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Paul Wheaton does not build swales

 
Diego de la Vega
Posts: 35
Location: Central Virginia, USA
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I recently watched a lecture on youtube given by Paul and in it he said he does not build swales. He did say he builds hugelkultur beds but not swales. He never explained why. Does anyone know his reasons for not building swales?

Would building a hugelkulture berm next to a swale (instead of an earth berm) be a bad idea?

Diego
 
Cory Allan
Posts: 61
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
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Paul has stated on several occasions that he prefers hugelkultur to irrigation in general, presumably even passive irrigation via swales. I don't know his reasons, but I would guess hugelkultur offers more benefits than just water infiltration, such as fertilizer and the ability to sculpt microclimates.

Hugelkultur on contour would offer the same benefits as a swale, plus the benefits of hugelkultur. You need soil to cover the wood, so why not use the soil dug from the swale?

Another thing to keep in mind is that the height of the hugelkultur determines your swale waterline and that this will change over time as the bed settles, while an earth berm will remain consistent.
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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he doesn't have a water problem , either.

if YOU do, you should be burying the wood in the bottom of a swale, and just use the deepest soil from the dig for the downhill side berm.
the higher in the dirt column has more bact/fungi, and should go back to where roots can reach it.

If you mix in charcoal, that helps support fungi after a couple years, and will help store and move even more water.

http://www.geocities.jp/yasizato/pioneer.htm
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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I'm trying an experiment in which I'm making a hugelkultur berm with wood, while also putting wood in the base of the swale, for trees which are both drought tolerant and tolerant to periodic brief flooding. The two main species I plan to plant this way are Mulberries and Persimmons, and am researching other possibilities (suggestions welcome! ). I haven't settled on my support species yet but they may be primarily shrubs such as Baptisia, though possibly I might try growing some Palo Verde which are small trees.
 
Alice Kaspar
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Isn't a swale just a hugulkultur bed built perpendicular to the downward slope/water flow on a hill?
 
Pierre de Lacolline
Posts: 37
Location: New Hampshire; USDA Z5
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Alice: While the combination seems useful, a swale doesn't have to have a hugel bed, and a hugel bed doesn't have to be built next to a swale.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Alice Kaspar wrote:Isn't a swale just a hugulkultur bed built perpendicular to the downward slope/water flow on a hill?


Hugelkultur is built with wood or other organic material in addition to dirt. Swale berms are usually just dirt. Hugelkultur is often built off-contour. Swales are almost always built on contour.

 
dj niels
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Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Whether you use a swale on contour, or make hugelbeds, or sunken beds filled with wood &/or other organic matter, or how big the beds, how high your mounds, etc, all vary depending on your climate and needs, and I believe must be based on where you live. For someone like Sep Holzer, who is in a cold, wet climate, the high mounds filled with wood give a warmer, dryer place to grow plants.

For someone in a hot, dry climate, swales on contour and/or sunken beds prevent water from disappearing so quickly, giving more time for the water from scarce rains to absorb into the land.

In very wet climates, or in places with alternate seasons of rain and drought, swales can also help channel rain and alleviate flooding, while keeping water where it can do some good. So, as in most things in permaculture, it depends: on your climate, your garden, your health, your age, how much you can do, and what you want to accomplish.

If you watch the permaculture video series on youtube by jack spirko, he gives lots of simple explanations about swales, hugelkulture, and other ideas to consider in designing a permaculture system. He also has videos of his gardens and how he is remaking his new homestead into a series of low hugel mounds on contour, at thesurvivalpodcast.com. There are some podcasts of Jack and Paul sharing ideas, as well as many other subjects.

As in other things I have seen recommended, the best way to learn what will work for you is to try it. Make a small swale, and a smallish hugel bed, or whatever other method you like, and see how they perform for you. I have heard it said, that sometimes we win, and sometimes we learn. We often learn most from things we try that don't work. Just don't give up, but keep trying until you learn what works for you.

