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Hugels as Swales??

 
Sam Green
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Greetings, been enjoying Geoff Lawtons videos, and one thing I liked is the different ways people applied the same basic principles. One idea that ran in my head was in an appropriate area (heavy forest that needs to be thinned) could Hugel beds, especially if made larger to allow tree roots to penetrate properly, be used as swales? In my newbie mind, im thinking it would hold more water and organic matter for the plantings, reducing the need for irrigation, and if you miss a few chop and drop sessions, theres plenty of feed. You could even take it a step further by using Paul Gautchie(sp) Garden of Eden approach by adding wood chips to the top. What do people think of that?
 
Zach Muller
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Hey nettle, welcome to the forum! I think your head is in the right place but your terms might be a bit mixed up. Remember a swale is more of a trench with a level bottom, on contour, And a berm is the lump of soil that gets piled up on the downhill side of your swale, this is where the ground will be hydrated and good for tree/plant growing.
I think many people have done something like you suggest and make the berm a hugel bed, myself included.

Having a mulch on the top of the berm is usually a plus to avoid it getting dry and crusty up there, wood chips are one of my favorite mulches since the city chips them and makes them available at no cost. The negative aspect of wood chips is that it takes time and energy to chip wood.
If I was in a heavily wooded area I would probably consider just using leaf litter to mulch and burying the logs and full trees in the hugel mounds. That is easier to me than getting a chipper out there and processing a bunch of trees.
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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I've done it just. Hugel mounds on contour have worked out well for me. I haven't irrigated them in 3 years. Never had any sort of water issues.

You can see some of my swales here : hugel swales About a third of the way down the page.

Since those pictures were taken the growth has been tripled.
 
R Scott
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In nearly flat land, yes. If you have any slope, you need to be really careful not to create a landslide in a major rain event. At least during establishment before the roots anchor the berm. If you keep the water level at original grade and the wood only makes the berm bigger and all above grade you minimize that risk.
 
Peter Ellis
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R Scott wrote:In nearly flat land, yes. If you have any slope, you need to be really careful not to create a landslide in a major rain event. At least during establishment before the roots anchor the berm. If you keep the water level at original grade and the wood only makes the berm bigger and all above grade you minimize that risk.


I understand about wanting to avoid a slide. I do not understand how "keep[ing] the water level at original grade" and using the wood to make the berm bigger and keeping it all above grade would minimize the risk of a slide. If you are not digging a swale (keeping water level at original grade says to me you are not digging) then where is the earth for the berm coming from?

Indeed, my inclination is almost the opposite. Lawton teaches us that swales are tree growing systems, and Holzer teaches that trees ought not to be planted on hugelkultur beds.
So putting wood into the berm of a swale to make a hugelbeet seems to run contrary to their advice.

But - I think if you were to dig a swale, load your wood into the swale and then cover with what would normally be the berm, then you have made a water harvesting hugelbeet. It still will not be a good place to grow trees in the hugel, but it will capture water in conventional swale fashion. With the wood below ground, it is not going to slide anywhere.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I agree with Peter Ellis' assessment on this subject. I build swales using hugel methodology but I do not even consider planting trees in these berms. I dig down to form the swale and make it wide enough to also form the berm from the same ditch. Wood goes into the downhill portion of the swale ditch using a layering method, large wood, fill, smaller wood, fill, smaller wood, fill, cover. I have been using most of the cover on the uphill side of the berm and only a thin cover on the down hill side. I am planting a cover crop of clover on the new berms. These will be planted in the future with different berries, some squashes and other vegetables. I am building them for dual purpose, firstly to control run off water down my north facing slope and secondly to create some water plumes for fruit trees which will be planted just off the back side slope of these berms. This should allow me to not have to water the orchard very often in our hot summers and also give us more berries and other vegetables during our long growing season.

I have built two of these berms with out digging and while they do the job first intended, they do not perform as well as the new ones that are dug as mentioned above. The first two tend to leak some of the runoff water they were intended to contain and now that I have come up with a much better method, they will be re-structured over this winter and finished before our rainy season begins with any luck.

