fixing the swales This video is a follow up to Episode -174- on Making swales and how they can be used to hold water and grow food. The video shows what the backyard looked like a year ago and some of the bare patches are evident but it was much worse. When it rained it was dangerous to walk down the steep incline as falling on my ass was a constant threat. I had thought long and hard about how to control the erosion since laying new grass seed every year never worked. The incline was just too steep. Finally after three years of wasted grass seed I carefully followed the instruction of Jack Spirko and others and used an A frame level made out of PVC pipe and duct to draw out lines level on contour.
I thought that having a stepped backyard would slow the water runoff and stay in the ground longer. I got the idea of creating a stepped backyard from a neighbor who had cut down a dead oak tree in my backyard that covered the area where the swales now lie. He suggested a set of long steps made from wooden planks but I thought that too unnatural and unproductive. Instead since March of 2012 I had been creating designs on how to make swales in the backyard that would be beautiful and productive. It took a while and the success I have had with smaller swales and hugel (woody core) garden bedsled me to be more careful putting my ideas into action.
I began in September of 2012 to draw and dig the lines on contour using an A Frame and before I did that I called Miss Utility to come and mark the lines for power and cables to my house so that I did not cut them by accident. That is an essential first step before taking on such a project. Then with my trusty shovel the swales were dug, filled in with small branches, leaves, compost, top soil, covered with rye, clover and hairy vetch and then I layered on some straw to keep everything moist. That worked fine for about a month until I noticed that the swales had depressed to an almost flat level with ground again thus destroying their purpose. This goes to show that doing things right the first time is not always a great idea. I had to think bigger and in November with help from my children I dug up the swales and replaced the small branches with great big logs of wood from the tree my neighbor cut.
Once the swales were dug anew I layered them up again in similar fashion to the first time and they have held up very well. So good in fact that by April they were ready to receive the wintergreen and cranberry plants I ordered from EdibleLandscaping.com. Now it is June 1 and the swales and the plants they support do look great. In another year or two they will look even better and be productive. In this case the labor involved for doing a better job the second job was well worth it. Be sure to follow up your mistakes with corrections and it doesn’t hurt to start all over. That’s it for today now go and fix something you didn’t get right the first time. Tony Teolis
Companion Planting Guide by World Permaculture Association