I wish for you peace and prosperity.

djn
 
Chris Kott
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Contrary to some commonly held opinions, I think hugelkultur can be used almost anywhere. I think the problems most people might have with their beds is likely not having the right wood to soil ratio. If the wicking material (the wood) is exposed anywhere to the air, it will dry out much faster than otherwise, and all the water that should have gone into the soil will evaporate in the air. If there isn't enough wood, there is likely also not enough in the ways of soil structure to hold on to the water, or to give it anywhere to go but off the outside of the mound. Also, they need a lot of water when they are first built. Their water needs shrink eventually, but an excessively dry few months might make it really thirsty again. This, I think, is where a swale on the uphill side of a hugelbed on contour makes a great deal of sense. It effectively sub-irrigates the mound. I have also read posts where people are using what they describe as "hugelswales," which I think is what they call a swale with a bunch of woody matter and soil in it to act as a sponge, just like in hugelkultur. There are no hard and fast rules, from what I can tell.

From what I can gather of what I've read of his stuff and all of his podcasts but two, Paul has this annoying way of taking ideas he really likes and making them the end-all and be-all, when in fact permaculture is very much situational. You don't have to choose just one tool from the permaculture toolbox, and there is no one tool that can do it all.

Having said all that, if someone comes up with a solid explanation for it, or if Paul happens by, I'd like to hear it.

-CK
 
dj niels
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Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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I have lived and gardened in western Washington, "down-east" Maine and Northern Maine, and Delaware, as well as New Mexico, Colorado, and several places in Utah, and have visited and/or traveled through much of the rest of the US and in Canada. I sometimes call myself an eclectic gardener. I read and study a lot of gardening books and ideas. I have tried all kinds of gardening tips and techniques, and can say from experience that different methods are needed in arid and semi-arid places than will work in more humid environments, as well as north vs south, etc.

It is a beautiful world that we live on, even with all the problems we see around us or on the news, etc. I think it is really great that so many people are trying lots of new things and sharing their experiences, so we can learn from one another. And hopefully, if we keep learning and sharing and trying to do our parts to help heal the earth and find solutions for problems, together we are making a difference.

I say Thank You to each of you for what you share and how you work to improve your little corner of the world, and to Paul for making these forums and videos etc available to us.

I do want to try a higher hugelbed, just to test the idea. I have one small 3 foot mound of sticks covered with mulch, manure, soil, etc, in my home garden that did ok last year, but it requires a lot more water for raised beds here than for areas that are sunken into the ground. It is also easier to keep the mulch on a low bed than a high one. I have added mulch to raised beds in the morning, and watched the mulch blow away in the afternoon. That is why I suggested that Hugelbeds (high mounds built on top of the ground) might work better in colder, wetter climates, while swales or sunken beds seem to be more effective in hotter, dryer &/or windier climates. But I think gardening is mostly about experimenting and trying new things anyway, right?

All the best to each of you.

djn
 
franck chardes
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Hugel is not well suited to large scale project under semi arid and arid climates for an obvious reason: where do you find the massive amount of wood needed? Trees are a rather rare resources in this kind of environment.
 
dj niels
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Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Actually, I live in a small town with lots of big, old elms (not sure if Chinese or Siberian, or if there is a difference). Anyway, the branches break off quite readily in storms here, and while working in my garden I often see pickup trucks loaded with brush/branches they are cleaning out of their yards, going past me to the spot near the sewer lagoon where they dump the wood.

I have gotten several people to dump their wood wastes on my property, which I have been breaking up to put into sunken garden beds. I would rather use the wood in gardens that see the town burn a huge bonfire of them, which they tend to do every spring. I just need to get down there first and salvage some more wood. As it is elm, it is not considered a good firewood--seems to burn dirtier and cause more cresote in the chimney. I have also salvaged old, semi-rotten lumber, and chunks of firewood that are too knotty to split into stove-sized pieces. And we had to dig out a huge old elm stump while putting in our sunken greenhouse.

So getting wood is labor intensive, but available here. I just want to make sure I use it in a way that will get the benefits I need, and not have all the mulch and topsoil blow away before I can get trees and other perennials growing on top. As a one-time soil-building, water-holding system for perennials, the labor seems worthwhile. If I thought I had to keep working so hard every year, I think I would look for a different solution.

I really like Jack Spirko's idea to create sunken woody beds, on contour, or to use a layer of sticks and branches to help form terraces to catch and hold onto moisture, as he shows in some of his videos at TheSurvivalPodcast.com. Last year we built several sunken woody beds. It will be interesting to see what happens with them this year (if spring ever comes to this part of the country).
 
dj niels
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Thought I'd add an update.