I've been using growing mounds for years and they work well for what they are intended to grow. I have never planted a tree on a mound, I have also never successfully planted a tree on a berm, mostly this is because I do not live on land that is flat enough to accommodate such a planting method, my slopes are 45 degrees.
 
Jeremy Droplet
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I put in a few hundred linear feet of hugel-swale by hand at my place this summer.

I would avoid planting larger trees ON the mounds unless you are talking about a farm-scale sized swale. Larger swales like this would help mitigate any potential washout concerns. If you're on a site with the potential to wash out your swale, you really should consider putting in more swales higher up the slope to slow that water down some. You always want the water to travel as slowly as possible over the landscape. Cover crops, veggies, fruiting shrubs, etc. do really well on the mounds. I plant the trees down slope of the mounds to take advantage of the water inundated into the soil by the swale itself. My site is fairly steep so none of this may apply if you're on flatter ground.







My hugel-swales are small, but fairly close together.



And this last image shows how dense my hugel mounds, swales, and terraces are. With this kind of spacing, I hardly think you'd have any sort of washout concerns.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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Nice photos Jeremy, we think on this subject very much alike.
 
Sam Green
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Thanks for the replies, everybody, yes, I do sometimes get sloppy with my terms I "generally" think of swales as the trench and the berms on each side, I guess, cause I figure most times you cant have one without the other, but I can see where that can cause some confusion, so ill work on that. You guys have pretty much answered my question as it seems that tree planting would not be very successful unless theyre VERY large, and that would defeat the whole stacking/efficiency thing im trying to do.

Im thinking the best bet is doing regular dirt berms and use the paul gautchie wood chip method to get the low to no watering and mulching idea im looking for. My rationale is im 45 and might not be till im 50 that I can get my plan up and running so im trying to get to food forest production as quick as i can, cutting out as much of the pioneer stage and avoid the need for irrigation as much as possible, to give me more flexibility for my water features in case permits/plans/etc are in issue in whatever area I set up in.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Sam Green wrote:Thanks for the replies, everybody, yes, I do sometimes get sloppy with my terms I "generally" think of swales as the trench and the berms on each side, I guess, cause I figure most times you cant have one without the other, but I can see where that can cause some confusion, so ill work on that. You guys have pretty much answered my question as it seems that tree planting would not be very successful unless theyre VERY large, and that would defeat the whole stacking/efficiency thing im trying to do.

Im thinking the best bet is doing regular dirt berms and use the paul gautchie wood chip method to get the low to no watering and mulching idea im looking for. My rationale is im 45 and might not be till im 50 that I can get my plan up and running so im trying to get to food forest production as quick as i can, cutting out as much of the pioneer stage and avoid the need for irrigation as much as possible, to give me more flexibility for my water features in case permits/plans/etc are in issue in whatever area I set up in.


You have the swale idea right Sam, a swale is the berm and the ditch, they work together as a single system of water retention. The reason for not planting trees on a Hugel is because they are going to settle, a tree planted on a Hugel could fall when the settling occurs.

I find it puzzling that it sounds almost like you seem to think 50 is old, I am currently 63 and doing all the work on my homestead with hand tools. I am on a five year build schedule so I'll be 67 around the time I get to the end of this schedule and probably will still be wanting a tractor to make the work a bit faster and easier.

You don't have to have huge pieces of wood in a growing mound, lots of small stuff will work too, larger stuff just takes longer to disappear. Paul's method is just a different route to the same end goal, he uses wood chips instead of partially rotted logs, end result is very similar. One thing about using wood in any growing mound, be it swale berm or mound, it takes less dirt to get to the desired height. All growing areas benefit from mulching, doesn't matter if it is a mound, swale, raised or flat bed.

Large trees would most likely already be growing, in that case you would not want to dig very deep since the feeder root systems are usually near the surface. For this type of situation I would build a berm (with wood in it at the bottom) but probably not a true swale (no ditch) near to but not up against the tree (s). Large trees active feeder roots are going to be out at the drip line of the branches, not up against the trunk. So, that's the area that will give the tree the most benefit of any earth works that are done.

