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Please help me find resources to understand swales?

 
Posts: 51
Location: Indiana
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chicken food preservation bee
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Newbie question....

I don't understand Swales. Can someone please lead me to a video or article (both?) that explains this to me? THANKS!!
 
pollinator
Posts: 320
Location: Quebec, Canada
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A simple definition...
It is like a ditch on contour, perpendicular to the slope.  It is used to harvest water to infiltrate the ground. It can also harvest water into ponds when it overflows or has a slight 1% drainage slope.  



 
Alicia Winkler
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Thank you Michelle. I think this would be very beneficial for our farm. Is there more information somewhere? Like, something my DH and I can go through together?
 
steward
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Here is a thread with some links and videos that might help?

Swales
 
gardener
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This article http://permaculture-and-sanity.com/pcarticles/permaculture-earthworks-and-swales.php helped me understand swales.
 
Michelle Bisson
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Here is a video from Geoff Lawton:



Can you describe more about your project and your land?  
 
Alicia Winkler
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You guys and gals are so awesome!!! Thanks!
 
Casie Becker
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Even a small swale can be very effective. At the end of the summer there was a green shadow downhill from the swale I dug for my apple trees. Just one shovel deep and wide, yet it gathered enough water to keep grass green during months of ninety degrees or more. The rest of the lawn was sere brown and crisp.
 
Alicia Winkler
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Michelle,

We own about 50 acres of slightly rolling ground in southern IN that we purchased in May. We do not live there, however. About a third is woods, the rest has been cattle pasture for over 50 years. We want to put in a small orchard and garden area. I have a hill that I think might be good for a swale or swales, and it actually happens to be the hill we have talked about putting the orchard on. I am wondering, though, would a swale help water a garden?

See, we do not have water on the property, yet. We are still deciding what our best water options will be. We prefer to be off-grid as much as possible, to avoid bills. Ultimately my dh will leave his job to work this farm. We had hoped to tap into the spring, but it dried up this summer. We have been told to drill a well is crazy expensive due to the rock layers (sorta cave country). We can, obviously, tap into city water, it just is a last resort and hope to find a better answer.

Meanwhile, come April, I am planning to move out there with the kids to grow a nice garden and raise some chickens, among other things. I actually just announced it on my blog today.
https://derbauernhofsite.wordpress.com/2016/12/05/100-days-of-abundance-challenge-part-2-and-a-happy-birthday/

Now I need to get ready. December is kinda a messed up time to start a project like this...
 
Alicia Winkler
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Sadly, I don't have a good picture of that hill, but this may give you an idea of the type of land we have. In the second picture, it is the one butted up to the woods, top mid to left.
DSCN7348.JPG
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DSCN7869.JPG
[Thumbnail for DSCN7869.JPG]
 
Michelle Bisson
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Congratulations on your land purchase!  I assume you have a house to move there with the family.

I have a few questions.

Do you have plans to continue with cattle or have other types of animals besides chickens?

How big will your orchard be? How many fruit trees and what kind?.

I have a hill that I think might be good for a swale or swales,



I do not think in terms of "a hill is a good location for swales"  I think in terms where is the best location for your orchard.  Hills facing the sun can be good locations for an orchard as the roots of trees protect the hill from erosion and the slope might be too steep for other purposes.  If the slope is too steep, it might not be suitable for swales.  There are alternatives to swales, such key-line plowing. (moving the runoff from the valleys to the ridges, but this is a whole other topic. Check out Mark Sheppard on this)


I am wondering, though, would a swale help water a garden?



Yes, many dig swales and put the extra dirt/soil to make raised beds.  The runoff soaks into the swales and surrounding raised beds and the plants send deeper roots looking for that moisture.  A vegetable garden will likely still need to be watered above what your swales collect.  


We had hoped to tap into the spring, but it dried up this summer.

 Swales can be used to revive springs or even the surface water can be channeled to the spring by swales or key-line plowing.

One of the best ways to harvest water is to dig out a pond.  Even small ponds are very useful.  After a rain, you have extra water for irrigation that would off simply run off.   When you have chickens, you can even harvest water off of the roof of the chicken coop if need be for the birds.

Some of my favourite permaculture people regarding harvesting water are Steff Holzer, Mark Sheppard, Geoff Lawton and Brad Lancaster.  They are all genus in their own right. They all have their distinct techniques, but the end result is harvesting water and growing food.  We have much to learn from their experience and knowledge. You can buy their books or maybe find them in the public library.  Watch any videos on YouTube.  Some have free and paid webinars.  I would add Stefan Sobkowiak with his dvd "The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic" for his knowledge of setting up a permaculture orchard.

If I were you, I would spend this winter learning as much as possible.  Draw out some plans of possible scenarios on paper or on the computer.  Decide what your priorities are and what is your budget for this next year.  You cannot do everything in one year.

Fruit trees are important to plant as the best time is plant them was 20 years ago, second best time is now.   But you do not want to plant them without a good plan.  You do not have to plant them all at once you could start with a few of the basic fruit trees and each year expand your orchard.

What will your farm income be generated from?

---


I have 1.5 acres so everything we do is on a small scale compared to a farm scale, but the permaculture principales still apply and the technics still work.  Learn from the greats and there are many in this forum that have rich experiences and knowledge to share.  Every land is unique and every land owner is unique so you will find what is appropriate for your situation.

