As many of our families look forward to expanding their gardens this year, we are faced with two major challenges: water and pest control. Some of our gardens wilted with the July heat last year. But we are even more conscious of the dramatic changes in drainage in our watershed as “100 year” floods seem to come through every couple of years. We face the immediate concerns of placing our gardens outside the danger of being flooded. But we are even more concerned about the residue left in our soil by floods in the past several years.
In April of 2011 we had one of those “100 year” floods with Big Ugly Creek overflowing its banks and, at the forks of the Creek taking out homes for the first time in decades. Smaller floods of tributary streams, washing down rocks the size of footballs caused further damage.
While our watershed lies on the other side of one of the mountaintop removal mines in the state, very little of the drainage comes from that site as one knob at the head of a small hollow is the only place that the mine has spread to tributaries that flow directly to Big Ugly Creek. But the last decade has seen the drilling of a dozen gas wells along the Creek and the first major timbering in 50 years. Gravel from those access roads has persistently washed into the Creek, altering its course and increasing the runoff in heavy storms.
Our big concern is the residue from those floods—engine oil, antifreeze—in the last flood a number of vehicles on people’s property were overtaken by the waters. As part of their after school service activity our teens test the creek water on a regular basis.
We invited someone from the Department of Environmental Protection to our last spring festival to advise families on how to test for and work toward stream health. Creating small eddies helps correct the flow of the creek altered by the access road runoff. It also creates habitat for a range of aquatic life that actually help clean up the creek and increase its value for irrigating our crops.
Finally, we have poked around for advice on what to do with flooded ground. We are going to test the soil for any new garden areas of course, and we plan to be cautious and wait another year to put root crops anywhere that was overrun in 2011.
Which leaves us with practical problem solving for dry weather. A number of families are going to try rain barrels. We are also trying a tip from Mother Earth News to deal with the problem of water running off the surface and not soaking the roots in especially dry weather. The magazine’s watering tip is to bury half gallon milk and orange juice jugs, punctured along the sides, when you plant your seeds or transplant. (Just the top of the jugs show above the surface.) Those can be filled with water in dry weather and the water will gradually drain watering the roots.
Any other watering tips out there from our Grow Appalachia friends? We are looking forward to experimenting during year two of our project.