Gravel pit dugout

This evening, I just had to go out and see how things were in the old gravel pit. It looks like the dugout is done!

The first thing I saw, coming through the trees, was our new mountain.

I’m guessing, at its peak, it’s getting close to 20 feet high.

Check out those rocks!!

And there it is. The deepened dugout.

The guy said he’d seen a bit of moisture as he was moving the gravel, but if there was any, it’s completely dried up, now.

My hopes that water may seep in have gotten lower.

There were quite a few large rocks, loosened, scraped or, like this one, shattered.

Once there is water in here, the cows and any wildlife in the area will have an easy time getting to it.

What amazed me is that, for all that this was a marshy area and sediment had collected, making the original dugout shallower, the top soil is still amazingly thin. Barely six inches, from what I could see.

Of course, I had to check out the patch of fine sand that was uncovered. Just look at that! So soft!

Just a couple of feet away, the sand was much coarser, but still most definitely sand, not gravel.

Here’s the view from the top of the new hill.

Do you see those divots in the gravel, between the tread marks?

Yup. The cows have already been up here! Silly things!

The treads left behind some compacted clumps, and when I first saw this, it made me think of petrified wood.

It’s just clay and sand and a bit of soil. I think how the outside was compacted to such a smooth surface is really neat.

So here we now have access to such beautiful sand and gravel, and I’m at a loss of how to get it. Even if we were able to get a floor on the trailer frame and hook it up to the riding mower, which does have a tow hitch, we could never get it into the pit to where the fine and coarse sand is. The riding mower just couldn’t handle it. The trailer would be too big to maneuver in there, anyhow, but even if we had a small trailer, it would be too much for the riding mower to handle in there.

The only thing I can think of, based on what we actually have, is to bring our folding wagon (lined with plastic) over.

Man, wouldn’t it be nice if we had access to something like a Bobcat, with a front end loader?


Must. Not. Be. Bitter!

Now, we just need this pit to fill with water. Even just a little! For the cows and all the other critters around.

The Re-Farmer

Digging it!

Not very long ago, after walking around and seeing that our dugouts were completely dry, I had given permission to the renters to dig them deeper, if they wanted to, to have water for their cows. It wouldn’t be much use this year, but I wanted them to at least know they could.

Since this looked like something that wouldn’t be done this year, if they decided to at all, I forget to tell my brother I did this.

You know. The guy who actually owns the property. 😀

I was talking to him on the phone this morning when I got a message from the renter. They had decided to hire someone to deepen the old gravel pit and I was informed that the guy should be there in a few hours, so I would know what the commotion was. The funny thing is, I was already hearing the “beep, beep, beep” of heavy equipment backing up!

So… I told my brother I’d given them permission, then headed out to take a look.

A pretty good start was made, by the time I got out there.

As I moved around and took pictures, I was noticing that there were some really nice pockets of beautiful sand.

When the guy saw me, he stopped and came over and we chatted for a bit. When I mentioned the sand, he pointed out one area in particular that had really, really nice, fine sand.

I remember, as a child, playing in pockets of sand among the gravel. Those were all on the north side of the pit. I don’t think we’d ever dug that far on the south side before, and that’s where he’s uncovered the nicest sand.

I’m really excited about this.

I asked if he expected to reach water, and his immediate response was, NO! He did mention there was an area that was a bit damp (you can sort of see it in the picture), and that he was hitting clay on the bottom. If there is rain, it might collect in there, and there might even be seepage. He also said it might take a few days to finish. I’ll have to come back later to take more pictures.

Since we were standing right next to what had been a muddy area (of all two places they could have dug deeper, they made the right choice by deciding on the old gravel pit), I mentioned that this was the first time I’d seen this old pit completely dry. I actually do think that, given how deep he’s going, water might start to seep in. Here’s hoping! Otherwise, this is basically being done for next year, and to prevent future water issues like we’re having this year, but if water can start seeping in now, that would be a big benefit to our renter and his cows. I’m sure the deer and other wildlife would appreciate it, too!

Me, I’m just so excited by what I’m seeing. My brother had been told that this gravel pit was basically depleted, but he can’t remember who told him that anymore. Clearly, it is not. The renter may eventually be getting water for his cows from here but, at the same time, we’re going to get sand and gravel we can use. Very much a “win win” situation!