Come follow me on my journey.

Go Permaculture Food Forest - our suburban permaculture journey












 
Alicia Winkler
Posts: 51
Location: Indiana
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Michelle Bisson wrote:Congratulations on your land purchase!  I assume you have a house to move there with the family.


I have a few questions.

Do you have plans to continue with cattle or have other types of animals besides chickens?

How big will your orchard be? How many fruit trees and what kind?.

I have a hill that I think might be good for a swale or swales,



I do not think in terms of "a hill is a good location for swales"  I think in terms where is the best location for your orchard.  Hills facing the sun can be good locations for an orchard as the roots of trees protect the hill from erosion and the slope might be too steep for other purposes.  If the slope is too steep, it might not be suitable for swales.  There are alternatives to swales, such key-line plowing. (moving the runoff from the valleys to the ridges, but this is a whole other topic. Check out Mark Sheppard on this)


I am wondering, though, would a swale help water a garden?



Yes, many dig swales and put the extra dirt/soil to make raised beds.  The runoff soaks into the swales and surrounding raised beds and the plants send deeper roots looking for that moisture.  A vegetable garden will likely still need to be watered above what your swales collect.  


We had hoped to tap into the spring, but it dried up this summer.

 Swales can be used to revive springs or even the surface water can be channeled to the spring by swales or key-line plowing.

One of the best ways to harvest water is to dig out a pond.  Even small ponds are very useful.  After a rain, you have extra water for irrigation that would off simply run off.   When you have chickens, you can even harvest water off of the roof of the chicken coop if need be for the birds.

Some of my favourite permaculture people regarding harvesting water are Steff Holzer, Mark Sheppard, Geoff Lawton and Brad Lancaster.  They are all genus in their own right. They all have their distinct techniques, but the end result is harvesting water and growing food.  We have much to learn from their experience and knowledge. You can buy their books or maybe find them in the public library.  Watch any videos on YouTube.  Some have free and paid webinars.  I would add Stefan Sobkowiak with his dvd "The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic" for his knowledge of setting up a permaculture orchard.

If I were you, I would spend this winter learning as much as possible.  Draw out some plans of possible scenarios on paper or on the computer.  Decide what your priorities are and what is your budget for this next year.  You cannot do everything in one year.

Fruit trees are important to plant as the best time is plant them was 20 years ago, second best time is now.   But you do not want to plant them without a good plan.  You do not have to plant them all at once you could start with a few of the basic fruit trees and each year expand your orchard.

What will your farm income be generated from?

---




I have 1.5 acres so everything we do is on a small scale compared to a farm scale, but the permaculture principales still apply and the technics still work.  Learn from the greats and there are many in this forum that have rich experiences and knowledge to share.  Every land is unique and every land owner is unique so you will find what is appropriate for your situation.

Come follow me on my journey.

Go Permaculture Food Forest - our suburban permaculture journey


Thanks, Michelle. I will attach a picture of the "house". It is a 4 room log home built in 1830 that we have to do some work to. We have been camping in it, but there isn't water or electric. And it needs sided, as that was how it was originally built. Siding would have protected the logs. Because it has been without siding we have some compromised logs.

We, actually, prefer to put in a pond. As we currently have no erosion issues, a swale may not help us any.

The orchard will be mostly apples and will cover 3-5 acres. It will be part of our "income", however. we plan to be extremely diversified.

We are hoping to adopt a better cattle raising method. We are very interested in the methods Joel Salatin gives in Salad Bar Beef. Much more efficient and much better for the land and cattle.

Here is an article about help with our business plan that lists income sources. In addition to the farm sources, if needed, my husband ran a business in tree trimming and lawn care since he was 11 and may do that again to fill gaps.

https://permies.com/t/60719/Der-Bauernhof-farm-business-plan

Our Journey: https://derbauernhofsite.wordpress.com








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Watercolor edited
Cabin.jpg
[Thumbnail for Cabin.jpg]
 
Michelle Bisson
pollinator
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Location: Quebec, Canada
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Beautiful historic house on the land!

We, actually, prefer to put in a pond. As we currently have no erosion issues, a swale may not help us any.



Great!  You might like to consider more ponds in different locations of the land depending on what you want to achieve.

Whenever you dig weather it be a pond, swales or whatever, you now have the new risk of erosion where non existed before.  Just make sure that you protect your earthworks from the 50 or 100 year rain event from future exceptional rain events.


As we currently have no erosion issues, a swale may not help us any.



Swales are a great tool for water harvesting, so I suggest that you continue to do lots of research on how they can be of benefit to your land.  Check out also Keyline plowing as well. Different parts of the land may be more suitable to different water harvesting  techniques.  

Permaculture is about diversity.

 
Posts: 39
Location: Baja Arizona
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50 years before permaculture came along swales were called terraces.  Our family farm in Kansas was one of the first in the US to have terraces constructed on it by the newly minted Soil Conservation Service under FDR.  In that part of the world they still call them terraces.  In another 15 years or so many of those terraces will be 100 years old.  Here is a plain and simple article from 1932 describing terraces - http://www.kshs.org/teachers/read_kansas/pdfs/m31card04.pdf
 
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One million tiny ads for $25
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