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An attempt at small scale swales-with pics.  RSS feed

 
Gary Park
Posts: 146
Location: St. Louis, MO
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I made 2 small ~8 feet long and 10" deep/tall swales today.  One in a place there is hardly any grass growing under a redbud tree, and the other in the middle of the field, which recieves heavy runoff from the street above and has been slowly washing the field down in the middle.

Under the tree, there was really no grass so I just dug and flipped the scoops over, then used grass scoops from the field to lay over the mound and stomped on them to smoosh them into a smooth berm.


In the field, I dug out 2 strips of grass for the other berm, and then dug down more on the uphill side and flipped that dirt over to the downhill side to make the berm, and then I dug out more grass on the uphill side to cover the berm.  The swale part that is dug out has no grass, but I plan on planting some things in there just to see how they do this spring.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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do you plan to plant in the swales?
 
Gary Park
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Location: St. Louis, MO
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Yes, I have dozens and dozens of plants and seeds to try to find space for, so I'll probably try some things in the dips of the swales where it's just dirt, and mulch around the plants.  I may try some flowers or maybe veggies--something without a need for space for huge roots, lettuces, tomato?

Later, I plan on massively swaling my field with a backhoe(once I sell my tractor and get a backhoe).  When I do that, the swale berms will be 3-4 feet tall, and on the uphill sides of the hills I plan on planting fruit trees, which I'm growing from tiny sticks right now.

I want to see how these little swales do, and look for any mild effects as to grass health or plant health in the areas around the swales.  The front yard mini-swale is VERY dry in the summer and typically would not support even grass.  Think "dustbowl".  Perfect place to try this.
 
                                
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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Nice! Don't forget to post "after" pictures when you get them planted.
 
Paula Edwards
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Why is the swale so short and does not go right to the fence?
Did you level it somehow out?
 
Gary Park
Posts: 146
Location: St. Louis, MO
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I could only do so much digging til my back was sore.  There is only a place about 4-6 feet wide where you could tell the erosion was eating away at the field.  It's a start--it'll be interesting to see how things go when we get a heavy spring rain...there may be some disaster since there is a LOT of water in the field sometimes(3"+) flowing through the grass.  That's why I want to do some BIG swales later on, which will work well I'm sure.
 
Gary Park
Posts: 146
Location: St. Louis, MO
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Attempted starting work on a larger model today.  Neglected to measure my contour line first, but I already have a row of cherry trees behind it, so I have to start somewhere.  I'll have to make up for it by having part of the swale be taller than others, and later fill in low spots in the dip part of the swale(which I'll make later when I can get a backhoe).

Here's the only pic I got today of it.  If you look close you may see the dozen or so blackberry starts I pulled from the patch.  Most of the berm is clay, but I filled in around the starts with good soil and compost.  I had help today, and that was great!

 
Paula Edwards
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You worked hard!
Maybe you connect the swales somehow and dig one or several ponds.  And then you must have a concept to get rid of the overflowing water.
 
Gary Park
Posts: 146
Location: St. Louis, MO
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More work done today.  Got the 2'nd half of the big berm done, and even dug a little pit in front of it.  The berm should settle to about 2/3 it's height in a few years since there are a lot of air pockets in it.

You can see the small swale toward the left upper side.  Didn't sod the first half.


Working on 2'nd half;


Finished(for now) 2'nd half;




 
Gary Park
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Location: St. Louis, MO
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Noticed the changes in the grass color due to the swale.  Nowhere else in the yard is the grass this green this early, even on the berm.  Granted, I did add some chicken manure to the berm, but I think the water holding/releasing of this tiny swale is working.


For comparison; the other side of the tree (no tiny swale);
 
Nathalie Poulin
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This is really great!
I love seeing how it is in action, please keep the pictures coming.

Also, what does it mean "on contour" swales?

I know it means on contour with the land..but what does that MEAN?
 
Gary Park
Posts: 146
Location: St. Louis, MO
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jaggednib wrote:
This is really great!
I love seeing how it is in action, please keep the pictures coming.

Also, what does it mean "on contour" swales?

I know it means on contour with the land..but what does that MEAN?


Pretty much just that it is level with the land.  So if you are walking along the "contour line", you are not going uphill or downhill.  That doesn't mean you won't be turning left and right as you go, but your elevation won't change.  If you build a swale on contour, any water coming downhill will be collected evenly, whereas if you did not build it like that, you would get the water flowing to one end or the other of your swale or berm, and running off or pooling up at the lower end.
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
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I haven't figured out how to embed stuff properly, but this ten second mini-video thingie explains contours graphically.  Just imagine swales that are dug 'on contour' as following the lines.  Click the picuture and it takes you to a page where you can play the video. 



