permaculture of the ditch

Christopher Healy gulftangofox at
Wed Aug 11 14:58:23 EDT 2010

Hiya:  Used to work for DOT several years ago.  Generally herbicides are
rarely used anymore.  It got to be too expensive.  Of course every county is
a resident engineer's war lord district.  But things are slowly changing.
The last time I saw one of the workers use an herbicide was around 15 years
ago when he tried to apply roundup to an elm sapling stump.  I managed to
stop him.  I also used to live near Lake George on a county road.  We had a
drainage ditch in front too.  Sometimes it would flood out.  I don't know if
you can stop the mowing.  Some engineers are more receptive than others.  By
contrast, I blew a whistle on this county's engineer for creating a toxic
dump in the wooded median of I-87 just north of exit 23.  He was forced to
resign.  We planted locally found hardy flowers in the ditch.  Any extra
herbs and plants we thought would make it were tossed in too.  On the border
of the property we put a row of Autumn Olive and Caragana.  Caragana
provides food for birds fixes N2 is attractive while Autumn Olive provides
quick shade, and places for birds to hide and nest.  In front of that, on
the state's side we put day lilys, and other flowers.  Keep in mind that the
state "owns" 25 feet off the center line of the road.  Every few years they
will come by with a gradall and scoop out the erosion debris and the sand
they spread on the road in winter.  They would probably give you the dirt if
you ask the crew foreman.  They like ice tea too, and many of them garden.
They also know all the nooks and crannies of the county and can tell you
things like where all the springs are and any old abandoned farms where
plant treasures can be found.  So don't put anything in that ditch you can
not part with.  The crews also cut down leaners, any tree they determine to
be a threat to traffic. They will give you the chips if you want them, or
they will even buck the trees up into stove lengths if you want.  Chips to
me equals mushrooms to eat.  .I don't know how long the salt stays in the
dirt, probably not long as it dissolves in precipitation and run off
On Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 4:47 PM, Simon St.Laurent <simonstl at>wrote:

> I'm wondering if there are visible and perhaps useful things we can do with
> the edges of property most exposed to the public.  This list is usually a
> little more meta than that, but I wonder...
> In a hot year when we planned to do very little gardening (we had a newborn
> and have a two-year-old), I've found myself doing lots of work between 6:00
> and 8:00am.  Even more to my surprise, I've been doing a lot of that work
> near the road in front of my house, Route 366.
> I have a short hill (10'?) sloping down to a ditch before the road.  The
> state DOT mows from the road into the ditch once or twice a year, and that
> area also gets lots of salt and salt spray in winter.  Occasionally the
> state scrapes out the ditch, though they've skipped my stretch for a while.
>  There's also the unfortunate regular appearance of pollutants, from oil and
> gasoline to antifreeze and litter - even occasionally concrete if a truck
> has to stop there for some reason.
> Josh Dolan and I refrained from planting food crops on the hillside, though
> some elderberries have appeared and I'm content to leave them there.  I'm
> mostly doing decorative shade garden work (and poison ivy removal) on the
> hill, though the Edible Forest Garden has been a helpful guide even for
> that.
> My hard question is the side of the ditch that goes to the road.  Cars
> don't get much of an impression, apart from the whiskey barrel of impatiens
> the Varna Community Association put there, but pedestrians certainly see it,
> and I'd like to create some kind of reward for their patience in walking
> that stretch.
> Are there plants more appealing and perhaps productive than goldenrods,
> ragweed, teasel, and garlic mustard that currently survive in that
> environment?  Are there examples of work people have already done that I
> could consider for inspiration?
> I'm not looking for serious design here, just a rough idea of whether this
> is possible enough to be worth investing some time.  I'm happy to
> experiment, and share the results.
> Thanks,
> --
> Simon St.Laurent
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Christopher- Robin Healy
Cloudburst Cultivated Ecology
Sustainable Design and Teaching and Tutoring - Permaculture
(518) 683-0209
gulftangofox at
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