If you have any other questions, let me know, I'll certainly try to give an answer.
 
Sam Green
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Thanks Bryant, appreciate the info on the beds, depending on the permit situation for the ponds (meaning how much water ill be holding uphill) ill probably keep my mounds hugel free on contour, esp when i can use the garden of eden method to put the tree matter in play, not worth the risk. As for the age thing, its more wondering how old ill be when my food forest is in the start of good production. (about 20 yrs ago was into organic gardening but hadnt found permaculture, so sometimes I feel like im 20 yrs behind schedule

So id rather use the garden of eden approach for my mulch, nitrogen fixing, and not needing to lay irrigation and start with food forest species right away and reduce the need for pioneers, kind of like Geoff says about stacking layers of time, but on a new level, as Tim the Tool Man would say "More Power" nothing like a big bunch of tree mulch to replicate a 100 or so years of forest litter. I figure the local tree services may provide some cheap, and the site ill probably use will be heavily forested (see below) so the time,money and effort done now early putting down chips im hoping will pay off in less work to do in later years planting cover crops, nitrogen fixers, chopping and dropping, etc.

Im near Maple Syrup country, zone 4b. My desired site would be a mixed hardwood forest to plant low tannin oaks for making oak flour and such, and any ponds seeded with wild rice for either sale or storage, as well as attracting wild ducks, depending on the site maybe some fish ponds as well. Along with beech, butternut, walnut & hazel for nuts and maples for maple water( is similar to coconut water for minerals) or making maple syrup possibly. But hardwoods take a lot of time, so thats my concern. Im looking at a multi income stream and using nuts as my main safety food instead of fruit or grains.

My plan is the garden and quicker growing shrubs and trees will keep me going till the hardwoods are established. So ill probably keep the hugels close to the house. Thats just a small part of the whole plan, but hope it illustrates my though process a bit more clearly. Thanks again for the info and appreciate being able to send questions your way




 
Bryant RedHawk
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I really like your plan of attack. Some of our orchard trees will be 2-3 years away from producing fruit when they go in the ground. Wife wanted to make long row gardens for veggies but I managed to talk her into doing block beds so we can supply OP seed to the seed banks we use for our starter crops. I like to give back to those who help. I have 30 years of nursery experience to draw from as well as degrees in chemistry, biology, horticulture. I've been into this type of growing methodology since the early 1980's and love the many different ways that can be utilized to get to the same end. I use growing mounds, the same way my Nakota brothers and sisters have for eons. We also use raised beds and flat beds along with some straw bale rows ( a method I'm using for the second season coming up.

Great luck with your plan, I know it will do well.
 
Sam Green
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Thanks Bryant, Im trying to figure out as many possible income possibilities, may not try them all but its good if they can be built in or able to be used on the property if needed. Interesting you mentioned first nations ideas, thats where I got the idea of the acorns and wild rice IMO its an under utilized food and at the same time it attracts wood ducks and the ponds attract other species of duck, either for hunting, enjoyment or hosting hunting/bird watching groups. Toying with the idea of a small visitor center that at different times of the year can have different groups there: permaculture/yoga/meditation/maple sugaring/ summer activities/hunting and fishing/winter skills/bushcraft). Figure if youre going to go to the trouble of hosting one activity the stuff youd have to build could better be used all year long if possible. In addition the usual common streams of food/timber/food products, etc.

Im trying to go with whats natural here, while keeping in mind the total time length for a finished food forest, and what age and possible health situations ill be in ( there may not be things I can/want to do in 15-20 yrs, so im trying to think about having it as work free as possible, or having the work close to the house, or in an area of the property id like it to be). But at the same time keeping an eye on planting stuff that will be around long after im gone, thats also an important thing to consider, as that can be a source of satisfaction thats overlooked in todays instant society. Also funds will probably be an issue so if I can avoid the cost of massive earthworks with the wood chips, thats a plus( not that the ponds arent nice by themselves, one has to wonder how much theyre needed to pump irrigation water/flood/drout control. (in my area neither are common of course the earths always changing, but it be nice to have the ponds as an option and not a necessity that I might not be able to afford).

