Category Archives: runoff flooding

And it just keeps coming down!

May was a record month for rain (see previous post) but June and July are no slouches either, with 8.64″ in June and almost 4″ so far in July. Oh and did I mention it was raining today? Since dawn!

In May, I mentioned there was no stopping the water from coming into the house. The rainfall rate onto saturated soils left no other possibility but to run off on the surface. So yes, it got in the house. The dining room floor flooded in one corner and it would have been worse if I hadn’t been actively sopping it up as it flowed in. Peter attempted to control the flooding in his office with the Shopvac, but the water managed to make in under the wall and soak the hallway carpeting. There was no damage to my cork flooring, but water did seep under the vapor barrier and got into my studio closet. And of course the rain seeped under the wall in our bedroom and closet.  It took most of a week after the Memorial Day Weekend rain to dry out the carpeting. That was with all fans going full blast, using the Shopvac to suck up as much water out of the carpet under padding, and using the air conditioning to lower the indoor humidity to give the evaporating water some place to go.
Outdoors, was another problem. The front yard was a swamp. It took two weeks for the water to drain away, then we got another eight inches of rain. By the time the front yard had finally drained enough to mow, the grass was eighteen inches high, but I must say, it’s quite lush.





So while our front lawn is a gorgeous lush lawn (with hidden trenches that’ll break your ankle if you’re not careful)…








The back yard is a delta of sand six inches deep. Every time it rains enough to get a river flowing through the back yard, I have to dig out the chicken door.





When we heard tropical storm Bill was headed our way back in June, we decided to take steps and bought self-filling sandbags. And it worked! The last rainfall we had, a drain got plugged up from debris and water ran over the back porch. Usually when that happens Peter’s office floods. This time, not a drop came in the house. I remain cautiously optimistic that all the rain forecast for this week will also stay outside our walls.

Evolution of a Solution

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know we’ve been periodically plagued with flood water. We know the source: runoff from our uphill neighbor’s driveway. We know how it gets to the house: an underground network of gopher tunnels. The solution to the problem had been eluding us. At first, I tried digging contoured swales to catch the runoff and disperse it. That worked until the gophers undercut the swales. We had trenches dug in the backyard to divert the flow from the “gopher fountains”, but between rainfalls, the gophers industriously filled in the trenches. I had been testing gopher barriers around my vegetable gardens, and found 30 mil plastic was an effective barrier. The evolution of a solution has led me to dig an 18 inch deep trench lined with the plastic barrier. This keeps the gopher tunnels at 15 feet away from the South side of the house and eight feet away from the East side. The gophers weren’t happy about it.

Every morning during the digging phase, I would check the trench and the gophers, probably just one, will have tried to back fill the trench (the fluffy soil pushed into the trench at left). Their efforts told me three things. First that the animal in question was outside the area I was trying to protect (good start). Second, that my trench was deep enough, since all the gopher holes were six inches to twelve inches below the surface. And third, gophers don’t like to dig in heavy clay, which is a significant portion of the back yard subsoil. The clay subsoil also explained why the back yard would get soupy during a saturating rainfall. The light sandy loam would float atop an essentially impenetrable clay layer. It’s not pure clay, thankfully, and if kept from compacting, will drain eventually.

With the house now, hopefully, protected, I need to do something with the space. This first garden will be home to my blueberry plants. Because blueberries need acid soils, and our soil is essentially neutral or slightly acid, it’s necessary to dig out most of the native soil, loosen up the clay subsoil and refill the bed with peat moss, compost, elemental sulfur, and carefully screened native soil, making sure all the Bermuda grass is removed. Curse that Bermuda grass! I hope it hates acid soils.

I know it seems like a lot of work to go through to grow a few blueberry bushes, but darn it, I love blueberries. I’ve nurtured these four plants all through the summer in test soil, protected from deer browse, where they seem to thrive with the occasional shot of worm casting tea. The new bed, which of course will be protected from deer as well, should be large enough for an additional four plants. That should yield, at maturity, eight to ten quarts of berries per plant. Potentially 256 cups of blueberries per year, enough for me and some to sell.

Once the blueberry plants are safely settled into their new home, I’ll have space to build four more gardens in the protected zone, doubling my growing space and creating a nice kitchen garden for herbs, greens, potatoes, etc. Right now, the only thing left in my formerly lovely garden, is a rosemary bush. Everything else, except for a lemon thyme plant that I’ve transferred to a pot during this transition phase, was eaten by a gopher, including a three year old chive plant and the last of my perennial green onions. I was able to salvage a few bronze fennel seedlings, but the original plant is gone. Once those gophers find a good source of food, they’re persistent. The same can be said for the deer.

I’d be working on the gardens right now if weren’t forty degrees outside with wind chills in the twenties. So I thought I’d tell you about my plans, while I sit by a cozy fire, daydreaming of produce to come. Mmmm, bluuuueberries!

