Zone C is totally waterlogged

Written by Stephan Schwab on December 29, 2019

We had about two weeks of heavy rains and the last few days have been sunny again. Zone C is the second worst part of our land and we keep the cows there in some sort of a waiting pattern in order to give the pasture in zone A a chance to grow. There is some grass but it has not been real pasture. As the cows were getting a bit thin we decided to buy straw - like everybody else here - and supply it to them.

So I took the backhoe with forks attached and brought two bales up there. After I dropped the second bale and was about to leave backwards as I came in … boom … I got stuck!

It turns out the backhoe had broken through the thin layer of what is left of topsoil and then sunk into a mix of wet sand and some dirt. The tires were spinnig, nothing to grab on to, and all that came out was mostly water.

If you step onto it, you will immediately sink deep into it until you hit the rock further down.

I investigated a bit to understand what I’ve got here.

My theory about our soil structure and its history

From what I can see and based on my reading about the subject I believe that due to selective grazing with free roaming animals the plant diversity has been reduced over the years. Soil compaction and heavy rains during fall and winter have washed away almost all topsoil. Due to the loss of topsoil and the uncontrolled grazing plants became weaker and weaker and as a result there were less and less roots. Because the soil is sandy in general we now have a thin topsoil layer that is barely held in place by the few plants that exist and underneath we have a very sandy layer that seems to be some 50 cm to 70 cm thick. Below that it gets more rocky.

That sandy layer we discovered earlier when we were trying to drill holes for fence posts. We were unable to drill a hole into it.

And indeed that muddy, wet sand becomes like concrete when it dries (see 4:58 in the video below).

Get the backhoe out and begin to dug a swale

We had already dug some trenches further uphill from this area. There aren’t really swales yet but at least we did something to slow the water down. Our plan has always been to put a bunch of swales between the paddocks in zone C and add a lot of additional plants to the area.

As I was unable to drive the backhoe out of the waterlogged sand I needed to start digging to somehow free it. Instead of just digging out the backhoe for getting it out I thought I might as well start digging a swale in order to not leave the area damaged but do some good instead.

After a while I was able to move to tried to drive out but it didn’t work. I got stuck again.

So I let it be and came back the next day. The area had filled with water dripping out of the waterlogged sand/soil mix and from the edges. I now was able to drive through that puddle in the picture and get out on the far side. I made sure to move quickly in order to avoid sinking in again. The backhoe is now back at the farmstead and I was able to provide a few more bales to the cows at a different location.

I’m now looking to rent an excavator on tracks that can more around in this waterlogged sand/soil mix so that I can dig the much needed swales. We have a lot of water in some areas and it’s already totally dry in other areas. Swales should help us to distribute the water more evenly. The rest will be done by planting and grazing.

Enjoy the video for more details.

Do you have any questions or thoughts you want to send to Stephan Schwab? You can send them to sns@caimito.net