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Help me figure out the swale & dam system for my property!  RSS feed

 
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Hey everybody, I've been a visitor for a while, and after doing a lot of research on permaculture and looking into the irrigation designs of sepp holzer and Geoff Lawton I've decided I want to begin serious planning for a total reconfiguration of the property, front yard, sides, and back, for growing. I know that this is going to take serious preparation, and one of the most important things is understanding the best way to divert and hold onto water as effectively as possible. My property, however, is pretty complicated when it comes to topography and so I could use some advice from those who've done this sorta thing already!


A - Asphalt driveway, runs west to the N/S road
B - House & back deck
C - Current garden patch: unproductive, poor location
D - Low-lying point at northwest corner of front lawn, grades down to -3 feet, storm drain at bottom (boooo! would much rather save the water!)
E - Back yard; low-lying point that becomes waterlogged during winter and rainfall due to runoff from higher inclines
F - Back yard; slopes up quickly +5 feet, then becomes a flat shelf, drains down to E
G - Back woods; flat +5 feet, drains down to E
H - Side woods; slopes in gradual gradient and drains down to L
I - Little hill overlooking property; +10 feet, heavily forested
J - Side lawn; steeply slopes downward and drains runoff from driveway & hill to ravine (N)
K - Drainage bottleneck, -3 feet, the back yard drains south into a very green small hollow in the woods, very spring is practically a creek from the thaw
L - The same; all the drainage from the back yard of my neighbor immediately to the south, all drains into small hollow
M - Tiny moss-covered hillock that encloses the hollow from the rest of the ravine (N)
N - The heavily-forested ravine; -15 feet. All the water from the driveway, the hill (I) and the little hollow (K & L) empties here, very moist microclimate
O - Sloping lawn, gradients down to N/S road, losing lots of rainwater
P - Sloping lawn, gradients down to neighbor's property
Q - Front lawn, very flat, very dry during the summertime.
R - Neighbor's back property limits

What I was thinking was running a swale along the contours of the upper back yard (F) that gradually sweeps around the north side of the house to the front yard, possibly to a holding pond if I can be allowed to seal off the storm drain, and a second trench heading downhill and under the N-pointing segment of the driveway in a concrete culvert to the south half of the front yard. The other end of the swale could make use of the little side hollow as a second little catchment pond (K), with a spillway that feeds to ultimately form a huge retaining pond in the ravine (N) for fish production, maybe some wild rice and other aquatic plants. That would mean felling the trees in the ravine, and making use of the water there by turning the hill (I) into a food forest, with that continuing down the slope towards the road (O), with another little swale there catching that runoff and channeling it around the contour of the hill to the ravine-pond.

I'm not married to any specific design or strategy, so long as it provides the best water usage for the soil and the best productivity for the front and back lawn (and maybe the side hill, too). What would you all suggest? Anybody here have any experience with sealing off storm drains? Let me know where I'm off my rocker!
 
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Hi Patrick,

I think I got the jist of it. What you'd need to provide to get any real good feedback would be something like a list of the types of trees growing there, and as much of the understory plants as you can. That will tell something about the soil conditions and will give any knowledgeable people a chance to make useful suggestions.

-CK
 
Patrick Winters
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Chris Kott wrote:Hi Patrick,

I think I got the jist of it. What you'd need to provide to get any real good feedback would be something like a list of the types of trees growing there, and as much of the understory plants as you can. That will tell something about the soil conditions and will give any knowledgeable people a chance to make useful suggestions.

-CK



Sounds good to me! We're in an upland forested area, mainly white pine and white oak with some eastern hemlock, maples, and the occasional paper birch and shagbark hickory. The understory is lots of young hemlock, some buckthorn alder, moosewood and struggling maple saplings, some wild raspberries or dewberries.
 
pollinator
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Patrick Winters wrote:
K - Drainage bottleneck, -3 feet, the back yard drains south into a very green small hollow in the woods, very spring is practically a creek from the thaw
L - The same; all the drainage from the back yard of my neighbor immediately to the south, all drains into small hollow
N - The heavily-forested ravine; -15 feet. All the water from the driveway, the hill (I) and the little hollow (K & L) empties here, very moist microclimate



These would be good spots for ponds and/or hugelkulturs to slow the water draining into those spots.

As Chris said, it'd be good to know what's growing now.
Even more important, what's your location?
What do you want to grow? Any animals in the long or short term plan?
You might want to base your drawing off of a satalite image a la google maps. That's what I did and it helped for scale.
 
steward
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I'll second that Google Maps idea. I also suggest Google SketchUp as a good way to get a 3D map of your property. The contour features aren't great but it's good enough to get you buy. I copied the satellite map to Paint so that I could print out a bunch of copies. I use the paper copies to hand sketch ideas with colored pencil. I have about 60 sheets of Ideas that I can overlay on one another to complete different plans for Water, garden beds, Contour, Hard Scape etc.

