PHOTO: Daniel Johnson
April 18, 2017

Although we all eagerly anticipate the arrival of spring each year, we know that the transition from snow to dry ground comes with a price, and that price is an in-between “wet ground” stage known as mud. In fact, I’m writing this one day after an April snowstorm dumped 8 inches of snow on wet ground that had previously been inundated by heavy rain and a hailstorm. Needless to say, there’s going to be some mud!

And while mud is an expected side effect of the spring thaw, that doesn’t mean that we have to stand aside and let mud puddles take shape in inconvenient locations. It’s one thing for the lowland fields to be muddy at a time of year when they’re not in use; it’s another thing for every path and driveway to be flooded with water.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to wage war against the mud, and one of the simplest is to dig drainage ditches. These channels, which don’t necessarily have to be large or permanent, are designed to provide an outlet for puddles of water to drain to a more appropriate—and less troublesome—location.

In theory, the project is simple: Wafter will always flow downhill, so if you can dig a slightly downhill ditch leading to a low area away from a puddle, the puddle will drain on its own with no further effort on your part. The tricky part is actually digging such a downhill ditch because water tends to gather in areas where the ground is low already, and creating a drainage area that is even lower may or may not be possible.

All you need are a few digging tools, such as a spade or digging shovel and perhaps a digging bar for tougher ground. Rubber boots will also be useful—after all, you’re working around a puddle!— and I personally advise wearing safety goggles if digging in hard or rocky ground. You never know when a piece of rock might chip off and fly toward you.

Personally, I find the challenge of digging drainage ditches to be rather enjoyable; I may have inherited this from my grandfather, as he was also fond of such projects and would create very elaborate channels and ditches for draining puddles. If you want to get fancy, you can consider installing permanent drainage pipes in places where mud puddles are an annual occurrence. This is certainly more involved—for example, you might have to dig a trench big enough for a downhill pipe, and then bury the pipe while keeping the ends free of obstructions and debris—but this can be a more long-term solution for eliminating troublesome puddles. My grandfather put one in place years ago on this farm, and it kept our driveway clear of puddles for ages.

The best part is that this project helps drain annoying puddles and speeds up the arrival of dry ground. What could be better than that?

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