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Maintaining Your Lane

A dirt lane may be all you need to get to and from the farm. However, rain and vehicle traffic tend to chew up a dirt lane, so you may be out there maintaining it more often than a gravel road or a solid surface.

Dave Creamer is a dirt and gravel field specialist at Penn State University. He says the shape of a dirt lane is critical for water control. It should have a crown in the middle or one side higher than the other so water will shed off the road. Wheel ruts also need to be shaped out or filled in.

“It’s not always easy, because that area of the road is pounded hard by constant tire traffic,” says Creamer. “You’ve got to connect the road to the landscape around it. You can’t let those tire tracks disconnect your drainage, otherwise water just won’t get off the road.”

Try pulling a heavy blade or log behind a vehicle to smooth out the ruts. If this doesn’t work, you may need gravel or a similar material to fill the holes. 

Another maintenance issue with a dirt lane is large rocks that heave up out of the soil from freezing and thawing. If you take them out, you’ve got a hole to fill; if you leave them there, they could damage your vehicle. 

Creamer says a popular option with many farmers is to leave the rocks there and level them. 

“There is three-point hitch-mounted equipment available that can run on 100- or 120-hp. tractors, and they can mill a road,” he says. “Farmers will pull it down their lanes, and they have the ability to really break the tops of those rocks off and also generate a little bit of material to work with, too.”

if you’ve had enough bare dirt, Add gravel

A dirt lane that is constantly plagued by mud and ruts may be better off with gravel. However, the lane has to be prepared or your problems will continue.

Creamer says the most important step before putting gravel down is to have a crown already built in the base to direct water away from the center. Too many people think they should shape the crown with the material they bring in. 

“I liken it to trying to build the pitch in your roof out of shingles as opposed to building the peak in your roof and then putting the shingles on it,” says Creamer. “You’ve really got to take some time and prep that road base to have a crown in it.”

Any potholes and ruts must be completely smoothed out before adding gravel or they will reappear within a few weeks. 

Creamer says it’s also important to determine the type of soil on your dirt lane. Many subbases are heavy clay, which can migrate up through gravel and eventually create more dust and mud.  

He recommends laying down a geotextile fabric, a product that’s designed to separate layers of the earth.

“Get the road base in the shape that you want it, put a layer of the fabric down, and then put your gravel on. Depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations, they would like to see 6 to 8 inches of gravel on top of that fabric under normal circumstances.”

Gravel Maintenance

If your gravel lane starts developing potholes and the mud puddles increase, that’s an indicator water isn’t running off as it should.

Russ Lanoie is a private contractor and owner of He says grading and shaping to improve drainage involves more than just covering up the potholes.  

“You’re supposed to cut to the bottom of those potholes. Otherwise, if you just scrape material over the potholes and fill them in, they’ll come right back because you never got to the bottom of the pothole. The idea is to dig to the bottom of the deepest defect in the road, and then work all the material that you’ve dug as if it were new material and spread it back on,” says Lanoie. “Then you pull the material from the shoulders to the center to rebuild your crown.”

Lanoie says the recommended pitch for a gravel surface crown is ½ inch per foot of width. You could go a little steeper, but it is becomes difficult to maintain and vehicles tend to slide off if it gets icy. 


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