As for the storm drain: It might be a good idea to keep water from making it to the drain before blocking it off. You might be able to use the drain as an emergency overflow in the event of severe flooding. In the meantime, try to absorb as much water as possible before it gets to the drain. Last years thaw brought a lot of water across my land. If it weren't for the emergency drainage pipe that diverts water from my driveway, my basement would have 6 feet of water in it. An warm early spring rain melted nearly 3 feet of snow in a day and because the subsoil was frozen, all that water flowed to the emergency drain.
 
Patrick Winters
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Whoa, much to do! For starters, I'm in the Connecticut River Valley, which means the soil is very sandy, Zone 6, though who can tell anymore with global weirding. Though we're in the valley our neighborhood is up on a large raised hill maybe +150 feet from the farmland that surrounds us, and this is my biggest concern about raising fish: in this raised position we have no access to running creeks or streams. Is that of major importance for fish ponds to ensure they get enough oxygen in the water?

I'd use Google Earth for a closer zoom-in on the property, but all of the particulars of the terrain are completely covered by the treetops, you can't see anything!

I'm gonna take a look at SketchUp right now and start working on it, thanks for the advice on the storm drain. I just wish it didn't steal all of the water from the front lawn, I guess I'd have to encircle it with a swale and create a lower area that would attract the water instead.
 
Patrick Winters
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As for growing, I'd be interested in using the front lawn (west side) for a large fruit and vegetable garden. It's approximately 1/2 an acre and I wouldn't mind alternating raised beds for vegetables with dwarf fruit trees sepp holzer style, apples, pears, plums, elderberry, raspberry, blackberry, gooseberry, hazelnut. I'm thinking about a hedge on the northern limits of the front lawn for spruce or balsam fir to grow as Christmas trees, and some grape vines and hardy kiwis close to the front of the house. I'd like to coppice the oak and hickory trees on the northern side and the back yard, add a few useful trees like hawthorn, American chestnut (a farmer in my town is propagating disease-resistant cultivars for the state), more hickory and some white ash, some nitrogen fixers like speckled alder and autumn olive, and use the lower basin of the back yard for growing the more delicate vegetables that require shade or a cooler microclimate. The raised shelf of the back yard could be good for a system of alternating chicken paddocks, raising them around the trees to keep the weeds down. Right now the back woods is mostly carpeted with composting leaves and grass clippings; if I set aside one area for compost and vermiculture, another for mushrooms, at some point I might even turn a low-lying portion on the southern side into a pig pen, moving it around for pannage. That leaves the ravine and hill on the southern border. As I said, I've been thinking about turning the ravine into a large pond for fish, growing some wild rice, sweet flag, American water lotus, though if the fish (even carp) need continual incoming water from a running creek then it might not be in the cards. As for the hill and its surrounding slopes on all sides, I'd like to cut the pines and coppice the rest, plant some more alders and other nitrogen fixers, and slowly replace them with food forest layers. Full-size apple trees, more chestnut, sugar maple, mulberry, and some black walnut on the neighbor's border to keep it from expanding into his land. Beneath the canopy and understorey, some apios, some ramp, male fern.

Ambitious, I know! That's why I want an ambitious watering system!
 
Cj Sloane
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Patrick Winters wrote:...if the fish (even carp) need continual incoming water from a running creek then it might not be in the cards.



Fish, particularly carp, don't nec. need incoming water. It depends on the size of the pond/how many fish. Worst case get an air or water pump. They are very efficient.

So, you cant see anything but trees with google maps? Not even the house or driveway?
 
Patrick Winters
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Here ya go, like I said not much that can be seen unfortunately, particularly when it comes to the hill and ravine. As you can see from the lackluster grass color, in our raised neighborhood away from the streams and marshes in the surrounding countryside the front gets very dry in the summertime, particularly with the new weather trends, and so this is one of the main things I would like to address.

Great news about the carp though!
 
Cj Sloane
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Patrick Winters wrote:
Here ya go, like I said not much that can be seen unfortunately, particularly when it comes to the hill and ravine.



Well, you don't really need to see what's there for it to be a good design tool. You might need to back up a little. Here's what I did:
Paddocks></a>

I used the scale (lower left) to make trees their full, mature height. Then I could start moving them around, making notes, seeing where the swales (fuzzy blue) and hugelkulturs (fuzzy brown) could go. I wasn't quite sure how far apart to place the living fences but I've got a little better idea of how it'll look.
 