I’m already daydreaming of sand covered paths between garden beds, infill around the house, and if we can get plywood for the floor of that trailer frame we’ve got, we might even be able to get enough gravel to spread on our driveway.

Of course, if the Bobcat were still here, we could have dug into the pit ourselves, though not at this level, of course. Having it would have made getting gravel to where we need it a lot easier.

Of all the things that got taken while this place was empty, that Bobcat is the one that I pine for the most. Maybe because a part of me still hopes it might get returned. Most things we can make do, one way or another, without them. It’s a lot harder to make up for the loss of that one, large piece of equipment. The Bobcat is on the list of items we know our vandal took, included in my response to his suit against us. The optimist in me hopes the judge would see fit to not only throw the case out, but order our vandal to return some of this stuff. Much of it can’t be; the lumber, for example, was used in buildings on his property. But things like the Bobcat and it’s attachments, or even some of the tools he took, would make our lives much easier when it comes to taking care of this place! Since the property now belongs to my brother, all this stuff would have been included with it, so he would be the owner of it all, too.

Ah, well. One can dream, right?

For now, however, I will happily dream of sand and gravel, and the things we can do with it!

The Re-Farmer

Crunchy walkabout, and a garden experiment

Today, I did something I haven’t done in quite a while; check things out beyond the outer yard. Everything beyond the fence surrounding the outer yard, plus the old hay yard, is rented out, and somewhat less than half of that is used for pasture.

This first photo was actually taken from within the outer yard.

Everything is bone dry and crispy, and you can see the haze of smoke from wildfires that are nowhere near us! Keep in mind that the camera automatically cleans up haze, so the view was actually smokier than this.

This photo was taken at the “gate” by the barn. You can see the renter’s electric fence wire ends here. The only green that shows among the dormant grass is dandelions, and even they are burnt red.

This is facing the areas behind the old barn. By the time the renter rotates his cattle here, this grass is typically 2, almost 3, feet high.

This old pond is typically a source of water for the cattle. I walked to the deepest part, and even there, the ground is bone dry.

Also, we would normally be able to see the neighbour’s tree line in the distance, about a mile away. In the photo, it’s just barely visible as a shadow.

This is the deepest areas of what used to be a gravel pit, but which became another dugout to provide water for the cattle. At the far end is a marshy area that eventually reaches as far as the roadway by the pond.

This is in the deep part of the old gravel pit. Most of the tracks look like they were made by deer, but I think I saw some that looked like there were claw marks. All the tracks are old. There hasn’t even been mud here for some time.

This pit used to be quite a bit deeper. Since it wasn’t being used for gravel anymore, there’s at least a couple of decades of pond sediment, decaying plants and cow manure building up at the bottom. One of these years, I would like to have it, and the pond, excavated again. Since we moved back here, this is the first time I’ve seen the old gravel pit completely dry. Even in last year’s drought conditions, there was still water in the lowest area, making it one of the few sources of water for wildlife in the area.

Here, I’m standing at the “end” of the gravel pit area. Behind me is more marshy area that extends to a “creek” that is part of the municipal drainage system, but tends to have water only with the spring runoff.

Heading back towards the house, I checked out an area that is mostly rocks and broken concrete that is overgrown with hawthorn and other bushes. This is the only thing there that has berries on it, and they’re not doing very well.

The white that you see on the leaves is dust kicked up on the gravel road, every time something drives by.

There has been a lot of road dust this year.

Another view of the pasture area, looking towards the pond.

Walking through all this, not only was everything crispy and crunchy, but ever step I took sent masses of grasshoppers flying. With things this dry, I don’t think even the grasshoppers can eat it!

There is but one area of relatively lush, green growth.

The septic field.

This is out towards the barn. Unlike a gravity field, our system pumps the greywater from the tank by the house, all the way out here. You can see the white pipe that is the outflow. It just sprays out from there. There is an entire low area beyond this that, in a wet year, forms another pond. It had been fenced off to keep the cattle out, since any water there would have septic water in it, too, but those fences have long since fallen down.

