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What is your favorite tool for hand-digging swales?  RSS feed

 
Morgan Louis
Posts: 33
Location: USDA zone 8b
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I'll be digging swales pretty soon, and I want to hear what you guys think.

I won't have any tree roots do deal with, so i won't need a pulaski. A mattock isn't necessary since i don't have very compact ground.

Is there a name for a tool that is like a pulaski but doesn't have the axe part?

Wranglerstar on youtube has a video where he compares two different pulaskis, one traditional and one a little different. It looked great for scraping the earth to remove vegetation, but how good will it be at digging a 3 foot deep swale?

 
Kelly Smith
Posts: 715
Location: In a rain shadow - Fremont County, Southern CO
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i have never used a pulaski - i even had to google it to find out what it was

for the hand dug swales on my property, i have been using a rototiller to loosen up the ground in the "ditch" portion of the swale.
then i go back with a shovel and throw all that loosened dirt onto the berm.

we dont have a ton of vegetation to cut through, so that has been working for me.

maybe a picture of your sight would help, or at least the location
hope this helps.
 
Jessica Padgham
Posts: 100
Location: Denver, Co 6000ft bentonite clay soil
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I always called the non-ax half of the pulaski a mattock. I had to look up what a pulaski was too. I have a pick-mattock which I call a grub and a smaller one with a blade and claw that I got from Lee Valley Tools that they listed as a mattock. I would look at tools that are labeled mattock or adze. Lee Valley also has an interesting looking one they call a trench digger.
 
David Irby
Posts: 16
Location: Locust Grove, VA
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Although I don't (yet) own one I think a grub hoe or grape hoe would work well. Sometimes also called an eye hoe. Quite a lot of variation in the width of the head vs. the depth of the head to choose from so you should be able to find something that would suite your soil type.
 
Morgan Louis
Posts: 33
Location: USDA zone 8b
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Great feedback permies. Thanks.

I think a something like a grape hoe would be nice. I'll be digging in extremely sand rich soil. Even a rake will suffice, but I want something more efficient at digging deeper and forming a rough mound.
 
Craig Dobbson
master steward
Posts: 1996
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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I like a simple spade; long or short handled depending on the angle you're working at. I've developed a technique of cutting out one row of sod with a grub axe where the mound will be placed. I flip the sod over and that's the base for the swale mound. Moving uphill from there, I use the spade to remove soil and sod together. This material is flipped "sod side down" and piled on the mound base. Repeat the process until you've completed the first pass for the width of the swale. That leaves the sod layers with soil in between at the bottom of the mound. From there make a second pass to deepen the swale. This material has little biomass and less seeds but it makes a nice barrier to the sod creeping back to the surface. I chuck a good layer of compost on top of that and then mulch. Seed or add trees and other transplants and you're off and running.

This a method that just requires you to find a good methodology that works ergonomically for you. I was able to do a couple hundred feet of swales in just a couple sessions once I figured out what worked for me. Doing a lot of swinging of heavy tools can be rough on your upper body. By incorporating multiple tools and body motions you'll save a back ache and sore arms. I've found it easier to use my feet and legs to use a spade to cut into the soil and then using my back and legs to toss it onto the mound.

Also, have a gravel rake and a leaf rake handy to do the finishing touches. Neatness counts Not really

Good luck and don't forget to post pictures

 
Ann Torrence
steward
Posts: 1191
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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My pen, for a writing a check to my neighbor with the digger. You are admirably ambitious!
 
Pia Jensen
Posts: 218
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I find most useful for recently wetted, previously impossible soil - four tine pitch fork slammed down into then wiggled around slammed into dug down, slam down, wiggled, etc then trench shovel cleaning and digging down more after loosened up and then square shovel to toss or haul out the finds
 
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