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Swales are so cool !!! Pic heavy

 
Posts: 45
Location: WI, USA (Zone 5) Continental ~33" avg. rainfall
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We spent the winter planning our food forest based in part on Mark Shepard's Restoration Ag plans. I will provide more details as we progress, but I wanted to share the most excellent beginnings of our water management system.

Our house is located on the top of a hill and the land pretty much slopes away from us on all sides.


After our brutally dry summer last year, we decided that our first order of business was to capture as much water as we could.

We will eventually cut in swales about every 8m / 25' as we work our way up the hill.


We marked this off and cut it in on Sunday afternoon, didn't even have time to throw down the seed or mulch and here comes the rain, Yeahhhh !!!


This is the uphill / wet side of the swale after an afternoon of rain. You can see where the next 2 swales will be once it stops raining.


and this is the downhill / berm side of the same swale at the same time.


Simply amazing. We curled one end of the swale uphill just a bit to create an end and then dug in a 1m / 3' deep pocket pond at the other end with a field stone overflow. This will eventually lead to another swale further down the property towards the creek.


Just look at all that water, just sitting around on our property, right where we want it, slowly soaking into the soil.

Permaculture kicks ass !!!

 
steward
Posts: 7926
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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How lucky for you to get rain as you finish up your day's work.
"Instant Gratification".

You can now see 'living proof' for your efforts.

As Sepp Holzer says: All life is 70% water. If you can control your water, you're project is 70% finished.

 
Posts: 55
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I will certainly use this technique when I get the chance.

Did you have to do any measurements?
 
Posts: 64
Location: Missouri
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Dale,

It looks fantastic! What did you use to cut in your swales?

I'm looking forward to seeing more pictures as your forest progresses. What are the species you are planting? Where did you get them?

J
 
Dale Bunger
Posts: 45
Location: WI, USA (Zone 5) Continental ~33" avg. rainfall
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I would really like to get a transit or laser level at some point in time to take quick measurements across a distance and to validate our A-frame, but all the work up to this point has been done with a simple homemade A-frame.

I built it out of cedar 2" x 2" 's so it is lightweight and easy to work with and made the spacing between the legs 1.5m / 5' mainly because this is the width of the front end loader on my Kubota. This will make sense later on

I pick a staring point for the swale, generally near the estimated middle of its path, and start "walking" the A-frame across the land. Every time I take a step with the A-frame, I put a flag in by the A-frame leg.

I move out in both directions until I have my proposed path. This generates a very detailed line across the property, usually with a couple of outliers due to depressions or other disturbances.

I generally "smooth" out these outliers if they are only 1 or 2 flags in length and try to normalize the path while still following the natural layout of the land.

Now the fun part...

I position my tractor on the up/hill side of the swale, tilt the bucket at about a 45 degree angle, and line up the cutting edge of my front end loader with the first 2 flags in my path.

I dig in about 1/2 of my bucket depth and gently tilt the bucket to push this soil over onto the berm side.

Then back up and line up the bucket with the edge of your last cut and the next flag in the line. It is magically spaced at a buckets width

Keep up this process until you have the entire swale roughed in.

I generally go back and take a few more cuts at each position to sprinkle some dirt on top of whatever organic matter was growing on top and to make the entrance edge a little more shallow.

That is pretty much it. It took my wife and I about 2 hours to layout, mark, dig, and rake out a 45m / 150' swale. This includes discussing the exit path, carrying rocks in for the overflow, and enjoying the day...


I will post our planting lists next post.


 
Posts: 3
Location: Pendleton, Oregon, USDA Zone 6, Sunset Zone 6, 15" percipitation
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Looks Great! Can I ask how you determined your swale spacing interval (~25 ft)?
 
Dale Bunger
Posts: 45
Location: WI, USA (Zone 5) Continental ~33" avg. rainfall
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The 25' is a typical spacing used when alley cropping trees and shrubs. We based our ideas on Mark Shepard's Restoration Ag book and he outlines a couple of guilds using this spacing.

He doesn't really discuss swales in his book, but our thoughts are that the little extra time spent up front will create a better environment for the trees and shrubs that we plant...
 
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Looks great! Are you getting a lot of questions from neighbors?
 
Posts: 73
Location: Nova Scotia
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Great work there Dale. I have made a series swales (500m in total) on the hillside at my place that was made with that same technique last fall, and was a amazed at the the speed at which they can be made. I used round bales of straw to mulch. If you have friend or two they can be rolled out like mats over the berm. Worked great, took very little time and small $. I found a medium bale covers about 100m of exposed dirt. The bales of straw I used were old ones that were left in a neighbouring farm field for a couple of years, thus they were free, just had to drag them home after getting permission.
 
Dale Bunger
Posts: 45
Location: WI, USA (Zone 5) Continental ~33" avg. rainfall
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Not much conversation with any of my neighbors yet, but I am sure that people are starting to wonder. Farmers are kind of like that



dan collins wrote: I used round bales of straw to mulch. If you have friend or two they can be rolled out like mats over the berm. Worked great, took very little time and small $. I found a medium bale covers about 100m of exposed dirt. The bales of straw I used were old ones that were left in a neighbouring farm field for a couple of years, thus they were free, just had to drag them home after getting permission.



Unrolling the round bales is a great idea. I actually picked up 5 round bales the same way and you can kind of see them in one of the pictures. They had been sitting in a fence line for 4-5 years and the farmer even dropped them off for me to get rid of them. I was going to attempt adding them to a hugel bed, but the rolled mulch idea is much better.
 
Posts: 88
Location: Castelo Branco, Portugal
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Hi Dale, how did the swale projet go?

Can you post photos of the site now to see the diference?

 
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