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Swale berm planting suggestions

Posts: 52
Location: Yonkers, NY/ Berkshires, MA USA
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more pictures
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This one because the panorama makes Stephen's belly look extra cute
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Meghan Orbek
Posts: 52
Location: Yonkers, NY/ Berkshires, MA USA
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and more including recent germination. Very dense but hopefully will self thin...
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Posts: 531
Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
hugelkultur fungi trees books food preservation
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Could you give me some pointers on how you've set up the plow to make it more efficient in construction of the swale. I haven't watched the YouTube video yet, but I'm sure a lot of folks here would really appreciate a little more "nuts and bolts" type description of how you set up your tractor to make your earthworks, I know I would.

I've been struggling quite a bit trying to get my plow set up properly to efficiently build swales.
Posts: 685
Location: northwest Missouri, USA
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Meghan, awesome stuff!

Dave, sure ... Some of this is learnings from cutting the first swale and applied to cutting the second swale. Note, I do not have much experience at all with a tractor and moldboard plow. What you saw in my photos are my first attempts, so please seek the advice of others, too.

1 - I staked the surveyed contour line with something that won't be hurt by running over it nor hurt the tractor.
2 - By standing behind the mounted plow I look for a landmark on the front of the tractor that is in perfect line with the left moldboard plowshare. Whatever landmark I choose, I have to be able to see this from the seat, but it gives me my guide to know how to steer for my first pass. For me, the landmark on my tractor was a point on the steering arm of the left front wheel. I simply drove the tractor keeping the contour line right on that point.
3 - One thing I might suggest is to hook up your plow to your tractor on a driveway or hard-surface road to see exactly the pitch of your plow (the angle down or up of your plowshare) as you raise and lower it with the three-point hitch. This helps you know how long or short to extend the top link. Since I'm not plowing in the traditional sense and knew I'd be making several passes, I didn't want to penetrate too deeply so I kept the bottom plane of the plow pitched parallel with the ground at about a four-inch depth. Then you can estimate the slight pitch change knowing the plow will be four inches deeper. I think some folks drive their wheels up on wood blocks to raise the tractor up and the lower their three-point hitch down to touch the drive way.
4 - Be sure your sway bars or chains are tight so the plow does not move laterally even a little bit.
5 - Go to an area of your property that you don't mind plowing a bit and make a few pratice runs. I did this in one area that I knew was going to be where I built my long compost windrows, so a bit plowed ground didn't hurt. Get a feel for your plow at different depths and how much earth you're turning over. This will also give you some indication at what throttle you can run.
6 - My first couple of passes were not pretty at all ... a bit shameful, actually. But, I kept making passes and it worked out. When I cut the second swale, I was much better.
7 - If you have a contour line that is "wiggly" or has tight turns, I suggest you seriously consider using a tractor with both power steering and 4WD. This made my second swale so much easier.
8 - Be consious of how your plow lifts out at the end of your swale. This has some importance with how you "construct" the end of your swale. You'll likely have some hand shovel work to do when all is said and done.
9 - Some of your passes are for cutting and some of your passes are for moving earth down hill.

Wow, that's more than you asked for, so I'll stop. If you want to chat more about this, send me a purple moosage and I'll give you my phone number and we can talk. Good luck. I think this was a great way to cut a swale, but this was my first and second swale, so what do I know?!

Posts: 82
Location: Lantzville, Vancouver Island,BC Cool temperate, Lat. 49.245 Zone 8a
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Looks great Meghan. The operator who dug the swale did a very nice job.
Dave Dahlsrud
Posts: 531
Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
hugelkultur fungi trees books food preservation
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Thanks for the tips Dan. That is exactly what I was looking for. I also have almost no experience with a plow so any insight is greatly appreciated.
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I'm looking forward to designing swales and other earthworks onto my property. I already have a pond which i plan to work with but modify some of the catchment and discharge during heavy rains. This spring east of KC had it completely full and running off the property. Luckily i had done some work to catch much of the nutrient before it left the property by slowing it all down, but a swale will allow me to spread it out even more and move the water to another section of the property vs. running off to the neighboring property. On another note I'll be heading down to Nick Ferguson's class this October http://www.permacultureclassroom.com/earthworks-workshop.html
Is anyone else from KC signed up for this or thinking about going?
Posts: 90
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The suggestion is to plant any and every nitrogen fixing plant you can get your hands on with nitrogen fixing trees at the top of the list
If you have fruit trees that is great but in my experience stuff will come up.
If you end up with too many bean trees down the road, you can just chop and drop them to make room for the now maturing fruit/nut/timber trees.
Also, if you can get your hands on any woody material, bury that under the swales. It will fuel them for years while the soil system gets started..

You can't lose with swales in my opinion, plants seem to love them.

Dan, your soil looks great already...
Posts: 27
Location: Kent County, MI
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Dan Grubbs wrote:If you look at the swale/berm I cut yesterday on our farm, you'll see about a 300-foot swale that is about 18 inches deep, four feet wide and a burm of about two feet in height. Today I covered the berm with a thick coat of hay to keep the rain from washing it away before I get things planted on it. So, obviously, I'm asking for planting suggestions. I will be ordering a variety of nut trees to plant, too.

