July 24, 2018

Goat Barn and Garden: Killing Two Birds With One Stone

In my "Goat Barns: Delays and Discoveries" blog post, I showed you how Dan dealt with a massive amount of rain runoff that was finding it's way into the soon-to-be-completed goat barn. Subsequent rainfall proved its effectiveness, but Dan wasn't satisfied with this:

Drainage pipe in front of the goat barn to resolve rainwater runoff problems.

This is the drain pipe in back of the barn. It's protected by an overhang which will serve as the goats' loafing area. However, Dan wasn't sure the pipe was buried deep enough, considering that goats and us will be constantly walking over it. Probably wouldn't be a problem, but neither were we looking for a future "why didn't I ...?" moment.

So he dug it up and buried it deeper. Satisfied with that, he wanted to build up the ground on top of the pipe and gently slope it away from the barn. But with what? Folks used to give away fill dirt for free, but apparently not anymore. We really didn't want to buy dirt, so we brainstormed: Gravel? Sand? Concrete? We really didn't want to buy those either.

"How about clay?" I suggested, because our subsoil is southern red clay.
"But from where?" he asked.We'd have to dig at least 6 inches to get it.
"I've got just the place," I said, because I've been wanted to build more hugelkultur swales in the garden.

So far I've dug three swales in the garden. One at the top of the garden, and two that became beds. Plantings in those two beds have really done well during our dry spells and require less watering. My goal is to convert the entire garden to permanent raised hugelkultur swale beds.

Our brown sandy loam topsoil doesn't hold water, but our red clay subsoil does. With our garden is on a gentle slope, rain runs right through the topsoil, hits the clay, and drains out down the hill. By digging swales into the clay and filling them with organic matter, I can capture and retain some of that rainwater.

Why hugelkultur swales work for me.
Read more at, "Double Digging for Rainwater Collection."

When I dig the swales I save the topsoil to mix with compost, but I don't need all that clay. When Dan needed filler for the drainage pipe I thought the clay would be a good option. I had just the spot picked out.

Double digging to create a hugelkultur swale.
Brown topsoil is about a shovel's spade deep, so I dug another
shovel depth into the clay to collect and hold rain runoff.

That's the earthworks part, the next step is the hugelkultur part. The bottom of the swale, the part dug in the clay, is filled with anything that will hold moisture and decompose slowly: logs, large branches, wood chips, corn cobs and stalks, and wood scraps from barn building.

We mill our own lumber so it isn't treated, and I feel comfortable adding it to the soil. The pile had been sitting there so long that the wood scraps on the bottom looked like this -

Mycorrhizal fungi on home-milled lumber scraps.
Mycorrhizal Fungi

Mycorrhizal fungi had already grown on the wood scraps and were making new soil. I hope it transplants well in my bed!

I used soil to fill in the cracks and crevices until the clay layer of the bed was filled.

Creating a hugelkultur bed to retain rain runoff.
The tufts of green alongside the bed are wiregrass aka Bermuda.

The top layer is topsoil mixed with compost and mulched with leaves.

Hugelkultur swale bed complete and mulched with leaves.
Those are sweet potatoes in the bed on the right, melons on the left.

The next step will be to build a border around the bed. Over time we'll build the soil up with more mulch and compost. 

And Dan's project? The clay was perfect for the task.

Rehoming the clay to reshape the slope under the goat barn overhang.
When it's damp, our red clay is easy to form and shape.

Packed red clay under the goat barn overhang.
Packed down it will dry hard and solve several problems.

The clay worked perfectly, and I have to say it's a good feeling to use our own resources. Best of all, we got two important jobs done.


Gorges Smythe said...

That's using your noggin! - lol

tpals said...

What a massive job! But how good you must feel to have accomplished both projects so efficiently and frugally.

Pioneer Woman at Heart said...

I agree, using your own resources is the best. Nice job!

Kris said...

Yep, ya gotta love 2-fer projects - 2ce as satisfying as 1-fers. LOL Great results on both, Leigh. Next rain you'll be shedding it at the barn but catching it in the garden. Have your umbrellas handy. :-D

Leigh said...