After I finished my walkabout, I set up the soaker hose at the squash tunnel, then decided to try an experiment.

Our green peas in particular are pretty much toast. Or should I say, toasted. They are still blooming and trying to grow pods, but between the heat and whatever is eating them, we aren’t going to get a crop from them.

The Dalvay peas are sold by weight, not seed count. Which means we had a LOT of seeds left over. Part of why I wanted to plant so many peas and beans near the corn, and to do it in this far flung area, was for their nitrogen fixing qualities.

So I decided to take the leftover seeds and plant them with the sweet corn.

Interestingly, not long after I started, I realized I was hearing the sound of a small engine vehicle moving around on the property. It turned out I was not the only one who decided to check conditions today. The renter had come over on his utility vehicle and was checking out all the pasture areas.

If he does rotate his cows here, I suspect he’s going to have to provide both food and water for them. Last year, he only had to provide water.

One of the things I’d like to do in the future, if we ever have the money to do it, is get those two water fountains going again. It would mean replacing our pressure tank with a much bigger one, as there had been in the past, and hiring someone to make sure all the pluming and the tanks themselves are in working condition. We don’t have cows of our own, but they would be good for wildlife, as well as the renter’s cows.

That’s something for the dreams list! 🙂

I was almost done planting peas when my daughter came out to set up the sprinkler. Using a sprinkler feels like such a wasteful way to water, but for this area, we simply couldn’t water them as thoroughly as they needed, any other way. The other beds don’t have the same issues. It’s remarkable how different soil can be, even in a short distance. Since we started using the sprinkler, the corn and sunflowers have been doing visibly better.

There were so many peas left in the package, I was able to plant one pea for every corn in the block-and-a-bit visible in the photo. In these, I had planted a couple of seeds of corn a foot apart, then thinned them later. In the last block, I just planted a corn seed every six inches. Most of them germinated, so there wasn’t the space to plant one for every corn plant, so I planted one every 1 – 1 1/2 feet, depending on the spacing.

I still had enough seeds to plant more among the surviving Dorinny corn. Then I still had enough to plant with the Montana Morado corn (which seems to have been replaced at Baker Creek with Mountain Morado corn). And I STILL had seeds left over! Only about a dozen or so, but wow, was Veseys ever generous with their quantities!

Now, these seeds had been left behind in a storage bin we keep by the rain barrel next to the pea trellises. Which means that they’ve been out in this heat all this time. It’s entirely possible they won’t germinate. Or only a few will germinate.

Though planting peas for a fall crop this time of year, to get a fall harvest, is something that can be done in our zone, this year is so hot, we might still have the same problem as with the ones I planted in the spring, even if they do germinate. However, that’s not what I’m planting them for. I’m planting them for their nitrogen fixing qualities. Corn are nitrogen hungry plants, and our soil is nitrogen depleted. Yes, we can use a high nitrogen fertilizer, but having a plant that will do that job is preferable. Plus, if they do germinate, the corn plants will provide shade for them, while also providing a natural trellis for the peas to grow on, as with beans in Three Sisters plantings. We only have bush beans, though, so they won’t climb the corn. People had been talking about the Three Sisters method of planting in some of my gardening groups. Some people found it worked well. Some found that the squash made getting at the corn difficult, or that there was just too much competition for nutrients, and some found peas worked better for them than beans.

So we shall see how this turns out.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, all of these far flung beds are temporary. We’re basically breaking and amending the soil in perpetration for future plans. With what we are learning this year, we are already adjusting some of those plants. We were talking about planting a nut orchard and fruit trees, which we’re going to have to do soon, because those can take years, in some cases a decade, before they start producing.

We’re going to be adding a step.

