A damn fine dam if we do say so

I’ve written here before about our efforts to rebuild the dam that is responsible for the small pond that exists on our land. The pond is worth having; originally a natural depression in the ground, it was dug out some time in the last 20 or so years by the previous owners as they needed a constant source of water for irrigating their crops. Consequently, at its centre it’s easily 15 feet or more deep (we haven’t been able to take a good measure yet).

Pond with handmade dam made of stone-filled cages

All of these shots were taken in November, when my husband and our two boys undertook the latest round of work on strengthening the dam that we started early last year.

When we bought our land, two years ago, the pond had the remnants of a beaver dam. It wasn’t clear to us at the time how long the dam would last, but in less than a year it was obvious that this natural dam was not going to last much longer; with each heavy rain it seemed to erode further. My husband and I knew nothing of maintaining a pond and so set about reading and researching. It was my husband who settled on the idea of wire cages filled with stone and it made a lot of sense: we had lots of leftover page wire fencing material lying around the place, and a lot of loose stones in our woods and relatively near the pond. We had the makings of an almost no-cost solution on our hands, which was attractive both financially and in terms of the recycling we could do. The only new material that we planned to use was a bit of concrete to reinforce the main dam wall.

Handmade dam out of stone and wire cages

Earlier this year we spent a lot of time hauling stones from different parts of our property, including a stone and wood ‘spoil heap’ about 100 feet away from the pond, and creating a stockpile of stones with which we could work. Cage-making was next, and then fitting the cages. By the 1st of May the cages were filled and the water level had been restored, but we knew that we weren’t done. Over time we knew that water would still seep through the porous stone cages and so we waited until the pond’s level was again at an all time low in the late fall (due to a pretty dry season), giving us a dry work area.

In early November I took my leave for the better part of a weekend and had some time with my good friend J and my mum, leaving the menfolk to work on the dam. That weekend they topped up the cages, closed them in along the pond-side with wooden planks and a sturdy old ‘Back Off Government’ sign that used to grace the field in front of our house, and reinforced the front of the dam with concrete.

Stone filled cage for a hand made dam

Early work was also undertaken on building up the banks alongside and behind the dam, which are in need of protecting from water erosion. This part of the project has also been undertaken with stones, but placed freehand, as with fence building. More work will be needed to further reinforce these banks, but we’re off to a good start.

Hand made dam and bank reinforcements made of stones

We’ll need to live with the results of our work on rebuilding our dam for a good few seasons to assess its success, but at the moment, things are looking good. By the end of the fall the pond was brimful once more and any signs of seepage were extremely minor thanks to the concrete reinforcement work undertaken in November. Last week when we took a wander down to the pond during a very cold spell, we stood on the frozen pond and realized that our feet were completely level with the top of the dam. Hurrah!

Longer term, we’d like to stock the pond with fish native to this part of Eastern Ontario, as the pond is fed by two small streams and therefore continually being refreshed (it’s not a nasty stagnant pool, in other words). We have loads of frogs, toads, minnows and other small aquatic creatures, a resident turtle who winters over in the mud at the bottom of the pond, visiting ducks and geese, and at least one heron who calls the pond and its immediate area home, but no significant fish population. This will take more research and learning on our part of we’re to do this properly however. A project for the new year.

Short orders and parting shots

I’m slipping off for a little mini holiday this weekend (ie without my boys) and the price of freedom includes a batch of pancakes for breakfast and four bags of concrete. The concrete is for fortifying our dam, which I’ve written about here before. Actually, I see that my first post was quite comprehensive and then I failed to document the next phase. Well, we’ll just jump ahead to the present day once we see what the three menfolk manage to get done around here this weekend. Their reward tonight is the Battle of Britain on DVD from the local library.

Yesterday I cooked part of lunch (grilled tomatoes) and all of supper (chili) on the woodstove. Photos and an update to come on making meals on the Ironheart shortly.

Today the oldest is charged with taking photos so that hopefully we can document here our progress on the dam for our pond. So, I’ll just make a few parting reminders:

To my oldest: be careful with the camera and don’t forget to do your laundry and clean out the bird’s cage
To my youngest: careful with those heavy rocks and don’t forget to clean out the gerbil’s bedding
To my husband: it’s time you made more bread!

