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putting in a swale  RSS feed

 
Nicholas Peshman
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Location: Huntsville, AL
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I have a .25 acre suburban plot that I was wanting to start a little forest garden on. I have some preexisting fruit trees in a rectangular strip that I would like to work with as well by building guilds below them. These trees are on a side of the property that has a decent slope to it, a 3ft change going the short way at one end and then flattens and almost twists the long way. Additionally there is a gentle slope from the flat side to the slope side about a foot and a half. The size of the strip in question is about 6' x 40' The soil is very clayey where we live as well. That said when it rains there are no gullies or streams that form and everything appears to get absorbed into the ground the way it is but does pool in depressions during heavy rains. With all of that does it make sense to put in a couple small swales? Or would it be better to just install the organic matter since the water is absorbed for the most part anyway? Thank you all for your responses in advance and please let me know if a drawing or something else can help explain the situation better.
 
Miles Flansburg
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howdy Nicholas, welcome to permies !

If the water already soaks in, sounds like all you need is the organic matter. Is there some other use you can see for having swales?
 
Nicholas Peshman
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Location: Huntsville, AL
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The only other advantage i can see is to more evenly spread the draimage from the downspouts on that corner of the house.
 
Cj Sloane
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Nicholas Peshman wrote:These trees are on a side of the property that has a decent slope to it, a 3ft change going the short way at one end and then flattens and almost twists the long way. Additionally there is a gentle slope from the flat side to the slope side about a foot and a half.


I'd still put in a small swale, even 6" can help stop and soak water on a hill, where you want it, just above the trees.
 
Nicholas Peshman
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Location: Huntsville, AL
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Id like to thank each of you for your replies. I have gone ahead and put in a small swale. I have placed it to take advatange of the output of the downspout and it runs perfectly on contour between the trees. Im looking forward to the first rain to see how well it works.
 
Michael Vormwald
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It seems to me that the purpose of a swale is to reduce or eliminate SURFACE RUNOFF during heavy rains that would otherwise be lost and sometimes cause erosion. If you don't have this, a supposed 'swale' is really just a dry trench that scars the land most of the time. Oh water will puddle there when it rains but it would have been there anyway saturated in the soil now removed.
 
Cj Sloane
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Michael Vormwald wrote:Oh water will puddle there when it rains but it would have been there anyway saturated in the soil now removed.


But the other way to look at it is that you're created two micro-climates where there was only one.
If the soil from the swale is not removed but placed in an uncompacted mound, that raised mound is better for growth than if the swale was not created.

I have great evidence of this from the paddock where my pigs were last fall. The pigs created a raised mound where the electric fence was. Now there is a clear line of new growth along that uncompacted raise mound. I've decided to plant saplings there. It's not a swale because it's not level but I think it will give the trees a little boost in what is normally heavy clay soil over ledge.
 
Cj Sloane
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To the left is the former pig paddock. To the right, normal ground in the shade after a cold spring. And the row of green is the mound the pigs made right where the electric fence stopped 'em. I pulled some of the weeds in the middle of the pic where I planted some small trees.
 
Peter Ellis
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Nicholas, while you may not see evidence of erosion (gullies or streams) you are seeing evidence that water is flowing on the surface (the ponding).

That tells you that while it may not be carrying away your soil, you are losing water to runoff. Some is ponding on your property and soaking in there, but other water that is running on the surface (like the water that collected to make those ponds)is leaving your property and getting away.
 
Michael Cox
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Cj - interesting photo and observation. I wonder if you could get your pigs to make mini swales/terraces for you by fencing along the contour?
 
Cj Sloane
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Yes, if I can get the posts to go in on contour, not a given on my ledgy property, I will in the future.
 
Michael Vormwald
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CJ - It seems to me that the pigs simply made a raised bed of uncompacted soil which has nothing to do with a swale on slope/on contour.
 
Peter Ellis
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Michael Vormwald wrote:CJ - It seems to me that the pigs simply made a raised bed of uncompacted soil which has nothing to do with a swale on slope/on contour.


CJ already noted that the pigs made a berm and it is not on contour. Swales and berms are part of one system, remember. The pigs rooted along the fence line, pushing material from one area to another. The pile is the berm, the place they took it from is the swale.

And if the fence runs on contour, then your pigs make a swale and berm on contour for you. Granted, it looks like a pretty small one, but it is a thing worth making note of that pigs may tend to push material into berms along the fence line.

It's that "observation" principle in practice.
 
Cj Sloane
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Peter Ellis wrote:
CJ already noted that the pigs made a berm and it is not on contour. Swales and berms are part of one system, remember. The pigs rooted along the fence line, pushing material from one area to another. The pile is the berm, the place they took it from is the swale.


Yes, that's exactly right. The pile was bigger this fall, it's settled a bit.

The point was just to emphasize that the uncompacted mound does make an environment conducive to growth. When geoff lawton says, "swales are tree growing systems" the uncompacted mound that the trees are planted in doesn't stand out quite as much in people's minds as the swale component.
 
Michael Vormwald
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