Digging A Trench – My Summertime Excavation Elation, Part 1


The Lead Up To Digging A TrenchNoah's Ark - animals 2 by 2

Rain, Rain – Go Away.  Come Again Some Other Day.  It has rained for 40 days and 40 nights!  Heck, the animals are starting to pair up it’s been raining so much.  Get it?  Noah’s ark – animals 2 by 2?  Oh well, maybe Naamah, Noah’s wife, would understand my bizarre banter.  In those biblical days, digging a trench wasn’t an option – but, it is now!

It probably wasn’t really raining THAT hard – but, it sure seemed like it!  A rushing river rapids quickly formed and began cascading down the hill in my backyard – emptying into the left side of my beautiful garden.  My plants were drowning – some were actually floating away in one of the most torrential downpours we’ve had in a couple of years!

My first thoughts?  I gotta do somethin’!  But, what can I do to save the veggies that I worked so long and hard to nurture and protect?


Enter – The French Drain

After a long and arduous period of research, I settled on installing a French drain.  It turns out that this is one of the most common ways to eliminate – or, at least minimize – the debilitating effects of Mother Nature – when the bottom falls out of the sky.

A French drain also goes by other names: weeping tile, trench drain, filter drain, perimeter drain, agricultural ditch, French ditch – to name a few.

But, it basically consists of digging a trench deep enough and wide enough to accommodate either a perforated or slotted polyethylene plastic pipe wrapped in a type of landscape fabric that is specially made for this application.  The fabric keeps dirt, debris, and roots from invading the interior of the pipe and, eventually blocking the flow of drain water.


Time To Dig

So, now, I begin chopping a channel to China – shoveling out soil – exhuming the earth – trimming the trough – in other words, I become a ditch digger – at my age of all things!

I wanted to install a perforated or slotted pipe 4 inches in diameter, into a trench that is 12 inches deep, 12 inches wide, and 100 feet long!  One hundred feet long!  Now, that’s a long way to dig – don’t you know?

Getting started, I made sure to determine exactly where the rainwater rapids began at the top of the slope in my yard – then, I started digging.6" NDS Speed-D Catch Basin & Grate - Single Outlet

The first several feet were a little deeper and wider so that my 6 inch diameter catch basin had a comfortable place to sit.  Then, it was shovelful by shovelful – inch by inch – all along my fence – 100 feet until I reached my wooded area behind the garden.

Whew!  All done.


Plant The PipeADVANCED DRAINAGE SYSTEMS 4010100 4" x 100' Slot Drain Tube

The best pipe to use is either perforated – with holes punched throughout the pipe – or, slotted – with one long open gash along the entire length of the pipe.

I used the perforated pipe because I didn’t have to worry about which side should be on the down side.  But, either type will work equally as well.  The key here is, if you use the slotted pipe, make sure the slotted portion is placed down – on the bottom side – so that water flowing through the pipe can easily drain into the soil.

Flex-Drain 52012 Flexible/Expandable Landscaping Drain Pipe, Perforated, 4-Inch by 50-FeetFlexible Elbow Corrugated Landscaping Pipe Connector, Connects to 3-Inch and 4-Inch PipeADVANCED DRAINAGE SYSTEMS 0420HA 4" x 100' Drain Sleeve






The flex drain pipe I purchased was 50 feet long – I bought 2 of them.  To be able to string it out the length of the trench, I tied one end to my fence and rolled it out – straightening it as I went.  I connected the two 50 foot sections with a flexible elbow pipe connector.

Then, I sleeved the pipe with trench wrap and placed it in the trench that I had already lined with 15 bags of gravel – about one and-a-half bags per each 10 foot section of the 100 feet length of the trench.  After adding another 15 bags of gravel around the sides and top of the sleeved pipe, it was time to start shoveling dirt back into the trench to bury the pipe.

Jim's 100 feet long trench.



Trench sign










Here’s a picture showing the 100 feet length of the trench.  I almost need my binoculars to see the other end!  The pipe is in place, along with its trench wrap sleeve.

Catch basin drainCatch basin drain connected to perforated pipe.









It’s hard to see in the picture of the catch basin drain – but, I took the time to tape the grate to keep the dirt out of the catch basin.  I’ll get enough dirt and sludge after a gargantuan rain storm – I don’t need to add more to it.

You can also buy this pipe already sleeved but, the sleeving material was not as good a quality as the trench wrap sleeve I purchased separately – and, I wanted to guarantee that the pipe would be protected until the end of time!

