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The Bunyip Level

Allison and I have two goals for the farm this year. Goal number one is to fix up the house and make it long-term livable. The second goal is to plant a whole butt-load of trees on the sloping pasture nearest to the house and barn. Last week, I gave a bit of an update on progress with the house renovations. This week, I’m going focus on the trees and my plans for using a bunyip.

Before a single tree goes into the ground, I need to dig several swales and berms along the natural contours of the sloping hill. These swales and berms will comprise the basis of several alleyways along which the trees will grow.

The next task I have in front of me is to measure and mark the rows for where we plan to dig. (I probably won’t operate the excavator myself even though I really, really want to.) I’ve been waiting for all the snow to melt from the pasture before I start marking my spots. According to my neighbor, that just happened yesterday. Finally!

One problem I have been working solve ahead of time is how to measure where the points along the hill are level. A sloping hill is never perfectly graded. Some parts are steeper than others. Using some topographic maps, I’ve been able to get a roughly sense of the land curves. This is what I used to develop my tree plan. But to bring it all to life,  I need to get out there and measure to find the true contours.

There are many different tools to help you find the contour. Some of them, like laser levels and GPS mappers are a bit pricey and hard to use. I’m opting to work with a cheap and simple method instead. I’m going to try to craft a bunyip level. What’s a bunyip level, you ask? Well, a bunyip level is an Australian-originated tool that is basically a pair of measuring sticks that are attached to a rubber tube filled with water. It works because a standing body of water will always try to reach a level state. Picture a lake. The water of a lake is always flat. Effectively the bunyip is creating a mini-lake inside the connecting tube. The measurements of the sticks serve to indicate if the bunyip is being help level or if it is on a slope. When the water is level, that means the ground is level. If one side of the water registers higher than the other, that means the ground is sloped.

FULL DISCLOSURE: So far this has been just theoretical stuff I have seen on the internet and tested to the best of my abilities in the backyard of a DC row house. The rubber tubing will meet the grass-covered road when I actually start marking my contour lines on the farm next month. I’ll be sure to document the whole experience so you can see if this plan worked. If anyone has any questions or advice, as always, they are very welcome to put it out there.


UPDATE - 4/26/2018 - The bunyip level ended up being a total failure. The idea worked, but for the nearly 6,000 ft of swales that I ended up digging, it took too long. My local NRCS ended up lending me a laser level. It worked great. I made a video of it on our YouTube channel.

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