Last year, 2013, I started digging a contour swale with a hugelberm on the downhill side. [Our property is actually almost flat, with a very slight slope.] It was "only" about 10 feet long, with the berm about 2 feet high. This spring we laid out a longer swale line continuing our previous swale. A friend carved a rough swale and terrace with his machine, and I have been working on it off and on as I have time. Because we have very sandy soil, with zero topsoil or organic matter, I built a series of compost piles along the terrace to build soil. Then I have been breaking up sticks and branches from a storm that brought down a lot of the local Siberian Elm and Cottonwood branches last fall, to form a 2-foot high hugel-berm, and covering it with leaves that were under the piles of branches, then a layer of clay and topsoil from another garden project. Finally, I sow cover crops like buckwheat, to hold the soil and build topsoil. Right now the swale and berm are about 40 feet long.

The "old" section of the berm has been planted this spring with some perennials like comfrey, topset onions, rhubarb, sorrel, etc, and seems to be doing well, and only needs watered 2 or 3 times a week, instead of daily, as some of my friends say they have to water their gardens.

I also extended the small hugelbed at my home garden, to about 15 feet long and 3-4 feet high, and it is thriving, with only weekly or twice weekly watering, once the plants get established. So I am pleased to report that the hugelbed idea does seem to work even in a dry climate, but it does require water to establish.

I am hoping that when (if?) we get some decent rain this fall, or heavy snow in the winter, that the swale and the woody berm will be able to catch and hold the moisture longer into the spring, and eventually be able to support trees and shrubs without a lot of additional irrigation.

I have noticed that in some of my sunken woody beds, the straw and other OM has either blown away in the wind or fallen through the cracks of the wood, so there is really no soil to speak of. I am planning to build compost piles on top of those beds, to make the soil deeper, and hope that will take care of the problem.

Hope you are all having a great summer (or winter, for those on the other side of the planet).

 
elle sagenev
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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I am close to you, in WY, and can relate to what you are doing. We have clay soil. Very thick clay. I just did my swale and berm system. I'm putting cardboard down in the bottom of my swale first. Then putting sticks, then straw. It'll be fine with me if the straw blows or falls as the cardboard and the wood are my main moisture and soil building tools I think.

I'd love some pictures. Post some!
dj niels wrote:Thought I'd add an update.

Last year, 2013, I started digging a contour swale with a hugelberm on the downhill side. [Our property is actually almost flat, with a very slight slope.] It was "only" about 10 feet long, with the berm about 2 feet high. This spring we laid out a longer swale line continuing our previous swale. A friend carved a rough swale and terrace with his machine, and I have been working on it off and on as I have time. Because we have very sandy soil, with zero topsoil or organic matter, I built a series of compost piles along the terrace to build soil. Then I have been breaking up sticks and branches from a storm that brought down a lot of the local Siberian Elm and Cottonwood branches last fall, to form a 2-foot high hugel-berm, and covering it with leaves that were under the piles of branches, then a layer of clay and topsoil from another garden project. Finally, I sow cover crops like buckwheat, to hold the soil and build topsoil. Right now the swale and berm are about 40 feet long.

The "old" section of the berm has been planted this spring with some perennials like comfrey, topset onions, rhubarb, sorrel, etc, and seems to be doing well, and only needs watered 2 or 3 times a week, instead of daily, as some of my friends say they have to water their gardens.

I also extended the small hugelbed at my home garden, to about 15 feet long and 3-4 feet high, and it is thriving, with only weekly or twice weekly watering, once the plants get established. So I am pleased to report that the hugelbed idea does seem to work even in a dry climate, but it does require water to establish.

I am hoping that when (if?) we get some decent rain this fall, or heavy snow in the winter, that the swale and the woody berm will be able to catch and hold the moisture longer into the spring, and eventually be able to support trees and shrubs without a lot of additional irrigation.

I have noticed that in some of my sunken woody beds, the straw and other OM has either blown away in the wind or fallen through the cracks of the wood, so there is really no soil to speak of. I am planning to build compost piles on top of those beds, to make the soil deeper, and hope that will take care of the problem.

Hope you are all having a great summer (or winter, for those on the other side of the planet).

 
Duncan Blake
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ALL,
I would not recommend to build a hugelkultur / swale combo (hugel swale) until you review this article:
http://permaculturenews.org/2015/11/06/dont-try-building-hugel-swales-this-is-a-very-and-i-mean-very-bad-idea/
 
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