Gorges, it's amazing when that happens! LOL

tpals, yes a huge job but I was so glad for something to do with the clay. Wheelbarrows and wheelbarrows full of it get to be a bit of a nuisance to dispose of. I've built up some areas, but this was the best idea yet.

Kristina, funny how it sometimes takes awhile to figure that out!

Kris, that's exactly what Dan is working on now, guttering and rain catchment. With all the rain we've been having, we should be able to catch some soon!

Ed said...

Swales are something I have no experience with but they look like the thing to do.

Clay is a great material and something we have a lot of too. But if moisture gets blown in with the wind, it will be like a skating rink on top until the moisture evaporates, at least with our Edina Clay.

Mama Pea said...

Great solution! But I'm thinking, as others have commented, about the slickness of the clay slanted approach if it gets wet. Or will the overhang (covering above) be such that it will never get that much moisture on it? Not only would it be a bit dangerous for you and Dan to walk back and forth on but there's the chance a goat could slip on it, too. Plus, I know how clay can cling to the bottom of work shoes or boots! Do you have enough small gravel around that you could cover the slope with?

deb harvey said...

a future i-wish-i-had moment comes after 1] you have sprained something and cannot fix the problem, 2] you have reached the age of 70 and have to call in outside {$$$} help, 3] the tail end of an errant hurricane brings the entire atlantic ocean to your formerly snug homestead.

i also wonder about the slippery effect of wet clay.

is that red clay good for brick making?
you can see roy underhill kneading the clay with his feet to make bricks in a video.
your next hobby!!

Leigh said...

Ed, Mama Pea, and Deborah, ya'll are thinking along the same line. We have had several inches of rain since Dan finished it, but the clay only got wet under the edges under the overhang roof and washed away a bit. That roof is important to keep the area dry because what really gets slippery and mucky when its wet is manure! Now, if an Atlantic hurricane dumps a goodly portion of the ocean on us, that will be the least of our worries! What will actually happen is that it will be covered with straw as an extension of bedding from the barn.

Goatldi said...

I was also thinking about color change. We have red soil here as well. With rain I have red tinged Great Pryrenees . You may have some colorful goats.

But most certainly a good choice for the project to stand the test of time. And except sweat equity no cost! Good job Dan and Leigh.

Mrs Shoes said...

It looks really pretty too. Which is never a bad thing.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Well done, well thought out, and congratulations!

Leigh said...

Deborah, I have no idea about the clay and brick making! If I ever get too much of it from digging my garden beds, I'll check out Roy's video. Always liked his show. :)

Goatldi, we get that every now and then too. The other thing we get (especially on the cats) is sparkles. Really, there is mica in our topsoil so it gives a sparkly effect to the fur! Dan did mention he was thinking of sprinkling powered cement over the entire floor there, but he hasn't done it yet. We usually get quite a bit of bedding tracked out the door, which will probably cover quite a bit of it.

Mrs. Shoes, thanks! I agree about pretty!

TB, thanks! It's another step toward getting it done. Looking forward to that. :)

Sam I Am...... said...

You two are amazing and how you work in the heat is also amazing...I can't take the heat. The fact that you have done so much even with Bermuda grass there is practically a miracle!

Susan said...

What a team! I have seen hugelkultur in action at a friend's farm and it works wonderfully.

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

You are so smart! Hugelkultur sounds like the way to go for yous! Nancy

M.K. said...

Excellent work! That looks great.

Leigh said...

Sam, mostly I try to work in the mornings or the shade! Not using air conditioning really helps, because it isn't a shock to the system every time we go outside. And even though our house would feel too warm to most, it's a nice cooling contrast compared to outside.

Susan, that's good to hear! Anything to improve our soil and its ability to retain moisture.

Nancy, I'm sure it's not for everybody, but it really helps our garden!

M.K., thanks!

Goatldi said...

Love the thought of sparkling cats. I don't know what is in our soil as we have not had it analyzed but I know we have a touch of Lyme in our water.