What a wet month January has been. I have measured 100mm of precipitation for January, which includes a few flakes of snow and icy hail, as well as a lot of rain. The vegetable fields are absolutely sodden and once again this week the field team have been harvesting parsnips literally by hand. As each one was pulled from the soil, water instantly filled the empty parsnip-shaped hole!
Our organic fields are mostly on free-draining land, which makes growing vegetables possible, and we do have some land drains in the fields. These are clay pipes 25cm long, laid end-to-end with no connectors, in narrow trenches 10cm wide and 1 meter deep. With the pipes just touching it allows the ingress of water. The pipes are covered with shingle to within 30cm of the surface, which allows the land to drain and the clay pipes carry the excess water from the soil to a ditch at the field edge.
In wet winters it is very satisfying to hear these land drains running, and it is essential to check that they are all flowing and not blocked. Once the rainwater is in the ditches it joins up with the main dykes that flow eastwards towards the North Sea. The water travels through neighbouring farms and onto the Tillingham marshes, which in some areas are a metre below sea level.
On the sea wall around the Dengie peninsula are three Environmental Agency pumping stations that pump the water from the dykes, below sea level, out to sea. These pumping stations all have names that reflect which marsh they drain – Marsh House, Eastlands and Bridgewick. When the pumping stations were first built, Dad would have to phone up the local Environment Agency office and ask them to put the pump on in a wet spell! Now the pumps are activated by an automatic float switch.
The marsh dykes are all full to the underside of the bridges at the moment, and our pumping station is running 24 hours a day, regardless of the sea’s tides.