Lessons From The Land

Wild Fibers - - NEWS -

Aca­dian set­tlers in Nova Sco­tia trans­formed un­pro­duc­tive marshes into fer­tile fields through the in­ge­nu­ity of dykes, pur­pose-built em­bank­ments de­signed to re­di­rect sea wa­ter and de­salin­ize soil to be used for agri­cul­ture.

The most im­por­tant as­pect of the de­sign was the aboiteau, a sec­tion of dyke that al­lowed wa­ter to be re­leased from fields dur­ing low tide, but pre­vented un­wanted salt­wa­ter from re­turn­ing at high tide. This was ac­com­plished by a sluice, a hol­lowed­out tree trunk with a wooden clap that could be ad­justed to con­trol the flow of wa­ter. By cut­ting live sod con­tain­ing hardy grasses and rushes to sur­round the sluice, the dyke could han­dle long-term ex­po­sure to seawa­ter and its harsh cur­rents. Al­though the dykes pre­vented ex­cess salt wa­ter from con­tam­i­nat­ing the soil, the Aca­di­ans still had to wait two to three years for fresh wa­ter and rain to fully de­salin­ize the fields.

The cre­ation of dyke­lands has been only been slightly mod­i­fied since their ar­rival in the 17th century. The orig­i­nal meth­ods of dyke build­ing have been main­tained, with the ex­cep­tion of a few new ma­te­ri­als to im­prove their ef­fi­ciency and longevity. Com­mu­nal man­age­ment and con­struc­tion have been re­tained and the once-in­fer­tile marshes now pro­duce pas­ture, hay, ce­re­als, soy, al­falfa, and veg­eta­bles.

19th century aboiteau, il­lus­trat­ing the elab­o­rate struc­ture re­quired to with­stand the pres­sure of the tides and waves.

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