Chris Kott
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Wow, CJ, that's intense! I was wondering, though, considering their relatively small canopy size, is there a reason to cluster the black locust in one spot as opposed to intercropping there where you might need more nitrogen?

Could you break down some of it? What are the green circles labelled 30'HL? And is there a reason you would suggest foreign varieties of chestnut when Patrick has access to the product of a blight-resistance program for the American Chestnut?

Also, am I missing the steps you've taken to address his concerns over water management and ponds for aquaculture, or did you not tackle that?

Patrick, I was going to say that the layout of your aquaculture is dependant on what you want to raise. If you want cold water fish, you need deep pools, and you would plant dense canopied treecover to shade the riparian zone. As to oxygenation, I don't think I'm seeing the changes in elevation accurately, but if you could have a number of small, deep pools at differing heights emptying each into another from as high a height as you can manage, essentially mini-waterfalls, that would oxygenate enough that you wouldn't have to worry. If you set it up that you could pump water from the bottom pond, with a wind pump ideally, to the top pond, and everything else would be gravity-fed, that would take a lot of the work out of it.

Something I don't see mentioned in threads such as this is the rearing of waterfowl. Would it not be possible to paddock shift a low-density population of them daily, so as to not deplete the forage as they are criticized for? You would of necessity need to keep waterfowl apart from fry small enough to be eaten, but after that, it looks like simple function stacking to me.

It seems like you know what you want to do, though. Sounds promising.

-CK
 
Patrick Winters
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I wouldn't be at all opposed to keeping a few ducks, particularly as they're good for pest removal! I'd just need them to be separate from the other poultry, as I've read that they make a mess and can spread disease to other species.

Actually, a wind pump is exactly what I've been looking into tonight, and I haven't had any luck thus far! Does anybody know where I might find some designs for a simple non-motorized aerator or pump?
 
Cj Sloane
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Chris Kott wrote:Wow, CJ, that's intense! I was wondering, though, considering their relatively small canopy size, is there a reason to cluster the black locust in one spot as opposed to intercropping there where you might need more nitrogen?

Could you break down some of it? What are the green circles labelled 30'HL? And is there a reason you would suggest foreign varieties of chestnut when Patrick has access to the product of a blight-resistance program for the American Chestnut?

Also, am I missing the steps you've taken to address his concerns over water management and ponds for aquaculture, or did you not tackle that?



Hmm, maybe it wasn't clear but this is my plan for my property. I was just trying to show how the satellite image could be useful for designing, especially for a large property.

HL is Honey Locust and I'm attempting a living fence. I haven't updated the plan yet but I think I'll do a repeating series of Honey Locust, Willow, and Black Locust. The fence is to keep in my various livestock.

I'm trying several varieties of chestnuts and oaks to see what works best.

The BL is in one spot because if you grow them that way they make better fence posts.
 
Patrick Winters
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Here's a quick question, CJ: what is the effective radius for a black walnut's herbicidal properties? How far should they be separated from other tree species?

As for the wind pump, whoa! Never mind, there's a million of 'em out there!
 
Chris Kott
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Gotcha, okay, everything makes sense now. So if you group black locust closely, they don't branch laterally as much? Hemp does the same. Grown close together, they grow with a very thick stem and little branching, thus little seed. Grown further apart there is more lateral branching, good for oilseed varieties. Is there any reason you couldn't prune the lateral stems when you chop and drop in a polycultured setup, though? Or does that not make any sense? I was just thinking about the nitrogen-fixing properties and how they aren't benefitting much else if they are pretty much monocropped.

-CK
 
Cj Sloane
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Patrick Winters wrote:what is the effective radius for a black walnut's herbicidal properties? How far should they be separated from other tree species?



Not sure on the distance but I have a vague memory of the alleopathic effects being minimized by intervening plants. It's too late to look at my notes ATM but I'm quite sure there's a reason why I did BL, Mulberry, Autumn Olive. I think I put it at the edge, just in case too.
 
Cj Sloane
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Chris Kott wrote:So if you group black locust closely, they don't branch laterally as much?


Yes

Chris Kott wrote:Is there any reason you couldn't prune the lateral stems when you chop and drop in a polycultured setup, though? Or does that not make any sense? I was just thinking about the nitrogen-fixing properties and how they aren't benefitting much else if they are pretty much monocropped.
-CK



If you space them closely, it saves you the step of pruning.

I may rethink this though. At the time, I read that black locust bark was toxic to cattle and it just so happens I discovered a BL growing in that spot, just outside the cow paddock. However... I just went to a lecture and I was assured that as long as the cattle have many forages to choose from they wont poison themselves. And they do enjoy the leaves. That's why I'll be making them part of the living fence.
 
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