can see the first spring starting point above. It looks like a little pond but if you look closely you can see the water bubbling out of the ground and forming a current. Its pretty cool. I kept chasing deer out of the fields and noticed these freeloaders eating the new wheat, almost 40 deer. I drove up to the next field to inspect it. This is one I have not burned yet. This needs to be done soon but it keeps raining and I would like a little wind to fan the fire and drive it across the field. Its wet enough I don’t have to worry about it jumping off the field and going elsewhere.
This is the field where Ted, father-in-law, got buried in his mule in the middle of the summer our first year here. Annmarie tells me stories of burying wheat trucks when driving through it at harvest time. The dark patch is solid water and the lowest spot in the field. You can see the two places I tried to drive out into that area and got stuck in the mud. I had to push myself out with the bucket on the tractor. This is with four wheel drive and I kept the box blade on the back to add weight to the back tires. I want to stake out this area this summer. The plan is dig a shallow area about 18-24 inches deep and drag all that soil to the surrounding area. Then I will build a fence around this area to keep the livestock out and just plant grass in the fenced in area. It will either survive or not. Hopefully, this will contain the water enough that we can use the field. I might look into some marsh plants to plant in this area also. The trouble is it doesn’t hold water year round so it does dry out in late summer/fall. So I am unsure how a marsh plant would fare as it is not truly a marsh. Its just a low spot with a high water table some years.