“Always floods, does that part of the site” they said when I took it on.
When I first took on this plot, I hadn’t yet seen any significant rainfall. For a long time, we were desperate for it – it was an unusually dry summer.
The centre of the site had been unused for some time. When the site was first opened, a few people took up plots there but within months felt they couldn’t deal with the foot-high water that would stand for weeks on end. Understandably, those people all asked for plots elsewhere on the site. While some gave up altogether, a few that did relocate have remained. It’s those people that warned me about the water.
The central area, which measures maybe 800sqm, lay unused until this Autumn when I took on a chunk of it.
Truth is, the warnings didn’t worry me a great deal. Partly because a large pond had just been dug which would greatly help, and partly because it’s an issue I’ve faced – and fixed – before. My very first plot was on heavy clay, and the bottom half, in particular, would get heavily flooded after a downpour. Over a 12 month period, I broke up the ground, worked in some fresh compost, and most critically, added a lot of woodchip. By the end of my tenancy, even the most prolonged rainfall wouldn’t leave behind any standing water.
While the soil on my new plot is very different – barely any clay at all – I was confident I’d be able to overcome any issues. I had hoped that by this stage the beds would be in and the woodchip down. Unfortunately, a mix of weather and work commitments has slowed down progress. The addition of school plays and fairs in the last week has also kept me away from the plot more than I’d like, together with my still-dodgy knee which currently means I need to drive there or risk being stranded and unable to walk.
An almighty downpour
Towards the end of the week, the weather really turned. It brought with it a great deal of rain – more than I can recall for quite a while. Heavy winds accompanied it. After witnessing my own back garden under several inches of water, which is not common at all, I knew I’d have to visit the plot to see how it faired.
I was greeted with a sight that was disheartening, but not entirely unexpected.
The wind had battered some of the raised timber that was waiting to be placed (as all of it is), knocking most to the ground and leaving a lot in standing water. The heavy rain, as expected, left a lot of standing water. The pond, which holds maybe 200,000 litres of water (based on it being 2m deep, 10m long and wide – which is roughly correct with the naked eye), was full and overflowing into my temporary drainage channel. That, in turn, was then spilling out on the plot itself, leaving a number of small ponds of standing water.
Why this doesn’t concern me
There are two ‘sides’ to the plot, separated by the drainage channel. The left-hand side, where I’ve got the polytunnel and have been assembling the timber, was flooded. The other side, on which I’ve prepared the ground but hasn’t really been walked on since had no visible standing water at all. Furthermore, as I plan to add a small ‘decorative’ pond at the end of the drainage ditch (in front of where the greenhouse will go) – this had only been tentatively marked. As, at this stage, I was only roughly aware of where the pond would be, I’d only dug down a few inches – and it wasn’t ‘banked’ to the left side. As a result, the overflowing ditch led to my shallow pond, which naturally led onto the left-hand side of the plot.
I returned a day later and found that aside from a few small puddles, most of the standing water has naturally soaked itself in, though both the pond and ditch remained full. That in itself is much better than the experience I had with my first plot, which took weeks before the water drained off.
So, I remain confident that flooding won’t be a long-term problem once everything is done. I will, however, make some minor adjustments. I’ll dig the drainage ditch a little deeper than it currently is. As I need to re-dig this to change its position, this isn’t a huge additional task anyway. Furthermore, I’ll add a small ‘shelf’ at the end before it leads into the pond. Currently, the ditch starts filling when the pond is around 50cm full from the top. I’ll reduce that down to around 10cm.
My ‘decorative’ pond was originally only going to be around a foot deep. However, I may need to either dig this deeper and leave it unlined or have this overflow into the ditch somehow. Leaving it unlined would help the drainage, but it wouldn’t be very ‘decorative’ if it was empty for half the year. I suspect I’ll likely leave it relatively shallow and have it overflow into the ditch.
What else should we be doing?
As a site without mains water, we really struggled this year. Each day we were faced with carting hundreds of litres of water to our plots. We do have 4 large IBC containers that are periodically filled with water from the other pond on site, but when that ran dry we were left with bringing our own. Surprisingly, very few plot holders have water butts in place – something I’ll definitely be investing in.
I’ve never seen it as yet, but I understand the site has a significant water pump that is used to fill those containers with the pond water. It would seem logical to me that this is done at a point where the ponds are at risk of overflowing. However, I am conscious of the fact that even filling all 4 is only 4,000 litres and wouldn’t make a huge dent in the ponds. Furthermore, I expect at this time of year it’s not quite so easy to get people on site to help – especially in the weather we have at the moment.
Aside from inspecting the plot and removing timber from standing water, I haven’t had the chance to do much else this week. My hope of getting all the timber in place by Christmas is fading fast!
Founder and Editor, ForkMojo. Organic Allotmenteer, Husband, Father & Programmer.