4-18 Sho’ Nuff Garden Disaster!

The horror.  The horror.

Southern Illinois Weather: 4″ of rain in the last 48 hours, tornado watches and warnings, thunder storms, flash floods, the Mighty Muddy  only 1 foot below flood stage, continued intermittent showers expected to dump 1 – 2 more inches by midnight (by which time the temperature will have dropped to 36 degrees).

Welcome to spring in the mid-west, and Man O’ Manishewitz  have I got an unexpected backyard disaster!

Context: Five years ago, after two near death experiences, we elected to remove three power-company ravaged silver maple trees from the fence line at the back of our property.  Do you have any idea how much water a 30 year old silver maple tree sequesters?  I’m pretty sure there are mathematical formulae used to answer that question, but I suspect no one truly understand what it means in real terms until they cut a big tree down.  Try to imagine the radical hydrological changes that took place in my yard five years ago when those three lovely beings were severed from this mortal coil and sent to their Heavenly Rewards.  Foreshadowing, anyone?

Before we removed those trees, our yard occasionally had puddles here and there during major thunderstorms.  Since the removal, however, the low-lying southeast corner of our yard has become the collection point for all the water the trees had been holding or redirecting.   Significantly, the south-central and southwest corners of the yard are on slightly higher ground; although they stay moist throughout the summer, normally they have no standing water.

On to the nature of the disaster:

Please believe me when I tell you that this (below) is my vegetable garden.  DSCF4083Unbelievable, perhaps, but if you read my post on organic gardening where I argue that for me, intervention-free gardening is more about ecosystem management than about the vegetables themselves,  you will have a sense of why you see flowers in this photo, but alas, see no vegetables (sotto voce: they are on the other side of the hedgerow).

Back to the main point:  this vegetable garden is on the northeast side of my yard, the only side with an outdoor spigot, and for many years (until we removed the trees) the only side to receive full sunlight.  Being on high ground, and near the house (I’m taking the photo from the patio) it does not suffer standing water.

I began eyeballing the gorgeous full sun lawn south of the above vegetable bed the day (and I mean The Day) I decided to take those poor trees down.  It quickly became clear that with the removal of the trees, this part of the yard had a hydrology problem, but regrading the rear of the property in order to permanently solve it was, is, and will remain for quite some time,  beyond my means, not to mention beyond my skill-set.  But building raised beds?  Now that is something I know a little bit about.

March 2012, I decided to put that unused, full-sun, Japanese Beetle-generating lawn into healthful ecosystemic relationship with the rest of my garden (ummm… that means I decided to grow vegetables in it).  First, I extended  the no-no-doggy-please-don’t-potty-in-my-vegetable garden fence all the way to the end of the yard, thereby fencing in the flood-prone area that was to become thr new vegetable bed.  I laid down blue tarps and smothered that horrid grass for a whole twelve months. By the time the first spring catalogs arrived (January 3, 2013), I had a plan.  It included three 5′ x 7′ x 1′ boxes (to be installed by March 2013) and three 4′ x 6′ x 1′ boxes to be built and installed March 2014  (in keeping with our budgetary limitations).

DSC_0003This is what one of the finished boxes looks like.  Its mates sit three feet  to the left and three feet to the right on either side.  You can see  what I mean by “standing water” if you look behind the box into my neighbor’s yard.

Next year’s  three boxes will be installed in the photo’s foreground at the foot of the garden fencing.  You can  make it out  better in the photo below.  The standing water you see in the picture is precisely the water problem we are discussing.

DSC_0002Now: The green fence wire  you see in these pictures is what I previously called the, “no-no-doggy-please-don’t-potty-in-my-vegetable-garden fence.  It  normally sits on high ground on the dry side of the flood prone area. Honest it does.  I swear to you.  My gooseberry bed and plum trees are on the opposite side of this fence and believe you me, those don’t have their feet soaking in standing run-off.  In fact, neither do I: I took these photos from my gooseberry patch.   It is wet and squishy (it rained 4 inches in under 48 hours for goodness sake!) but it isn’t under water.

Directly to the east of my damp but happily unflooded gooseberry patch, guess what I saw when I took my doggy outside for his morning constitutional?  Guess what I saw?


One of my newly planted self-pollinating fig-trees drowning in my flooded backyard. Guess who is spitting nails?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Clearly, installing the three raised bed boxes redirected the water run-off  into new channels I had not anticipated.  This was an area of the yard, adjacent to the gooseberries,  that had not flooded previously.  It is now ankle deep in water!  Aaaargh!  Lookit the poor thing!  It is so newly planted I hadn’t even finished mulching it yet!  It can’t have been this deeply under water for more than 48 hours.  If the weather will cooperate, I’ll dig it up and move it — luckily it hasn’t broken dormancy yet — to higher and drier ground.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will dry out and be okay.

Sigh… so.  I’m in for a little trench work.  And I’m in for planting this part of the yard in pussy willows or other happy-to-have-wet-feet natives.

Hrumph.  Maybe cattails.


2 thoughts on “4-18 Sho’ Nuff Garden Disaster!

  1. Margaret Katranides says:

    Cattails are good. And good for you, you’ve created a rain garden–which is the in-thing to do this year. Are you sure, though, that it is the loss of the silver maples that’s responsible for your pond? Could be an unusual weather event?

  2. Sho'Nuff says:

    The silver maples aren’t directly “responsible” for this flood, but the hydrology of the yard definitely changed the year we took the trees down. The preceding 5 years we rarely had standing water, and then only as small, between-the-roots puddles, even during unusual rain events (we had pieces of shattered tree on our heads, roof and cars, instead). Since the trees came down we have had standing water in the same predictable spot, earliest with snow-melt (when there is any), then during spring rains, and of course during flood stage rain events (like now). I may very well put a water feature in that part of the yard… except the darned silver maple roots are still up under the soil there, making digging a nightmare… Maybe I could hire some really big guys in their twenties. I don’t want to work that hard anymore, that’s for sure!

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