Wednesday, January 11, 2012


We have a pond! Well, to be more precise... we have a great big hole in the ground. Someday it will be a pond.

A couple of days ago, we all went out and marked off where the pond was to be placed. It was a real-life example of the Pythagorean Theorem in use.

In fact, as part of our math work that day, the girls figured it out. If a pond is square with all sides being fifty feet, what is the length of the hypotenuse? The answer came to 70.7 feet. So we all went out and marked things using the length of the hypotenuse to make sure the marked off pond space was perfectly square.

Then yesterday a couple of inches of snow fell, the first snow in a long time. This morning was decidedly brisk.

The day started with the arrival of a huge rig driven by a fellow named Gale.

Though Don had peeled back some of the fence along the road so Gale could come in over the pasture, I couldn't figure out how he was going to unload his rig. What he did was detached the front portion of the lowboy and move it out of the way...

...then offload the trackhoe and move it out of the way...

...then re-attach the rig together...

...and move IT out of the way, just in time (since a neighbor drove up in his pickup).

Then Gale drove the trackhoe through the pasture, with Don leading the way to show him where to go.

Big rig!

This is where the pond is to go.

Ready, aim...

Breaking ground, about 8:30 am.

Gale knew exactly what he was doing. In fact, watching him operate that trackhoe was like watching poetry in motion. He started at the deep end and worked his way to the shallow end, piling the dirt on one side. (Another neighbor will come later to get the dirt.)

See that whitish layer? That's hardpan, about 18 inches below the surface. It's why my fruit trees keep dying -- the roots can't punch through that hardpan.

The trackhoe bucket was huge and probably scooped out a cubic yard at a time.

Can you see my shadow as I take pictures?

It was amazing how precise such a big machine can be in the hands of a master -- look how closely Gale aligned the hole with the original boundaries.

The pile of dirt grew and grew.

With about half the hole dug, Gale moved over and started a second pile of dirt.

Then -- get this -- he drove his trackhoe into the pit, back and forth, back and forth, packing the clay-y dirt firm.

Here's Gale, checking out his superb handiwork.

Here's Don, standing next to the bucket...

...and standing next to one of the dirt piles.

And that was it! It took Gale five hours to dig that huge hole. Can you imagine how long it would have taken by hand? He came back through the break where Don had peeled the fence back...

Here's the pit with the twin piles of dirt on either side.

It's important to remember that right now, this isn't a pond. It's a big hole in the ground. There's still lots left to do before it turns into a pond. A neighbor who wants the dirt will come collect it when he has a chance. We have to put guttering on the barn and on one side of the house, then dig a trench to lay pipe to move the roof runoff into the pond. We have to trench an outflow as well.

But without this huge pit, of course, we would never have a pond. Oh, the potential for both usefulness and recreation! The girls plan to swim in the summer and ice skate on it in the winter. We can water the garden and the livestock even if we lose power (since our well pump is electric). A pond will make as much of an improvement on our farm as a barn!


  1. WOW!!! How cool is that, congrats on your lovely new pond

  2. You do realize that you have created a wetlands, right?!? I was gonna put "lol", but considering the other case up in your neck of the woods, maybe it's not so ludicrous.

  3. While you had him there, you should have had him dig a short trench for a couple of fruit trees. Just scoop enough to get past the hardpan and plant your trees!

    We have a catch pond too. The previous owner has two shallow (psuedo) French drains leading to it. In a normal year, it has water all the time. In drought years, it might dry up in the summer but then it makes a great berm for target shooting.

    : )

  4. I am very interested in this process as we hope to have at least one pond in the future. Will you be able to see it from your house? I remember swimming in my uncle's farm pond when we were kids-great memories-except for the snapping turtles!

    1. Thanks for all the photos! I hope you'll keep us updated as the big hole is transformed into a farm pond. It's a great improvement for your property, but I am curious if the pond will create more liability for you. IOW, is it considered a hazard and therefore requires an insurance upgrade? I hope not, but in this litigious society, anything is possible.

      So was there anything interesting in the spoil piles? Any fossils? Artifacts? Old bottles? Anything worth collecting? I see dirt and always think....hmmm, who (or what) was here before me?

      Is a green house next on the wish list? Or a new tractor? LOL

      Congratulations on creating two great new improvements to your property in a short span of time (of course I'm referring to the barn and the pond). Really great additions for your self-sufficient lifestyle.

      Anonymous Patriot

    2. Nothing interesting in the dirt piles, I'm afraid. Just clay-y dirt.

      AFA being a hazard... we'll be fencing the area before we let the cattle into the pasture (can't have cows pooping in the pond), and we're not worried so much about personal liability because there aren't enough people around us to worry about it much.

      - Patrice

  5. Wow, very cool! I'm glad for you. I have a little guy who would have been thrilled to sit and watch that excavator all day, even in the cold!

  6. I love it! I read somewhere that if you fence in the hole and let adult pigs roam on it for 4-6 weeks, their hooves will compact and seal the floor of the pond so you don't get excessive drainage. Apparently this is how it was way-back-when. Apparently the lbs-per-inch of a pigs hoof makes a very effective, albeit small, jackhammer!

  7. I see HossBoss has already posted what I was going to ask

    Could you not get the trackhoe to dig some holes through the hardpan for your fruit trees and backfill them with topsoil from the pond piles?

