Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Drainage Problems On The Smallholding (Optimistic Or Pessimistic Smallholder?)

This is a picture of the Kale field after the cattle have grazed it down to nothing.  You become very pragmatic and stoic ("what's that mean?") when you have been a smallholder for a few years.  Every field seems to have some sort of problem.  Either it needs reseeding, drains fixing, it's too hilly, fences need replacing, it's too small, it's too stony, it's not enough sheltered from the weather...?

 If you had half a pint glass full of real ale.  Would it be half full or half empty?

 I'd say it's half empty.  You could spend hundreds/ thousands on your fields.  But you will always find problems.  Some of us buy diggers and try to do what an Irish farmer once said:

"Trying to put right what God couldn't do."

So yesterday morning we noticed we had a wet patch in the field.  We had a broken drain.  Time to get number one son in with the digger.  In the past it's was either me break my back with shovel and pick or phone for a digger man.  He will eventually turn up and say:

"I can't do it in a week or two."

So we eventually bought a secondhand digger (pray we don't hit rock) and try to do things for ourselves. Well that's the idea, anyway.

See the nice clean trench going to the stream.  Notice that we fence the stream off to stop the cattle leaving country pancake presents and also drinking the dirty water.  We like to gave them clean water straight from our well.  The picture on the right shows the problem.  Approximately about ten years ago we had a broken drain (what a coincidence) and we did pay for the digger man to come and dig us a trench and we filled it with clean washed stone and some of that yellow plastic pipe which I said all those years a go:

"It's no bloody good.

It only blocks up with sand, soil and peat (no swearing) ".

Guess what?  It filled up with....?

Above is an old flag drain where the stones are.  My ancestors will have dug them by hand and placed them on end to make perfectly good flag drains.  Then somebody invented massive tractors in the late 20th century. The tractors squeezed the drains and our drainage problems are for ever with us.  

So blog readers what do I do to solve my drainage problem?  Will I order twenty ton of  2 inch (washed) stone chippings, place a good layer (leaving a nice fall) in the bottom of trench, place some (thick) 6 inch black corrugated plastic (much stronger than the yellow plastic) and stone it up with clean stone then put the soil (and the clay) back?  Or should I just fill the trench with stone chippings and not bother with any plastic pipe?  

What do you think?  Have you got drains to fix on your smallholding?


  1. I'd go for the pipe as well. It seems a shame to go to all that effort and not put the pipe in. I know that french drains work but with how wet we've been having it lately you could do with the extra drainage.

  2. My fields need some serious drainage as well!

  3. Not being an expert on drainage, but I'd say plastic pipe with the holes in surrounded by gravel, the thinking is the gravel will filter out some of the silt etc that clogs them up and the pipe will get it away faster.

    Sure the farmer's correct, you'll never be finished on a smallholding, God didn't make perfection.

    In our clay soils the mole drain is often quite efficient but they collapse in time, the old ones tend to be clay pipes just butted up. And a lot of ditches, hells own job to clear out when they inevitably clog up and get overgrown.

    Keeping cold here, damp, overcast and miserable.

    Raggy cat spending a lot of time outside, just pops in to check the bowls occasionally to see if anything has magically appeared in them.

  4. Ah drainage. We know about that as well. Will watch with interest to see what your solution finally is. Have had a lake of water out back for much of the winter. Blogged ditch, that's the problem. Geese love it though, but we don't because we have to keep the animals indoors until the water goes down, which means our feed bill soars. Ah well, the joys of smallholding!

  5. I will go for 6 inch black corrugated pipe Kev, rather than the 4 inch yelllow pipe (alwaks blocks up)that was used before. Irish soils contains a lot of peat (very acid) and they soon silt up the plastic pipes. I could also go for pea gravel because its easier to shovel by hand. Will order 20 ton (always cheaper in bulk) today and price corrugated pipes. We will back fill the drains ourselves and get a neighbour to rotovate the field and put it back down to grass or fodder beet.


  6. Hi Cumbrian, It's hard to stop plastic pipe silting up. Especially when the big tractors and round bales compact and squeeze every drain. Resulting in lots of rushes. The ground is heavy and contains lots of clay and peaty soil. Mole drains are very effective if you have a good depth of soil.

    I paid to clean a stream out last year. Already the brambles are taking over. I don't want to spray a watercourse with weedkiller and they are very difficult to maintain, especially when I fence them off to keep the cattle out.

    Warm and cold here. Keeping dry for the moment.


  7. Hi Vera, Yes there is always something that needs doing or replacing on the smallholding. You're right to keep your livestock in until you the water goes down. We seem to be plagued with soft rush here in West Cork. I don't think they would survive if we had good summers like we used to have when I was a child. They used to let the school children break up from school at the end of April to help with the haymaking. Now it seems to be pit silage and round bales that need massive machinery and compact the ground.


  8. That is frightening. Fixing drainage really entails a lot of risks, considering the fragility of nature and all the factors that can play into the equation. But really nothing that a smart and steady application of good plumbing can fix. We can either go at it alone, but it maybe best to get a bit of help from the outside.

    Katrina Spencer

  9. Water pipe Cumbria - About Clearflow Renewals - We have 16 years experience in the water industry and the field of water supply issues. We offer a complete personal service for water main repairs, trenchless excavation techniques, water duct pipe and fix the water leak.


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