PLANTING THE SEPTIC DRAINFIELD

We are jump-starting next year’s house building project by getting the septic system done this fall.

This way we will  have good, thick plant cover by the winter of 2012 when we start using it.  In places like Wisconsin and Minnesota one has to take care to keep good plant cover on the drainfield to avoid freezing.  Good snow cover also helps, but we have no control over that.

All this reshaping the land with heavy equipment is disquieting.  It feels good to know and trust your excavator.  Bruce Lease has brought heavy equipment onto our land to make the drive and dig the foundation for the barn.  He’s intuitive and artistic, although  it would surprise him to hear those words referring to him.  The ground is his canvas, and the backhoe is his brush.

The drawings illustrating drainfieldsare always on flat ground and very straight forward, but to create a level drainfield on the slope near our house site meant wrapping around the curve the hill.  To make sure that water flowing downhill will not pool against the edge of the drainfield, Bruce feathered it into the uphill slope.  That made one of the first level spots on our land.  Previously, the area had been the steeply sloping edge of an oak woods with brushy, brambling understory that was impenetrable.

We had to work in town for several days and missed the creation of the drainfield, but  last Tuesday,  we found Bruce had opened a new view beyond a gentle slope built of the most glorious top soil imaginable.

What to plant on our drainfield?

Trees and deep rooted shrubs are out for obvious reasons.  Nevertheless, we asked Bruce to try and slip in the drainfield without damaging a row of spruce along the lower edge, and he managed.  Typically, spruce roots only grow about 15 feet, and they are at least 20 feet from the drainfield piping.

The common approach around here is to treat a drainfield like lawn —  seed it with grass and mow it.  According to the University of Maryland Extension, when it comes to a septic system, “it is best to only have grass planted above and around the system. Shallow rooted plants, small shrubs, and flowers usually can be safely planted near and above the system.”

To us, this suddenly open area looks like an perfect spot to re-introduce some prairie.

Native wildflowers and grasses are great cover for a drain field. They have fibrous roots which will help hold the soil and take up some moisture from the drain field.

Combining perennial grasses and wildflowers will provide year-round coverage once established.  But prairie plants start very slowly, and we need to get some roots in there fast, so we opted to sow winter rye this fall.  Its roots will grab that ground, and we can get the prairie in when the time is right.

American Gothic revisited

Meanwhile along the top edge, winds along the remaining woods, and we planted a short  fescue to make a walking path.  It’s been interesting to watch the two grass seeds make their start.

We worked nonstop last Tuesday,  prepping the ground, sowing seed and lightly mulching.  We were hoping for rain to kick start the process and got lucky.  It actually started to rain gently as we worked and rained two more days last week.

This Sunday we were greeted with a soft green cover over our new drain field.

We thought placing the drainfield would be the tough part.  It has turned out that getting the septic tank in has been harder.

I’ll write about that next post.

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