Weekend tallies

We knew there would be a lot of firsts this year and indeed they have been coming in rapid succession. The past two weekends have been hardworking family affairs, but a lot of fun I must say.

Easter weekend was rainy and didn’t have a lot to recommend it weather-wise, but we did manage to complete the dam that we were building for our pond. It’s a great success, the pond is back up to the level we need it at and we’re feeling really pleased. We have a bit of reinforcing to do of the banks adjacent to the dam, to guard against erosion, but it’s otherwise a done deal. I will plan to put up a post about the second phase of dam building as I took another round of photos and I think the whole process was very interesting.

That same weekend we also spent some time clearing out the cattle crossing that our boys use to get under the highway to school (basically a concrete tunnel that a farmer once used to get his cattle across to a field for grazing). It was still thick with ice and also boasted nice muddy deposits and rubbish that has accumulated from the nearby highway. Oldest son dug a channel away from the mouth of the tunnel to get it draining, youngest son and father cleared things out inside the tunnel itself, and I picked up roadside rubbish. Nothing like a quick spring clean.

This weekend was a heck of a lot sunnier and a pleasure to be outside. Tree planting was another item on our list, which might sound crazy to anyone who knows our land – there are a lot of trees here, however we don’t have trees in some key places (such as between our house and the highway, apart from a spindly line of poplars) and we’re lacking in some trees with major presence, particularly in certain areas. Case in point? Our pond has some very nice mature trees near and around it and our woods begin at its southern end, but we felt it was missing that iconic tree, a weeping willow. Through our local municipality we were able to buy five mature trees, including two golden weeping willows, and the first of these went in on the western side of the pond on Saturday. We also got 30 conifer seedlings (Norway Spruce and Colorado Blue Spruce, if I remember correctly – it’s late!) for $1 each! These are about 10 to 12 inches high, as opposed to the 10 to 12 feet high of the five mature decidous trees that we bought for somewhat more. All 30 were planted in an arc of sorts around the front and sides of our house. It’ll take a while till we get to enjoy these, but if even half of them are successful (and we piled in the compost to help them grow in our clay soil), we’ll have transformed the place in a few years’ time. Every year of growth is critical with trees, and I’m really grateful that we could make this bid for the future so inexpensively our first year here. And our boys feel like real Canadians having done some serious tree planting now.

More soon(ish)…

Dam building – part one

We knew that we’d need to rebuild our pond’s dam this year, so a lot of thinking went into how to do this. It was the topic of many a suppertime conversation and my husband put a lot of thinking into it before embarking on building a simple metal cage that will be dropped into the water and filled with stone.

Transporting tools in a wheelbarrow
Heading out with tools and supplies.
Temporary dam for a small pond
This is the temporary dam and a big pipe helping to divert water from the main working area.
Digging mud out from the edges for a new dam
Digging out more mud from the edges. Deciding who was going to dig where was the one contentious part of the outing; this shot makes it look peaceful and productive.
Loading stones into a barrow
A former farm has good piles of leftover wood and things lying around. This pile also contains a lot of larger stones, perfect for the new dam.
Wheelbarrow full of large stones
A load of stone.
Tipping out a load of large stones
Tipping out the stones into a growing pile next to the dam.
Hauling a large stone with a dolly
No child willing to work is left without a job. Younger son could manage a large stone on the dolly.
Stone in the creek
Oops! (I'm pretty sure this was done for effect.)
Hot chocolate made on a wood gasifier
Time to break for hot chocolate made on-site.
Burning holes with a magnifying glass
The boys fit in a bit of paper burning with the magnifying glass during breaktime.
Boats in a stream
A boat and a stream - what more could a child ask for?
Fitting a metal cage for a dam
Trying out the empty cage.

End of part one.

This is a cheap and green project as most of what we’re using to build the dam is recycled stone from our property and old fencing sections for the cage itself. It’s really just family labour. The one purchase that I had to make was for some flexible fencing wire to use as ties on the structure. I knew that I had “arrived” in terms of farm life when I came out of the local farm supply store with a quarter-mile reel of fencing wire. Part two coming soon (if it’ll stop snowing and raining, already!).