Much of the benefits of swales seem to be to do with water capture, since we have a lot of rain in the U.K and Ireland and its pretty flat overall I have been trying to determine the need for them here in relation to uk permaculture design. Obviously like the artcile I am not saying they are useless and no site here would ever need them its a case of finding their right application. Swales do provide a raised bank of drier land and catch debris and other runoff and as mentioned in the article could possibly prevent flood waters coming from higher land.
However if swales are not as potentially beneficial for our climate as elsewhere what are the other options for earthworks here? This lead me to think of pre industrial earthworks still around the U.K. Around here there are still some untouched ridge and farrow fields. However as the ridge and farrow run in the direction of the hill slope and now have only sheep grazing on them the benefit of the microclimates and extra surface area they produce would be less beneficial to thier current application.
Henry, the one that first comes to mind is the "lazy bed". It was anything but... This was a raised bed, built of turned sod, for planting potatoes high and dry above the wetter soil beneath. They were typically loaded with manure or sea weed to maximise fertility, and to concentrate fertility directly where it was needed. It was very common in Ireland in the late 1800s and still persists as the preferred method of gardening here by some (garden scale) potato growers. Unlike swales, lazy beds were built perpendicular to the contours to maximise the runoff.
Much more recently, swales are a relatively standard SUDS (Sustained Urban Drainage Systems, or SUstainable Drainage Systems) technique now used on motorways for water filtering.
I read this Whitefield article yesterday. Very interesting and makes a lot of sense
I think there is still oppurtunity to use them in the right place. Currently I am looking at a plot of land that is rectangle shaped and square to a slope. The bottom, flatter half seems to get waterlogged in Winter and Autumn and the sloped bit seems to get dry in summer. Im thinking that a couple of swales higher up the slope combined with ditches at the side and "gates" between the ditches and swale could be used to slow down the amount of water going down hill, and re-direct it when needed. The gates would give me that flexibility.
EDIT: meant to say the other thing that attracts me to swales is their use as tree growing system; lifting the tree roots above the water
I'd also thought about Yeoman/keyline ploughs, but I cant find a single one for hire in the south of the UK. It definitely would be an option though.
Dave Green wrote:I'd also thought about Yeoman/keyline ploughs, but I cant find a single one for hire in the south of the UK. It definitely would be an option though.
I am pretty sure Blackmoor Estate in Hampshire uses one for planting their appletrees. You could try asking them or another large orchard as a starting point for finding where you might be able to hire one.
I am going to be putting in terraces and keylines into my (kinda) farm in the next few days/weeks.
I have just got about 200 arces in Yorkshire - and so it is: wet, cold and very very windy.
My plan is as follows:
- split the fields into a series of terraces and get them roughly level. I will mainly be using Gambions for this as they are cheap, practical and give me great big area's of stone to act as heat sinks. The majority of these will be either south or west facing, so I will be packing them with manure, and it gives me a path to climbers and scramblers like melons and pumpkins.
Near the gambions on each level I will be planting "rooty" trees - like Willows, holly and fruit trees etc. These will help tie all the soil together and tie the soil to the gambions. I will be planting these pretty densely. This will give me two important assets - a shelter belt for the terrace and, especially with the holly and fruit trees, a refuge for bees and other pollinators. The plan is to initially plant a lot of mixed annual and perenial species, and then bring in sheep for Year 1 grazing using a holistic grazing approach. I will be getting as much woodchip as I can from the local tree surgeons for chickens to graze over initially - I have got agreement for about 65 tonnes so far - with the chicken grazing on this, it will break down far faster, and then this can start being spread. Currently trying to get a donkey to guard the chickens, but turns out it's very hard to get a donkey when you tell people it's to guard chickens from foxes - they think you are daft.
And then.... perhaps in 20 years time.... it will be very productive land.