You sound like you have alot of knowledge to lean on thats great!! Be interesting to see how the straw bale rows turn out, they can also be great for weeding and keeping moisture in, and if its around, why not use it to best advantage, thats good. Im betting you could stack bales for a potato box to get alot of them in a small area. Also like that youre able to give back OP seeds to people, thats great and its a valuable skill should it be needed down the road (seeds will be worth more than gold IMO when it gets bad).

I like your cooperative approach, thats how i like to prepare as well, by helping and cooperation rather than fear. Thats also why I pick the foods Im focusing on as well, I dont eat alot of grains, and hearing a talk on grain free prepping,it got me thinking of nuts as a primary store, technically wild rice is a grain, but its high value for its size and you dont have big fields of it to draw ppl in, and frankly most ppl wouldnt do the work needed to harvest and get it ready for storing. Also not a big fruit eater, theyre great in small doses but theyre finding a big health connection to sugar and the illnesses of modern life, so the typical food forest you see, id tend to modify to focus on high nutrient like blue/black/raspberries and similar types(huckle,haskap,salmon, lingon, etc) some apples for cider,vinegar and selling with a few for eating, plus the pigs will like them, with a few others(im partial to pears & the forums on cold tolerant apricots and pomegrantes have tickled my interest . Also try to focus on herbal and health specific trees and shrubs (hawthorn for heart, ginko for brain, etc).

Anyhow im starting to ramble, sounds like you have a good garden to tide you over till your forest kicks into high gear.





 
Bryant RedHawk
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Hau ake Kola,

Great ideas Sam, Wolf and I eat the diet of our ancestors, it does better for our bodies than any of the White Eyes Modern dietary foods. I think they are what is poisoning the oyate, all people would fare far better if they got away from all the "convenient" foods that those of European decent have pushed as cheep nutrition. My body tells me that these items are neither, cheep nor nutrition.

Our land is being used in the ways of the ancestors, small plots of multiple foods, that grow in harmony with each other. Most of the grains we grow are for four legs and are spread all over, in small plots. We use clovers and native grasses for keeping the dirt where it belongs and for our foot paths.

We started out with a five year plan, now we are one year into it and just a little ahead of schedule. The end goal is to not only be self sustaining but also off the grid.

We grow sweet potatoes in mounds of straw and we grow other potatoes in a mix of leaves and straw. As these materials break down, we just add more fresh to the mix. The growing mounds we use I learned how to build from the Hopi and Navajo nations, when I went to seek my visions. Other things I have learned from many different avenues and adjusted this knowledge to fit our ways.

pilamayaye
 
Sam Green
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Hi again, sorry ive been away for a bit. I like what youre saying about the grains used for livestock vs us eating them, its totally the way we should be using them. Ive been watching Mark Sheppard and like his youtube video where he talks alot about the oak savannah. I could work chestnuts into the mix and have more stable production, and its high carbohydrate and less work to process than acorns, just not sure about the time to harvest vs quick bearing newer oak varieties, not sure if chestnuts have been worked on much lately. Also his no bull approach and being tough on limiting inputs is probably the way ill have to go, cause the money for huge earthworks will be limited. Also been watching Ben Falk, hes close to my area so taking in alot of what hes saying as well. He was talking about feeding squash to ducks in winter, was interesting, long storage feed crop instead of buying grain.

Wish I could grow sweet potatoes well up here, just too cold, maybe in the greenhouse, am hoping to put my bucks in to a climate battery greenhouse type structure as my main living space (i lived in the tropics for a yr and miss it) also would like to have green veg all winter if possible, with a few smaller greenhouses to hold my chicken, ducks, etc. figure the chickens can feed on compost and the heat of it and the birds will help, could even add a rocket stove, and can grow some greens for them to eat all winter instead of buying grain, and if I can sneak a few plants for me in there well its a bonus.

Hope the new year is going well for you, cant wait to hear more about your place
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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