  8. About that hardpan. Would it help to use a tractor big enough to dig down just like your pond hole and rip up that hardpan in an area big enough to plant a grove of fruit trees? Does hardpan "re harden"? I have no clue what hardpan is, just askin! JanieB

    1. We couldn't bring the trackhoe into the orchard area because it's too big, and we didn't feel like taking down all the garden fences. However we do plan to use an auger to drill some holes through the hardpan and try, once more, to plant fruit trees. If that doesn't work, we'll be limited to just growing small fruits.

      - Patrice

  9. Did your girls use 3,4,5 to square the corners then verify with the calculated hypotenuse?

    1. While 3,4,5 is the most famous example of the Pythagorean Theorem, we just did the following (with the aid of a drawing):

      50 (squared) x 50 (squared) = 2500 + 2500 = 5000

      Square root of 5000 = 70.7

      It was fun marking off the pond and having the girls understand the practical applications.

      - Patrice

  10. It's so nice watching a professional at work, if only by proxy in your, as usual, excellent photographs.

    Modern plant equipment makes you truly appreciate the amount of work that our ancestors routinely undertook. Here, in the North-West of England, almost all field boundaries are dry-stone walls. I can build just over 3 m (just over 9 ft) of wall in a day. There are literally thousands upon thousands of miles of wall here - it beggars belief the labour involved.

    As an aside to your fruit tree problem, have you ever considered grape-vines? They're renowned fro being able to cope with, and even flourish, in geologies such as you have in your area.

    1. In parts of New England, I understand, there are also many miles of drystone walls. We don't have enough rocks here (thank God!) to make such walls. What we do have, though, is heavy clay soil, which is why we're giving up on planting the garden directly in the ground and will switch exclusively to raised beds starting this spring.

      Never thought about grapevines. It's not my favorite fruit, though I do like grape juice. However a reader just sent a recipe for improving clay-y soil once we get past the hardpan, so I intend to give fruit trees another try this spring using his recommendations. We'll auger past the hardpan and go from there.

      - Patrice

  11. Oh, thanks for clearing that up (the pond will be fenced). Around here, you'll see cattle belly deep in ponds cooling off in the summer. I was worried about the cattle getting out of the pond with the steep dropoff!

  12. The hole looks great! We had a pond for a while.....then the rain stopped and the builder poured our basement ;)

    Out of curiosity, why did you choose to move the dirt away, instead of building the pond walls higher? Would that have interferred with the planned runoff angles?

  13. Patrice, I have a 600 tree pecan orchard on top of a hardpan,
    presumably like what you have. I live in Southeastern New Mexico and
    the hardpan I have will not allow water to penetrate through. This
    causes the roots to rot in the stagnate water. When the previous
    owner had to pull a couple of trees, a black, rotted, stinking mess
    came up instead of nice brown dirt-smelling roots. We have both done
    research and found that Sulfur and Phosphoric Acid can be used to
    break up the soil in the hardpan and allow water and root penetration.

    Yesterday I drilled some 5 ft deep holes to get soil samples and did 1
    test drill near where the pulled trees came from. The hole was about
    1 ft from the trunk of the tree and no rotting roots were found.
    Everything looked and smelled just like it should.

    Since I enjoy reading your blog and articles so much, I'll share the
    current custom blend of fertilizer I use on my soil. This blend
    contains elements that are beneficial to the trees and the soil.

    I'm not sure who knows what, so here's some quick info on fertilizer.
    On every bag or container of fertilizer you buy, there is a set of 3
    or 4 numbers somewhere on the label. What does 21-0-0-24 mean? The 4
    number designation used here is N-P-K-S. The N, P, and K are always
    the first three numbers, in that order, in any fertilizer. The fourth
    number can be S, B, Cu, Zn, etc. Remember Chemistry? N=nitrogen,
    P=phosphorus, K=potassium, S=sulfur. The number represents the
    percentage of that element by weight. So, in a 50 lb. bag of
    21-0-0-24, there is 50*.21=10.5 lbs of nitrogen and 12 lbs of sulfur.

    On to the custom blend. This is for a one ton batch, you can scale as needed.
    1,000 lbs. of 46-0-0-0
    500 lbs. of 21-0-0-24
    250 lbs. of 11-52-0-0
    250 lbs. of 0-0-60-0

    Now that you have the blend, what about application rates and timing?
    Last year 300 lbs/acre was applied in early spring, that's mid-March
    for us. I'll skip a bunch of Math and tell you that this equates to
    7.8 lbs per 30ftX30ft area. What do you get for your 7.8 lbs of
    fertilizer? 2.3 lbs N, .5 lbs P, .6 lbs K, .47 lbs S. I also put out
    more nitrogen later in the year just for the trees, but this is the
    only phosphorus and sulfur applications of the year.

    I should also mention that you need to get this watered into the
    ground within an hour or so. The 46-0-0-0 will start to convert to
    an ammonia gas when it comes into contact with the organisms in the
    soil and you will lose your nitrogen to the air. The ammonium
    sulfate 21-0-0-24 will slightly lower the pH of your soil.

    Maybe this'll help, maybe it won't, but if you do try it, would you
    please let me know how it works.

  14. Saw the hoe make short work of the hard pan...thought of the fruit tree problem...which you addressed. Saw the hole...thought of doing a wee bit of additional digging for...oh I don't know...root cellars and the like. Maybe some, er, secure storage. When all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When I see a track hoe I tend to think of the all the nifty things that I'd like to bury.

    Speaking of which, that hoe would make a good conversation piece to have parked outside when Don meets prospective suitors for the first time. He could outline a few Rules for Dating My Daughter as he applies a grease gun to the hoe. Along with an offhand comment such as, "Some days all the hard work around here makes me think fondly of my lazy days in the penitentiary," the girls should be home early.


    Jeff - Tucson