Where did October go?

I can’t believe we’re into November already. October was a rainy, cool month. Good weather to gather more firewood. We had left a lot of the wood for the neighbors, but nobody bothered to gather all the firewood left in the right of way, so I set out and gathered a total of five truck loads, three loads in the foreground of the picture, plus a rick of seasoned oak from a local store (background on the left). I can’t quite fit a full rick in my truck bed because of the tonneau cover, so Peter picked up the remnants in the Subaru wagon.

D’Argo spent much of the month hunting and finally had a dead gopher to show for it. I think he cornered it up against the weed barrier surrounding my gardens. He was pretty proud of himself. I’m still not sure how he killed it, an examination of the body showed no wounds. D’Argo was obviously working obsessively to catch his prey because he was plastered with red dirt and sand burs, one of which was wedged into his skin just under his eye. It’s unfortunate that his reward for doing what he believes is his purpose in life, was a bath.

Because the weather turned quite cool and was hovering around freezing, I decided to harvest my sweet potatoes. What a strange bunch of roots. A lot of them are quite big and round. I haven’t tasted them yet, they’re still curing in the garage.
My potatoes in the back garden started resprouting but the deer have been careful to eat each shoot. Grrr. I’ll be glad when I finished the refurbishing of those gardens so they’ll have the same protection as the front gardens.

My biggest goal for the month of October was to finish processing and sorting all my salvaged wood and to store it properly, the secondary goal was to clean the garage and organize it enough so that Peter could bring the car inside during the winter. When I finished removing all the nails from the wood, the piles of material were a little daunting. The picture doesn’t even include all of D’Argo’s agility equipment!

The first thing I did was build a wood rack at the back of the garage. The plans called for a fifth shelf but I didn’t want to interfere with car parking and I wanted a wider gap for storing plywood pieces. It took most of a week to build but it’s definitely sturdy. The previous homeowner had kindly left nails sticking out of every stud (I don’t know why), so it made anchoring the frame considerably easier.

Once the wood rack was built and all the wood stacked I set about organizing the rest of the wall so that almost everything was off the floor. All the agility jumps, the ladders, the tunnel and chute, even my conduit bending jig, have hangers on the wall. The gap where the plywood is leaning is the space for the agility a-frame and pause table (which is what the piece of plywood is for). We even hung a rubber ball that drops down when the garage door opens so that Peter won’t accidentally bump any equipment or the table saw.

Towards the end of the month we had a really heavy rainfall, 2.5 inches in about an hour. The soil was already fairly moist from all the previous rain. Predictably, with such a heavy downpour, we had gopher fountains popping up in the back yard. The water had nowhere to go, so, yet again, it flooded our house. We were out in the storm at 7 AM, before dawn, trying to divert the flow, but it still managed to seep over the slab into Peter’s office, a little in the kitchen and a corner of my studio. Luckily, we had removed the carpeting in Peter’s office a couple of years ago and hadn’t gotten around to replacing it. Still, it took most of the day to clean up and the carpeting in my studio was still damp the next day. The swales in the front and east side of the house worked just as designed and kept water flowing away from the house, unfortunately the gophers had undermined the swales in the back and we ended up with five fountains. November will be dedicated to finishing the back garden refurbishing which will prevent gophers from tunneling close to the house and create a protective terrace to divert runoff. Eventually I’ll need to deal with the source of the runoff, but that’s for another season.

My last project of the month was to complete D’Ago’s agility a-frame. This has GOT to be his favorite agility obstacle, although the walkway comes very close. He loves to sit on top of it, the king of the hill. The last obstacle I need to build is the pause table, which I started today. Then we’ll have the complete set of standard agility obstacles to practice on.

Gopher strangler

In Arkansas, we’d occasionally hear the expression “toad strangler” to describe a really heavy rainfall. Well the rain we had last Sunday morning, the “remnants” of tropical storm Erin, was a gopher strangler, literally.

While I was deepening the trenches in the backyard to divert the flow of runoff, Peter checked on the front of the house. The entire front yard was inundated and flowing towards the pond. In that flow, just a few feet out from the house, Peter found a gopher floating by, nose just barely out of the water. Being kind hearted, he carefully scooped the critter up with the shovel and laid it on a dry patch of the front porch.

wet rat

Once we were confident we had the flow under control we went to check on the gopher and found this wet shivering creature. I carefully wrapped it in a towel to keep the wind off it and dry some of its fur. I could feel it shivering through the towel. There wasn’t much more we could do for it, so we left it wrapped in the towel out of the wind on the porch.

Our neighbors showed up later with fans to help dry out the carpets and we checked on the gopher. It was having a grand old time chewing holes in the towel, and it looked much better. I must point out that I’m not sure this Plains Pocket-Gopher is full grown.


We left it to its chewing, and within an hour it was gone, leaving the chewed up towel as evidence, sacrificed for a humane cause.