I want both food and soil regeneration on our farm. On either side of the swale/berm is pasture and open for most anything, but likely will grow various forage for our goats next year. We live in Northwest Missouri in the upper part of hardiness Zone 6a. What would you all suggest?

Hey Dan, I haven't read most of this thread, But great work using that equipment for your swale install and thanks for the pics. I'm sure you've planted some things by now since this post is about 2 years old now. However, here are some plant suggestions for establishing a productive poly-cultural food forest.

The first few plant species are more productive, and complex carbon organisms (meaning they take long to establish and produce well). Underneath, divided by the dotted line, are support species (they grow much quicker, fix nitrogen & other elements, and produce biomass for the soil organisms), some of which are productive as well.

Even if you have planted this swale, hopefully this list helps you to establish more and diversify the ones already growing. Let me know what you think.
p.s. I tried attaching a text document to no avail, so i apologize for the sloppy copy/paste format

Plant List

Name Latin Type Hardiness

Chestnut(Chinese) Castanea mollissima D. Tree 4-8
“ “(Badgersett) Castanea sativa “ 4-9
Walnut(Black) Juglans nigra “ 4-8
“ “(English) Juglans regia “ 4-9
Mulberry(red) Morus rubra “ 5-9
Apple(Various) Malus pumila “ 3-8
Pear(Various) Pyrus communis “ 4-8
Cherry(Various) Prunus serotina “ 3-9
Plum(Various) Prunus americana “ 3-8
Pawpaw Asimina trilobagaria “ 5-9
Hazelnut(Am.) Corylus americana D. Shrub 3-9
“ “(beaked) Corylus cornuta “ 3-8
Elderberry(Am.) Sambucus canadensis “ 3-10
Quince Cydonia oblonga “ 5-9
Goumi Elaeagnus multiflora “ 4-8
Chokeberry(autumn) Aronia melanocarpa “ 3-7
Raspberry Rubus idaeus “ 2-7
Blackberry Rubus canadensis “ 3-9
Currants(black) Ribes nigrum “ 3-9
“ “(red) Ribes rubrum “ 3-7
Gooseberry(Am.) Ribes hirtellum “ 2-7
Serviceberry(round-leaf) Amelanchier sanguinea “ 2-5
“ “Saskatoon Amelanchier alnifolia “ 3-7
Cranberry(Am.) Vaccinium macrocarpon E. Shrub 2-8
Kiwi(Hardy) Actinidia arguta Vine 4-9
Grape(Am.) Actinidia kolomikta “ 3-9
Willow(weeping/various) Salix alba D. Tree 4-8
“ “(black) Salix Nigra “ 3-9
Oak (black) Quercus velutina “ 3-9
Locust(Black) Robinia pseudoacacia “ 3-8
“ “(Honey) Gleditsia triacanthos “ 4-7
“ “(speckled) Alnus rugosa “ 2-7
KY Coffee Tree Gymnocladus dioicus “ 3-8
Dogwood(Pagoda) Cornus alternifolia “ 3-7
Mimosa Albizia julibrissin “ 6-9
Golden-Chain Tree Laburnum anagyroides “ 5-7
False Indigo Amorpha fruticosa D. Shrub 3-9
Olive(autumn) Elaeagnus umbellata “ 3-9
“ “(Russian) Elaeagnus angustifolia “ 2-7
Pea shrub(Siberian) Caragana arborescens “ 2-7
“ “(Russian) Caragana frutex “ 2-7
“ “(Pygmy) Caragana pygmaea “ 3-7
Seaberry Hippophae rhamnoides D.Shrub 3-7
Bladder Senna Colutea arborescens “ 5-9
Bush clover Lespedeza thunbergii D. shrub 4-8
NJ Tea Ceanothus americanus “ 3-8
Bush clover(round headed) Lespedeza capitata P. Herb 3-8
Buffalo berry Shepherdia canadensis “ 2-6
Lead Plant Amorpha canescens “ 3-8
Milk vetch(ground plum) Astragalus crassicarpus “ 3-10
“ “(Painted) Astragalus ceramicus “ 3-9
Wild Indigo(Cream) Baptisia bracteata “ 2-8
“ “(White) Baptisia alba “ 3-9
Licorice(Cultivated) Glycyrrhiza glabra “ 6-9
“ “(Wild) Glycyrrhiza lepidota “ 3-8
Sweet Vetch Hedysarum boreale “ 3-9
“ “(White) Lupinus albus “ 4-9
“ “(Wild) Lupinus perennis “ 3-8
Prairie Turnip Psoralea esculenta “ 3-7
Clover(White) Trifolium repens “ 3-10
Pea(perennial) Lathyrus latifolius “ 3-9
Alfalfa Medicago sativa Annual 2-9
Black Medic Medicago lupulina “ 2-9
“ “(Crimson) Trifolium incarnatum “ 2-9
Groundnut Apios americana Vine 2-9
“ (Traveler’s Delight) Apios priceana “ 5-7
“ (Tuberous) Lathyrus tuberosus “ 3-8

Many species have been left off this list due to the sheer volume of available & useful plants.
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