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Constantly wet swales  RSS feed

 
S Usvy
Posts: 84
Location: South NB
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Hello, all. We have a ~ 1 acre clearing in the middle of a forest, on a gentle, south-facing slope, growing zone 5b. The house is on the top of the clearing, and at the bottom we have 2 swales, one on each side of the driveway. Each one is probably about ~ 100' long, ~ 2' deep, and 2.5' wide, with a planted berm below the swale. Our soil is clay-based, and we've been getting huge amounts of rain, so the swales don't seem to ever drain down - any time the water finally seeps through, there's another rainstorm coming!

Concerns -
1) mosquitoes. SO MANY mosquitoes. And that was before the swales went in. Now that they have a mosquito love motel, we might be up to our eyeballs in mosquitoes.
2) right now the large amount of water is softening the driveway portion that is just below the swales. Not great for driving, especially heavier vehicles.

I'm trying to figure out what would be the best use for this "feature" ("it's not a bug, it's a design feature!"). Here's a list of things I've thought of, could you comment on ones you have experience with, or propose other ideas you think might work?

1) Lower the spill sill - would reduce amount of water held by the swale, and let them occasionally dry out.
2) Try having some fish in the swales? Sounds a little risky, since we COULD have a dry spell. We do have multiple lakes and ponds nearby, so there is an easy source of living things.
3) Try growing wild rice in the swales (maybe combined with duckweed to keep mosquitoes out).
4) Fill with woodchips to the brim and then some (to keep the top few inches somewhat drier), and try growing mushrooms. Stropharia come to mind. Are mushrooms OK with fairly wet, very deep substrate? This would produce tasty goods, reduce the total amount of water in the swale, while restricting mosquito access (so hits both concerns AND makes food).
5) Only thought of it yesterday, mostly a joke - I kinda want to put ducks in them, and have a pedway going over the driveway to connect the two sides of the clearing. I can just imagine what it would look like, haha

Right now a combination of 1 and 4 is my favourite, but since I'm so new, I'd love some input. Thanks for your support and help!
 
Jd Gonzalez
Posts: 225
Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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forest garden greening the desert hunting trees
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I would tend to go with #4. What do you have planted around the area? Any plants with deep taproots that will penetrate the clay and help with absorption?

Also consider mosquito dunks
http://www.planetnatural.com/product/mosquito-dunks/



 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1659
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Mulching is probably a good bet for the short term, but you should look into getting some plants that will break through the clay and add carbon to the soil. Probably a cover crop of daikon radish is a good bet. You don't need to use wood chip - hedge clippings, grass, random sticks and branches etc... if it doesn't need to look pretty you can just use it as a brush wood dump for a while.

You could also look at adding some permanent wet patches to encourage a more persistant wetland fauna - frogs, newts, small fish etc... that can feed in the swales when they are full of water. An old bath tub set into the low point of the swale can make a year round easy water spot for your wildlife to retreat to.
 
S Usvy
Posts: 84
Location: South NB
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Thanks! I'll probably try to use daikon & carrots and such as part of the crops on the berm. Right now it's a couple of trees, a few berry bushes, and a pile of herbs. I was hoping to use it as part of my non-daily garden (so, tomatoes, peppers, etc), since we'll be a bit low on garden space. But I can interplant the deep-rooters.

We have access to some wood chips. On the bottom of the berm, we shoved piles of brush we had left from firewood cutting, and then topped up with wood chips. So any thoughts on mushrooms and wet feet? I can put woodchips a few inches above the spillway, but even the top will likely be quite damp. Also a little worried about oxygen down low - stirring the bottom of the pile seemed to produce some smell.

I do like the bathtub idea, was going to do it anyway - a friend is giving away their cast-iron, pink tub Should be quite the art installation...
 
R Scott
Posts: 3349
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Permanent frog habitat works. It only took a month for frogs to find my swales.
 
S Usvy
Posts: 84
Location: South NB
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Did you notice any effect on bug population (depends on the size of the frog habitat, of course)? It's going to be a huge problem for us - mixed hordes of mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies. Last summer was unpleasant.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3349
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Mosquitoes went WAY down after I got permanent water. Mosquitoes will breed in puddles, but their predators need consistent habitat.
 
S Usvy
Posts: 84
Location: South NB
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Sweet, good to know! I might go ahead and do both then - fill most of the swale in with mulch, try the shroom growing, and leave some space for frogs to enjoy. Thanks so much!
 
Bill Erickson
steward
Posts: 1128
Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
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I'd also suggest building a couple of bat houses. Those mosquito hoovers are awesome in my area. There's a boggy/marshy creek area within 100 yards of the house, and those lovely little beasties do a seriously awesome job of keeping them away from me. I think the combo of more permanent wetland area for amphibian/reptilian residents, and enticement homes for day and night aviators would be a really good bet.
 
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