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Swales in Humid Tropical Mountains. Yes or no?

Posts: 44
Location: Vietnam
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I bought some land 6 months ago in the humid, tropical mountains. It was a coffee plantation with a (still young) few avocados planted. Where the coffee shrubs were larger, the previous owner spray herbicide on the grass once or twice a year and mowed it 1-2 times a year. Where the coffee was not as good, he only cut the grass once or twice a year (before presenting the property for sale).  The last spraying was about a few months ago.  The soil where the coffee was "taken care of"  is much poorer, and the grass growth is much less abundant. However, it is improving relatively quickly (it was cut for the first time).  so I can see the weeds and grass that are growing back now are much stronger (in a good sense).

The soil where the coffee was bad is great, easy to dig, and black in colour (in the tropics!). Coffee was not growing there because it was stunned by weeds. This area provides an abundance of mulch for trees.

This area gets about 100 inches (2500mm) of rain a year, which is relatively well distributed. The period without rain usually lasts 6 weeks to 8 weeks, so it's very short. There is a small stream and 2 small ponds on the property. No irrigation yet. Did I mention it's a steep slope? It is!

I have attached a picture for you to get an idea.

The objective of this place is to create a homestead with food forest, 2-3 cows, ducks, chickens, geese, few pigs etc. Nothing commercial scale. Just a total abundance for 10-15 people.

My question is:  Would you dig swales there, considering the abundant and well-distributed rainfall? The soil is recovering rapidly. The place that would benefit the swales the most (the coffee that was "taken care of" and harvested) had established coffee trees, so they would have to be destroyed by excavation (the spacing is about 3-4 meters/yards) apart, the coffee is not planted in rows.

I think we can use the existing coffee as a nursery for the newly planted banana, fruit, nut, and service trees.  The swales are not really needed there (due to the rainfall and rapidly recovering soil?

What are your thoughts?

[Thumbnail for Humid-tropics.jpg]
Posts: 1867
Location: Japan, zone 9a/b, annual rainfall 2550mm, avg temp 1.5-32 C
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I don't have much experience to draw on for this type of thing, so if it were me in your shoes I would experiment. I'd choose a candidate area that seems most in need of hydration or nutrient soaks and dig a small test swale and give it a few years of observation with various plants to see how things with different needs responded.

I tend to take a long view of things though, so if you're in need of swift action, maybe experimentation isn't in the cards.
Posts: 14971
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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If this were my property. I would not do any earthworks until I had time to see what happens over time when it rains.

Observation is one of the first permaculture principles.

To me, swales may not be necessary until the soil has been improved.

Can you get wood chips where you live?

Are there mushrooms and other fungi that will grow in your region?  Mushrooms will help with the damage done previously.

Here is Dr. Bryant Redhawk's soil series which will help you and others learn about soil:

You would be much easier to understand if you took that bucket off of your head. And that goes for the tiny ad too!
Learn Permaculture through a little hard work
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