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Keyline agriculture contour, slope, tools questions  RSS feed

 
Ben Bishop
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Ok so I have a pretty good understanding of how to find the key point, the process of plowing the keyline and then plowing parallel to it. But I am not sure what that achieves. So effectively when you plow the keyline it is on contour, and then the parallel lines you plow aren't quite on contour since they are just mirroring the shape of the keyline. This is supposed to guide water away from the valley and into the ridges right? I can't quite wrap my head around that part. Why wouldn't you just plow a bunch of lines on contour around the keyline to hold in the rainwater?

A few more questions....

-Can you do this type of work on a home-scale with shovels and pitch forks?
-If the parallel plow lines aren't on contour wouldn't they cause water to accumulate in one area?
-The terms valley and ridge are used in this topic and even apply when we are talking about very slight dips and raises in the land. Can the land be TOO flat to even need to consider the keypoint?

Thank you!
 
Ben Stallings
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Location: Emporia, KS
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Ben Bishop wrote:This is supposed to guide water away from the valley and into the ridges right? I can't quite wrap my head around that part. Why wouldn't you just plow a bunch of lines on contour around the keyline to hold in the rainwater?


Because then you'd have more water in the valleys than in the ridges. Even if the water only travels, say, a meter before soaking into the ground, it will tend to flow toward the valleys unless something intervenes. The goal of keyline plowing is to even it out by making it flow that meter toward a dry spot instead of toward a wet spot.

Ben Bishop wrote:-Can you do this type of work on a home-scale with shovels and pitch forks?


Sure! But it may not make sense to break out the surveying gear for a small scale; just go out in a heavy rain and see where the puddles accumulate and where they don't, and move some dirt around as necessary to relieve the situation. I've had great success with this on my 1/10 acre -- I don't get puddles anymore even during the heaviest rains.

Ben Bishop wrote:-If the parallel plow lines aren't on contour wouldn't they cause water to accumulate in one area?


Only if they congregate somewhere. What you're missing here is that if they were on contour, that would cause water to accumulate in the valleys (keeping in mind that we're talking about valleys and ridges within the context of a larger slope), because that's what water naturally does on a sloping landscape. By plowing slightly off contour, you're spreading that water back the other way, toward the dry spots.

Ben Bishop wrote:Can the land be TOO flat to even need to consider the keypoint?


I would say yes, personally. geoff lawton says no landscape is too flat to use swales on contour (see: Greening the Desert, or his interview with Paul Wheaton where he talks about flat land), but finding the keypoint when there's no perceptible slope is a tricky business and probably futile IMHO.
 
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