Thursday, March 12, 2015

Secret to a healthy farm!

I would not like to be the person who thought it was a good idea to drive through that wet spot! 

Now this is an interesting problem!  Thankfully it wasn't my problem.  We don't have any tractors quite this big at Butternut Farm anyways, so we would never be in it this deep!  In my experience though there are a handful of reasons why something like this might possibly happen. They include:
  1. A teenage boy at the controls....
  2. Inexperience and in patience.  (Refer to reason 1)  
  3. falling asleep at the wheel (reason 1 was out to late last night)
OR it could happen because of:
  1. Inadequate soil drainage in this particular area of the farm
Soil drainage?  What is that you ask!  Well all soils depending on their composition's (percentages of sand, clay, and silt), soil profiles, and the local topography will have different water holding characteristics.  Some soils come naturally drained.  Which means early in the spring after the snow melt or within a day after three inches of summer rain the land quickly dries out so that you don't leave ruts when you drive over it with your equipment.  In a nutshell that is the simple definition.  I'm Sure there is a more technical and agriculturally proper way to describe a well drained soil but we are not going bog our minds down with that at this moment. 

Why is soil drainage important?  Besides the obvious already discussed.   All living things in a healthy soil (micro organisms, bacteria, fungi, worms, lichens, roots, etc) need to breath.   Since water is heavier than air it will displace it from the pore spaces in the soil, leaving the soil saturated and void of any air.  Temporarily this is fine.  However after 2 days of water logged soils plants and the living soil biota start to suffer.  

Problems arise when pockets of poorly drained soil are hidden within a field of well drained soils.  These squishy pockets are often found by the in unsuspecting farmer during early spring cultivation passes or during wet summer periods.

Thankfully there is a solution!  And it hinges on a couple of simple principles.  Gravity and that water will always follow the path of least resistance.  Surprisingly this is not always downhill,  which some of us unfortunately found out the hard way dealing with the ice dams on our roofs this past winter.  Poorly drained soils can be remedied by installing drainage pipe (tile) into the wet areas of the field. 
during dry times of the year this 4 inch perferated plastic pipe is installed 2-2.5 deep in the soil.  Excess soil water will flow into it and then drain downhill wherever the pipe leads! 

Once poorly drained areas have been identified this drainage pipe can be installed throughout the wet area.  I like to put the lines about 30 ft apart expecting that each line will draw excess soil water from 15 feet on either side of it.  Why does the water migrate to the pipe?  Simply because it is the path of least resistance for the water around it.  Inside the pipe is an open space representing zero water pressure.  Water in the saturated soil around the pipe is under pressure, so the water immediately around the pipe flows into it drying that soil.  This soil will then have a lower water pressure then the soil adjacent to it, which will attract water from it.  This water pressure gradient that forms will draw water to the pipe over a distance of roughly 15 feet in our soils.   The pipe is laid 2.5 feet deep on a pitch.  Minimum pitch necessary for water to flow is 1 inch over 10 ft.  These fingers will most often link into a header pipe at the base of the wet spot which will lead off the farm into a road side ditch or perhaps into the woods out behind the orchard, always maintaining the minimum pitch.
    This simple concept of how water behaves in the soil and that it will flow down hill once it is inside the tile is in my opinion the key to successful farming.  Wet soils are the root of all evils in agriculture, or if your building a home for that matter.  Any worthy builder will tell you the key to a sound long lasting structure is building it so that the water which comes in contact with it will be managed properly.  Failure to do so will lead to wet moldy basements, rotten window sills, rotten sheathing, etc.  In agriculture improperly managed water leads to sick, disease ridden, and eventually dead plants.  Simply because the roots of that plant suffocated. 
    Soil drainage is always on my mind while managing this great piece of property that we have here at Butternut Farm.  Our soils are well suited for agriculture, but that does not mean they are not subject to the occasional wet spot.  Slowly, as old orchards are removed it gives us a chance where necessary to drain the soils before a new crop is planted.   Hopefully leading to healthier plants, better crops, and a less muddy experience for our customers.  


  1. Wow, what a picture! We had problems on the farm, too. A few days ago we bought metal galvanized buckets here and buckets are needed by everybody, without them not to manage the farm. Metal buckets are characterized by strength and durability and it's good.

  2. Oh!These advices helped our family a lot,because we want to open our own farm!We know that there are many secrets for a successful farm,but we`re trying hard!By the way,the pictures are horrifiying!I can`t imagine something like that on my future farm,but i guess it may happen.Without your article i can`t represent what would i do in this situation.Maybe,rescue my combain with a metal bluckets)

  3. I dunno. My dad was never happy unless he got the tractor stuck at least once every spring though nothing as dramatic as that. It's like he felt he wasn't trying hard enough if he didn't get mucked in good at least once. Plus, he was over-eager and always wanting to push the season. We got a lot of laughs out of it.