We live on 20 acres in the foothills (approximate elevation 700 ft) of the northern Cascade Mountains of Washington (Snohomish County). About five of these acres were carved out of temperate deciduous forest for the house, yard, and pasture by previous owners years ago. The land is fairly level from north to south and slopes gently from west to east. As best I can tell, we are either zone 8a or 8b and our annual average rainfall is 47 inches (rain forest is 55+ inches of rainfall) which falls mostly October through May.
Because of that rainfall, the land is saturated with water for many months of the year. Water moves slowly down slope into the forest acres and eventually into a creek. (Update: In doing some digging recently, I am starting to think that most of the rainfall stays on or in the top of the soil. Digging down a foot or two, the soil was NOT saturated)
We are working to transform the pasture into food forest. I have read a lot about swales and hugelkultur all of which seems very exciting. However, given the amount of rain we get I am worried that these techniques are not the best idea for our land. I can easily imagine some of our storms washing out swales.
We are at the point of taking our first steps towards regenerating the pasture and we do not have a good plan for how to manage this much water.
I look forward to any discussion, ideas, or resources that you might have to help us.
I spent 17 years in the area, the last 10 in the Maltby area north of Woodinville, so I know a little about the climate you experience. First, let me ask a question for clarification. Are you trying to manage the water off, down or out of your property? Summer months can be very dry despite near rain-forest conditions. Is this about keeping the soil hydrated through that time; or is this about getting the waterlogged soil more usable during the 'wet'?
As I am reminded here, swales are tree growing systems. They are about appropriate water management to grow trees in the berm. I don't think you have a problem growing trees. In fact, it is the default mode of the west slope of the Cascades. So why swales? From your post it sounds like the issue is really about getting water down into the subsoil/watertable; and not sponging up the topsoil. For this you need to determine what is inhibiting the saturation. Is there a strata of soil that is impenetrable? Is their a bacteria layer that has created a membrane in the soil (gleying)? I think the solution regardless of the cause will be to open up the soil and channel the water down; or to create run-off channels, maybe even drain pipe (tile.) If the water is slow to migrate off the top, and down into the creek; you have to encourage it to get off the top soil. If it goes down, then it is available later during the drier months.
Have you seen any information on sub-soilers or yeoman's plows? Without turning over or greatly disturbing the soil and negatively impacting microbiology, these devises open up the soil so oxygen and surface water can get down deep into the profile. It breaks up shallow hard-pans and other impermeable layers. There are good youtube videos online of both.
As far as rain blowing out your swales, I don't think you are going to have that problem. A properly designed swale most commonly runs along a contour line perpendicular to flow. Unless you have arroyos in that pasture, water seldom gets moving that quickly that it erodes the berm, as it settles and pacifies in the depression as it gently rises to the top of the swale. One can put in spillways slightly below the top of the levy to control when, where, and how much runs out before failure of the rest of the berm. These spillways would be packed or otherwise stabilized to prevent erosion. Swales not on contour are really just diversion channels that accelerate rather than slow the water. Here one would have erosion problems and risk of failure/erosion. While these features will get rid of water, they are riskier and makes the water not available later.
What type of tree are you trying to grow? I have never really encountered trees having difficulty growing in the PNW due to dry conditions (what swales remedy.) Mostly it is other climate considerations such as cold, low solar gain (short day/too much shade), or poorly drained soil.
Sorry, if I am not understanding your intent; but I think swales are the wrong tool for the job. Open up the soil and dry it out (spread it down.) I think you will be fine.
Location: Foothills of Cascade Mountains, Snohomish County, WA
Greetings Jack ~ We are just a little farther north of Maltby, about 10 miles NE of Monroe. So, you know the conditions pretty well. Your questions are good food for thought. First, my latest intent of water management is to get the water off the surface and down into the soil. Yes, I have just learned about the sub-soiler and will be investing in one of them before long.
Second, we are generally looking to plant nut, fruit, berry, and other edibles out there.
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
I will be watching your reports with interest. I always wanted to grow nuts in WA. Coming from Texas I always hoped I could get pecans to produce there. I know better now. However, if I ever get back up there, Carpathian Walnuts and I are going to form a love affair. What type of nut do you think will grow well? I had a California Hazelnut that grew on my place, but I never got any nuts from it. That may have been due more to the rampant population of squirrels, though.
By the way, that is nice piece of property you have in the photo. That is some of the prettiest country I have ever experienced. Keep us posted, please. I really am interested in hearing about your journey.
I recognize that aerial photo! Congrats of finding your way to permies.com! You've really come to the right place to get some more good info on how to develop each of your projects. Good on 'ya, mate.
