Impermeable Soil, eh?

Well, the berm is begun…and experience is teaching me that the day after torrential rainstorms is perhaps not the best time for serious digging. One way and another, you could say yesterday’s backbreaking work was a sighting shot for a project that will take more than a weekend to complete.

I pushed my spade into the squelching lawn at the lowest point of the planned trench, and levered up the first shovelful. The saturated earth responded with a squishy “glorp” and the hole immediately filled to its brim with muddy brown water.


By no means was this water sluicing across impermeable clay, saturating and carrying off a few inches of topsoil on its way! This was clay, builder’s loam, yes, but it was saturated to the limit and beyond.

I kept digging, just a shovel’s depth because the water poured in and turned every scoop to lead-weighted liquid goo studded with fat drowned worms and grubs. Before my mini-trench was twelve inches long I’d found the other component of my soil issue: a small Gibraltar of a stone in the sea of groundwater, immovable by its weight and slipperiness unless I wanted a chilly mudbath.IMG_20151226_123859135

I kept digging, widening and lengthening the hole, noticing as I went on that the groundwater was pouring in from the portion I’d already dug, but not from the part I was now opening…even though a small pond surrounded the fig tree that my trench was now passing. Poor baby’s roots were drowning… another reason why this job was needed. Farther on, my blueberry bushes were suffering the same fate. Ultimately, I would be pulling them out and replanting them in the berm.IMG_20151226_123006369.jpg

Another baby boulder showed up two feet further on. And by the shocks in my shoulders as I felt with my shovel for its edges, I realized: I’d come to the portion of the yard where the developers had laid down stones, concrete, and God/dess-knows-what rubble as tightly as a mosaic, and covered it over with dirt.

That stone was wedged in by others, in a layer easily 6-8 inches deep.  I had a choice now: I could continue digging a superficial trench and catching the water at (relative) surface level, a shovel’s depth, or I could unearth and disassemble part of that mosaic, and catch and store the water at a deeper, more effective level of roughly 18 inches. 

From hauling up saturated earth and near-liquid mud from the bottom of my trench, my back was already at the point of giving out. Time to take a break and see what would be involved in filling the trench with wood from my pile of cut shrubbery.

God/dess bless the friend who had helped me with cutting the hedge…in itself a big job. And in our hurry to get it cleaned up while we still had light, planning to send the whole brush pile through a chipper and mulch the side yard, we hadn’t separated the small logs from the branches. To pack the trench with large pieces of wood, I’d need to sort the pile and unearth them…or bundle and tie bunches of branches into composite logs.

As I pulled out and lopped the larger branches, a light rain began to fall. I checked the time: I’d be going to dinner with a friend in less than two hours, and I was covered in mud. Time to stop, clean up and regroup for a renewed, more strategic, effort tomorrow, under clearer skies and tee-shirt temperatures.


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