My daughters and I have been going through the Whiffletree catalog, repeatedly. With the soil conditions we have, we’re now thinking to start by adding hedges. There are several options available for zones 2 and 3 that not only produce edible fruit and do well in poor soil, but also help fix nitrogen in the soil. If they’re still available next year, we’ve decided on three different ones. Silver Buffaloberry, which is a zone 2 bush, Autumn Olives (also called Autumn Silverberry), which is a zone 3 bush that is semi-fertile, and Sea Buckthorn, which is a zone 3 bush that requires 1 male variety for every 5-9 females varieties. On top of producing edible berries, being able to grow in poor soil conditions, and acting as nitrogen fixers, these will also form a barrier that will not only give us a privacy screen from our peeping vandal, they are dense enough to form a barrier that deer can’t get through. Plus, they will be dense enough to act as dust barriers. We’ve worked out the areas we can plant in, leaving a gap over where we thing the buried telephone wires are. We never did hear back from the Call Before You Dig people, but I figured out an easy way to do it. My brother’s property is right across the road, and the lines run though his place, too. He has a gap in his spruce grove, over the phone lines. All we have to do is line up our gap with his! 😀 Anyhow, after we start with these nitrogen fixing, berry producing bushes, we will then start adding fruit and nut trees in what is currently a big void in the old garden area. Little by little, year after year, we will be adding more food trees, strategically placing each of them, so serve multiple purposes. At least, that’s the plan right now! 😀

Meanwhile, by the time I was done with all the pea planting, the smoke in the air had gotten to the point that there was a haze in the yard. As I write this, I can see the live feed from the garage security camera, and I can see smoke in our driveway. We’re still getting rain in our forecast, but in millimeters. Some areas did get rain today, which I am happy to hear about, but none of it is reaching us. I would actually be okay with that, if we could at least get rain over those northern fires.

The Re-Farmer

Smoked out

Today, we finally have cooler temperatures! According to the hourly forecasts, we should be at about 23C/73F right now, but we’re still at only 18C/64F, which is awesome. There are still predictions of rain, all of which have been passing south of us. We desperately need rain. I’ve been reading about how it’s affecting some of our farmers. Those growing things like oats have had their crops gone crispy. Cherry producers (I didn’t even know we had a cherry industry in our province!) have had their cherries bake, right on the trees.

On top of all that is the smoke. I had to make a trip into town this morning, and it’s even worse there. There are fires on the other side of the lake, which is likely why. There are no fires near us but, today, the smoke is heavy enough to affect visibility quite a bit. I was talking to my mother on the phone a little while ago, and the smoke coming into the house was so bad, I had to excuse myself for a couple of coughing fits while talking. I’ve been able to reduce my mystery coughing fits pretty well over the last few years, but with this smoke, I’ve had more in one day than I’ve had in the last 4 years since we’ve moved here. I’ve actually reversed the fan in my window to blow the smoke out, even though I would normally be drawing the cooler air in while we’ve got it.

This adorable monster was eating our bird seed this morning. I saw one of the smaller ones out my window, heading to the bird feeder, just a little while ago. I should probably chase them away, but as long as they’re eating the seeds, they’re not eating my garden, so… I’m letting them be for now.

I’ve got the garden cam set up to try and see what has been eating our peas. The only things that got caught were a skunk and Butterscotch going by. Skunks are omnivores, so it could potentially be a skunk, but the one I saw was just passing through.

When doing the watering last night, I uncovered the beds with radishes, chard, kale and kohlrabi. This morning, I left them uncovered. We’re overcast, so they don’t need the shade, and if we do get rain, I want them to get some!

While talking to my mother about the current drought conditions, I mentioned that there are people whose wells have gone dry. I told her I thought my brother had said our well is 80 feet deep. It’s a number that’s been bothering me, but I couldn’t remember him saying anything different for this well. The old well in the pump shack (which predates my family owning this property), I remember him saying is about 110 feet. My mother, however, corrected me. She didn’t know about the old well, but she did remember that the well by the house is a little over 150 feet deep.

I suddenly feel much, much better. There is no way my brother would have been wrong about that, since he was heavily involved when all the work was being done, so I don’t know where I got that 80 feet from. Especially since I know we have a deep well pump. “Deep” is a relative statement, depending on the geography and elevation, but I know that in our area, even 80 ft would be considered pretty deep. However, if we’re loosing pressure while using two hoses at the same time (granted, one of those hoses had been running a sprinkler for an hour) at 150 ft in current conditions, at 80 ft, our well would probably be dry right now. Which is a rather alarming thought.

And so we pray for rain, for respite for our farmers and firefighters, and to clear some of that smoke out of the air!

The Re-Farmer