"It is, of course, one of the miracles of science that the germs that used to be in our food have been replaced by poisons." - Wendell Berry
Come to our Swale Making Workshop in Tenino, WA, same bioregion, and learn:
Permaculture Design in Earthworks: Swale Making Workshop – Learn Water Harvesting and Retention Techniques – “Slow it, Spread it, Sink it” - Taught by Rick Valley and Pat Rasmussen
2 day hands-on workshop May 30-31, 2015
Camping on site, nutritious meals provided - $250 - $75 15221 Vantine Rd. SE, Tenino, WA 98589 (near Olympia)
To register and request work trades contact Pat at email@example.com or call 509-669-1549. Paying the full amount will help students and others attend who might not otherwise be able to.
Learn how to design earthworks systems that drought-proof land and optimize productivity. This earthworks course is a hands-on course that will help you design and implement water harvesting and retaining strategies on your property – swales, Fukuoka-style swales, hugelkulturs, and ponds.
Learn the principles of permaculture design in earthworks: reading the site, interpreting contour maps and using surveying tools, placing elements in a design.
*** Reason for earthworks and types of earthworks *** Earthwork elements and types of machines *** How to locate and mark contour lines on your land *** How to use survey equipment; learn practical surveying and design of dams and swales *** How to direct earth movers *** Specifics of dam and pond construction and design *** Integration of swales into a system including planting-up of the system in a food forest
Instructor: Rick Valley
“We will be laying out planting systems which include wise water use. Participants will be involved in the early stages of a broadscale design for a teaching community at a unique site which was once shaped by the southern-most extent of the Puget Lobe of the glacial ice. We'll be looking at how to appropriately work with machines and how to comfortably use hand tools, to shape both the intensively gardened inner zones and the simpler, more extensive outer zones of agroforestry. The project is being well-documented and participants will be introduced to the site assessment process and the development of the design. The weekend will follow a general pattern of designing from pattern to implementing details, so everyone can understand how each element functions in the holistic design. We do not intend to primarily "push" to complete things, but to do things carefully so they will be effective as examples. Likewise explanatory sessions will not be drawn out, but we will use the work sessions to integrate our understanding, and use rest breaks to answer further questions.”
Heartwood Homestead is a developing permaculture demonstration site and primitive skills and natural building education site for young and old. The 37 acres near Tenino, WA will demonstrate how by using swales, ponds and hugelkulturs we can grow food forests of fruit and nut trees,
berry bushes, perennial vegetables, other crops and aquaponics with water harvested naturally. The non-profit will offer classes, workshops, camping, tours, children’s summer camps, and a natural built ecovillage.
Much of the land was clearcut two years ago prior to the non-profit buying it, so this project will demonstrate how a perennial food system, a forest garden, can restore ecological functions to degraded land
Rick Valley - In the 70s Rick Valley lived in a passive solar garage and then helped start a local food garden restaurant on Orcas Island, followed by some years wandering in Latin America learning Spanish and indigenous crops. When homesickness demanded a return to the Northwest, he attended a permaculture workshop at Breitenbush Hotsprings, where he decided to start a bamboo nursery and helped found the PNW Chapter of the American Bamboo Society. At IPC 2 he met Bill Mollison at Evergreen State College and left his carpentry job to take Mollison's PDC on Whidbey Is (1986). From 2004 to 2012 he was land manager at Lost Valley Education Center. Currently he is developing a half-acre suburban forest farm in Eugene and is a partner in a permacultural landscape design & build company, Earthkeeper Landscaping LLC earthkeeperlandscaping.com. Throughout his life he has been planting and building biologically rich and productive systems and teaching the observation and manual skills involved. Facebook www.facebook.com/earthkeeperlandscaping.
Pat Rasmussen – For the past eight years, Pat’s Olympia non-profit “Edible Forest Gardens” www.oly-wa.us/edibleforestgardens has designed and installed more than sixty Edible Forest Gardens of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and perennial vegetables in private yards, community gardens, schools, businesses and pathways. Each project has offered volunteers the opportunity to learn while doing so they can plant gardens at home, in their neighborhood or anywhere. Pat raises perennial vegetables and berry bushes at Heartwood to plant in local gardens and is active in the Northwest Permaculture Convergence.
Troy Warnick, founder of Heartwood, spent 13 years as a Restoration Ecologist and Hydrogeologist for the WA State Dept. of Ecology. Originating from the midwest on a 140 acre family farm, Troy is a perennial student and teacher of ethnobotany, permaculture, nature observation, ecology, bushcraft, folk skills, green technology and natural building methods. Troy has a BS in Environmental Science from The Evergreen State College and is an Organic Land Care Accredited Practitioner through Oregon Tilth. Facebook – Heartwood Homestead https://www.facebook.com/HeartwoodHomestead?fref=ts