Report by Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture, Labor and Statistics pp. 135-138 (1878)

Winston J. Davie

For the preservation of the soil, nothing equals tile-drainage, whether in a flat, level country or in rolling lands. It is also, like deep ploughing, a great renovator of worn or washed lands. The most extensive experiments in tile-drainage in the United States are probably in Preble county, Ohio, and in parts of Massachusetts, where the lands are increased in value three fold by tile-drainage. Lands thus under-drained produce much larger crops of all kinds, and do not wash by even the hardest rains, owing to the porosity of the soil and its increased power of absorption.

Dr. David Dale Owen, in his admirable Geological Report of Kentucky, says: "It is very essential that a soil be made porous by tillage, since all the rain that runs off, without soaking into it, carries away with it ammonia, nitrates, and other fertilizers, which would otherwise be absorbed and appropriated. There is another great advantage in rendering the soil porous: free access of air is admitted, and more carbonic acid admitted with the water, so that, independent of the service rendered by carbonic acid, as a source of carbon, it exerts a great solvent power over the mineral constituents of the soil, and thus renders a larger supply available. In thickly settled countries, where farming produce is high and labor cheap, great advantage has been obtained by under-drainage. In the western country, what little drainage has been done, for the most part has been effected by open ditches.

"Under-drainage has many advantages over open ditches. It does not cut up the ground nor foster weeds. All the water, in passing through the soil, gives up its condensed fertilizers, which are, in a great measure, lost in the flow of surface water. In its passage downwards it removes or changes effete matters, secreted from the roots of plants, which are deleterious to vegetation. Under-draining also warms the surface soil, and the cooler substratum condenses the moisture out of the atmosphere, which has free access to it; this, in a great measure, counteracts droughts, besides effecting all the good already indicated, as obtained by the free access of the air to the soil. Under-draining is said, also, to prevent the dying out of grasses, by keeping their roots free from injurious influences, to distribute nutriment more effectually, besides removing excess of water, and thus deepening the surface soil. It renders vegetation earlier in the spring, and prevents the freezing out of grain in the winter, also the too rapid evaporation of the water, and the formation of hard crust on the surface.

"We are apt to regard draining as requisite only for wet and low swampy ground; but experience seems to prove that it is nearly equally beneficial in counteracting too great dryness. It is estimated by farmers, in districts where it has now become an almost universal practice, that it increases the profit on the land ten to twelve per cent.; and pays for expenses of under-draining in three years. It is said, also, and I have little doubt of the fact, that it removes the malaria or whatever other cause produces intermittent fevers; so that these diseases have almost disappeared from districts affected with such disorders previous to its introduction. In addition, investments made in under-draining farms have proved to be amongst the safest now made in the farming districts of England, and the Government of Great Britain encourages it by loaning money at five per cent, to aid in extending this system; and money can be obtained on easy terms from other sources for the same purpose; all of which is sufficient proof of its success in a pecuniary point of view in that country."

It is estimated that under-drainage increases the profit on almost any land from ten to twenty per cent., and that it is beneficial not only to low and swampy soils, but almost as much so for hill lands, or those of a rolling surface, by counteracting dryness, and preventing too great a tendency to wash into gullies. It, above all other plans ever tried, tends to keep the surface soil from washing off into ravines and creeks, by increasing the capacity of the soil to hold the rain-water, through absorption, at fast as it falls, even during the heaviest storm.

The stiff clay lands in the vicinty of the black shale, in Kentucky, and also the deep red and yellow clays of the "barrens," can hardly be brought into the highest state of successful cultivation without under-drainage. The porous tiles, made of burnt clay, form the best material for under-drainage. The pipes should be from two inches to six inches diameter, according to the location of the ground and other circumstances. These pipes should be laid not less than two feet (but four or five is better) under the ground, so as to be clear of all winter freezes, deep plowing, or other obstructions; and great care should be taken that the fall in the drainage of the pipes, which need not be more than three inches to the 100 feet, is uniform, and not so imperfect as to fill up with mud or settlings. Skillfully laid under-drain tile pipes will last for one hundred years, without need of repairs, as has been evidenced in England and France. Any unglazed burnt clay tiles will be sufficiently porous to allow water to soak through them from the top and run off, no matter how compact a clay may surround it. Judge Abner Haynes, of Preble county, Ohio, says: "I have constructed as fine ditching (tiles) as any man in our county; I have 1,200 rods on 205 acres. The first thing in tile-drainage is good fall, and that fall kept open, draining it into some natural cut or branch. The next thing is good engineering, so that some parts of the ditch is not higher than others, in which event sediments will stop up the tiles, but let the fall be uniform, so that the stream of water will flow out with ease and rapidity. You can construct ditches much better in wet seasons of the year than in dry; the ground digs easier, and the water, if it rises in the ditch, will do for a guide for laying the tiles. Two crops will pay for any tile-drainage well constructed, I don't care if it costs a dollar and a half a rod; and then, when these drains are thus well constructed, they add ten dollars per acre to the land, and are a permanent value to the freehold. I don't care if the ditch is seven feet deep, it is better than four feet, and four feet is better than three." Drains (tiles) should be constructed so as to have main leads and lateral branches. A main lead of 200 yards length ought to be not less than four inches diameter, and of four or five hundred yards six inches. A two-inch drain will carry off water for a distance of twenty yards on each side of the drain. That is, such tiles should be not less than six to eight rods apart; but, as a general rule, the deeper the drain the farther apart can be their lines. Half a mile tile-drain of six inches, with lateral branches, well laid, will usually run a stream like a spring from eight to ten months in the year. It costs from fifty cents to one dollar per rod to put down tile-drainage. There are spades made on purpose for tile-draining.