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Hugel swales and polycultures.

 
pollinator
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Location: North Carolina zone 7
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Hey guys. Just wanted to pass along the successes I’ve had mixing permaculturey stuff together. The first picture was three years ago. These are small hugelcultures with a swale on the upside of each. Since then I’ve filled in the swales and topped the mounds with wood chips.
The next picture was taken today. Elderberries, walking onions, potatoes, squash and cowpeas live together in polyculture harmony.
My point to all of this is, you do not need large swales to make a big impact! We moved here six years ago and the clay wouldn’t even grow grass; it was that hard. Now it gets so wet occasionally that things rot!
What is not pictured is to the left of photos. A three foot deep hugelculture. I brought the wood up to within a foot or so of the soil line. Then tossed in compost, shredded leaves and grass clippings. I planted nitrogen fixing cowpeas in it last summer, and winter pea in the fall. Now True Gold heirloom corn is growing along with cowpea, strawberries and luffa gourds.
I hope this helps someone who sees really large earthworks and knows they couldn’t do it. Well, you certainly can do this. Small changes can make a big difference in the near future.
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Location: Ontario
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It's nice to see this—I'm in the middle of building a hugelkultur mound on hard clay right now.
 
gardener
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Jack Spirko is death on this idea -- but I think that he is afraid of people doing a hugel-swale on a steep grade where the hydrological pressure would potentially blow out the swale and cause massive destruction below.  But on a gentle slope with a minimally deep swale, you wouldn't have that much lateral pressure on the berm.  

My only concern with a hugle-swale is that you're going to have to rebuild it as the organic material in the hugel breaks down and the berm collapses.  But for 4 or 5 years, you might get the best of both worlds.
 
Scott Stiller
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Location: North Carolina zone 7
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I haven’t thought about Jack Spirko in years. I used to like his stuff though. I’m going to make some post that addresses his concerns. I can’t do it in one post because I’ll get confused!
So the first picture will be a set of regular swales I made with a couple different things happening. Interconnected swales and ryegrass planted on the downside. Fairly productive but not great. This area is away from my house and I don’t tend it very much. There is no way to water it either.
Second picture is of the same area but includes a bio char Hugelculture with red Russian kale growing. The bed itself has sunken by at least half but still productive. Kale and various greens volunteer there. To the right and slightly downhill from the bed is still very productive with volunteers as well. These are melons lettuces and cucumbers. A lot of it is eaten by wildlife, especially watermelons which are a real opossum draw!
So he’s right but it’s not been a problem. The clay here runs when wet but concrete when dry. Most of these swales are now mostly level but not before annual grasses stuck stopping the erosion. When I do decide to plant a chop n drop then seeding does the trick.
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Scott Stiller
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Location: North Carolina zone 7
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Let’s talk about my very first swale. When we moved here the erosion was terrible. Water that rushed across our front yard and down the hill had taken all the topsoil. The first thing I wanted to do was stop it. This one is strange......
I built a flow through wicker type swale. The back was cedar limbs hammered in deep. The middle is rocks with more cedar, and various limbs and wild grape vines woven together as tightly as possible. I then dug a few feet down in front so the water would settle before hitting the new construct. I also made a spillway a few inches from the top that flowed to a terrace below. The flowing muddy water filled the pool then started taking itself through the woven swale-type thingy. Once it filled up I planted strawberries, horseradish, asparagus and peas on top. Not only has it held but I’ve done no maintenance to it at all. Unfortunately it is on the edge of a power company right of way. I went through a lot of trouble becoming a no spray area but it didn’t work. Now it is overrun with Japanese honeysuckle and weeds. We really didn’t want to eat anything that came out of that area.
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Scott Stiller
pollinator
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I also find that a large regular swale on contour needs to be dug out occasionally around here; dang clay! I usually just plop it right on top during the winter. I don’t mess with it while things are active. But Jack was correct, very little settling.
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Scott Stiller
pollinator
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Location: North Carolina zone 7
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And maybe the last one but who knows. I worked at a local micro-green farm. They had a new orchard and ask if I’d take a look at it. It didn’t take long to get my thoughts together on it. The trees would eventually look great and stand out on their own but they wanted something a little faster. I just piled up the used soil from the greenhouse on the downhill side of each tree. The freshly emptied trays always had plenty of seed that didn’t germinate so with a little water it looked really nice in a couple weeks. We were even able to harvest a few snacks and meals from the swales in short order.
Hope I didn’t bore you guys with my stuff.
That’s me in pic three!
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Scott Stiller
pollinator
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Location: North Carolina zone 7
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One more pic of my flow through swale thing.
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