Flex-Drain 52003 Flexible/Expandable Landscaping Drain Pipe, Perforated with Filter Sock, 4-Inch by 50-Feet
Flex-Drain 50 feet
Flex-Drain 51510 Flexible/Expandable Landscaping Drain Pipe, Perforated with Filter Sock, 4-Inch by 25-Feet
Flex-Drain 25 feet










The sleeved flex drain pipe comes in two sizes – 25 foot long – and, 50 foot long.

I did my best to tamp down all the soil I shoveled back into the trench – to make sure I added more than enough to allow some shrinkage and sinkage due to the loose ground settling over time and through additional showers.

Catch basin buriedCatch basin and perforated pipe buried.







I’ve finished filling about 60% of the trench with dirt.  Take a peek at the first 10 feet around the drain.  Looks pretty good, huh?  Remember what you see here – because bad news is coming…

Oh what fun!

The total cost for the trench project came in at around $250 – which included the 30 bags of gravel – about $2.50 per linear foot.

The weather report called for more rain so I hurriedly tried to get as much dirt back into the trench as I could before Mother Nature took over – again!


The Next DayRaining cats and dogs.

The rain came down in buckets.  As they say, it was raining cats and dogs!  I was afraid that I would have to break out my canoe to navigate around my yard.

Then – as the rain subsided – and the clouds began to clear – the sun came out.  So, I excitedly journeyed outside to inspect my installed French drain to see how it fared through the thunderstorm.

And, lo and behold – when I got to my trench – I couldn’t believe my eyes!  The rain had washed ALL the dirt out of the first 40 feet of trench.  It was as if I hadn’t shoveled even one shovelful into it!  To say I was mad is an understatement!  I was not only “up in arms” infuriated, I was horror-struck that all my efforts had been all for naught!

I ripped the drain lid off the catch basin before I took these pictures:

Hard rain washed the dirt out of my trench.Hard rain washed the dirt out of my trench.







How could I fix this?  I didn’t want to keep filling the trench and have Mother Nature ream out the dirt over and over again – each time she decided to rain on my parade!

The rain had washed dirt much farther over into my backyard – permeating my grass and encroaching on my beloved garden!


Hard rain washed most of the dirt out into my yard and garden.Hard rain washed most of the dirt out into my yard and garden.











So, I discussed the situation with the wisest member of the household – my wife.  She suggested that, after filling the trench again, I lay tarp over it and use cement blocks and bricks to hold down the tarps and divert the force of the raging waters – until the dirt had a chance to harden up sufficiently – and, I had a chance to get new grass planted.

16' x 20' Blue Cut Size 5-mil Poly Tarp item #816204

Following her sage advice, I have, up to this point re-filled the first 40 feet of trench, stomped it down, and covered it with several tarps – folding the tarps enough to just cover the width of the trench – using the longer side of the tarp to cover the trench’s length.  For instance, I folded the 16 feet x 20 feet tarp I used in half – twice – so that it became 4 feet wide and 20 feet long when placed on the trench.

Then, I topped off the tarps with cement blocks and bricks to keep everything in place.

Tarps over the trench - waiting for the next hard rain.

Now, I will be waiting for the next session of rains to attack my trench and see how it holds up.  If this works, I’ll finish the last 60 feet the same way and hope for the best.

The weatherman says that it is supposed to rain so hard tonight that the birds will be wearing swim fins!

To Be Continued…

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this saga – devoted to diverting the deluge from destroying my voraciously vibrant veggies.  (Say that 5 times real fast!)

Comment below or email me with your thoughts.  Any ideas or experience with this?  I’m sitting on pins and needles – ready and willing to study your stories.


Jim, the Lifelong Gardener


2 thoughts on “Digging A Trench – My Summertime Excavation Elation, Part 1

  1. Mark Dayton Reply

    Wow this was enlightening, but sadly I don’t own a home yet so I never get to take on huge projects like this.. I honestly feel like it makes us better to have land to work on haha. Best of luck to your modern day flood! Just pray the animals pairing up don’t come after you.

    • Jim Reply

      This definitely was – and continues to be – a huge project.  And, even though it’s been a drain on my energy and a strain on my muscles (and my tired old back), I have to admit having a modicum of satisfaction that, eventually, I will have a working storm drain that puts the water where it belongs.  Far, far, far away from my garden!

      Plus, I’m not too worried about those animals pairing up against me.  If Noah was able to successfully deal with it, I can to!

      Sta tuned for part 2…


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