If anyone knows how to embed properly, please let me know... 
 
Jack Shawburn
Posts: 230
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GP - thats great to see !
What is your annual rainfall there and do you plan on mulching the swale?
Please keep us updated as it progresses.
I plan similar on land with just a slight slope and the swale will be lower in height but with a "basin" for individual trees planted on the downhill side.
 
duane hennon
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ah, to be young again and have energy

make sure the swales dump water away from the house when the "big one" hits
keep the pictures coming
 
Gary Park
Posts: 146
Location: St. Louis, MO
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Jen0454 wrote:
GP - thats great to see !
What is your annual rainfall there and do you plan on mulching the swale?
Please keep us updated as it progresses.
I plan similar on land with just a slight slope and the swale will be lower in height but with a "basin" for individual trees planted on the downhill side.


~35" average yearly rainfall here in St. Louis, Missouri.
I don't have any concrete plans right now as to mulching, but I am planting on the berm and in the gulley part of the swales--all kinds of vines, bushes, coniferous and deciduous things...we'll see what works well.  As I get grass and leaf clippings from the mower I'm sure they'll find their way to the berms.
 
Willy Kerlang
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Hi there--I was just thinking today about doing some small scale swales myself, exactly the size of what you are doing here.  I thought I had to fill them with stuff (gravel, whatever) so I'm glad that seems not to be true.  Can you please post some pics or at least give us an update on how your swales are looking these days?  I live in Nova Scotia, where we have about the same amount of rainfall as you.
 
Gary Park
Posts: 146
Location: St. Louis, MO
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In the first 2 pics, it has been hard to mow around the swale--I just use a brush blade to hack it down.  It has been doing fine though, and no erosion there, but it doesn't get a lot of water flow either.  The 3'rd pic of the field swale(with the trellis thing over it) gets a LOT of water flow, and the berm part of the swale is all but gone, though the dip part is still there.  I think it may be adviseable to make some form of overflow tube to keep the water from spilling over the top and wasting away the berm.  I'll get to that someday.




 
Willy Kerlang
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You could try installing a thing called a monk for controlling water level.  If you've read about sepp holzer on here, it looks like the ponds he creates are really just massive swales.  And a monk is just a pipe with an elbow that you can rotate to control the level of the water in your swale. If controlling that water is something you're dead set on, maybe you should just dig a pond!  Thanks for your pics.

http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/1360_0/permaculture/sepp-holzer-on-ponds-and-quotthe-monkquot
 
Savannah Thomerson
Posts: 78
Location: zone 6
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I've just dug a couple of small contour fish scale swales around our annual raised beds here. So far so good...though I have noticed one swale holds water a lot longer than the other, and I'm not exactly sure why that is just yet. I suppose it could be a multitude of different factors...

Still have to plant along the swale. For now - I've only got one goumi plant in the center of each one to fix nitrogen.

Anyways, here's a photo of one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/61991939@N06/5637461043/in/photostream

They are a little over a foot deep, each.
 
Gary Park
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Location: St. Louis, MO
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Yes, I plan on using a "monk" later on, to keep the water from flowing over the bigger swales.  Currently I really only have half of a swale on the big one, so the water flows out at one end and disperses onto a level decending grade.  Planning on multiple ponds later.  Concentrating on propogation and building soil life in all our clay and bad dirt--it's just an inch thick of brown and then rock and clay.  In the grass there are generally no worms, just some grubs.  So lots to do, but I'll update on each project as I can.

Ty; Try putting straw or compost or something to hold moisture in the swale gulley.
 
Ryan Sandford-Blackburn
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Location: Derbyshire, England
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I'd be interested to know how this did long term. Are you still at the property? Do you have results you could share please?
 
wayne fajkus
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Ryan, I'm in the third summer on mine. What info you looking for
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wayne fajkus
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I can't plant edibles cause the deer devour it. The grass is greener a good 15 to 20 ft down from the swale. The last 2 springs it has stayed full for 6 weeks. 1" rain fills it. The swale does fill in from sediment. Not enough that I've dug it out after 3 years, but you can tell.

Hundreds of frogs and tadpoles move into it when it's full. Lots of slime and scum.

I have a row of fruit trees on the hi side with deer fencing around them. I had a fungal disease hit 2 of them. One survived 1 died. Another dozen did fine. Honestly, we've had solid rain for a month. I don't blame it on the swale.

Seepage is an amazing thing. It stays full but you can see the water seeping downhill. I'm halfway down a hill so I get water long after the rain stops from up higher.

 
wayne fajkus
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These are older pics
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wayne fajkus
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Another old pic
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wayne fajkus
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Another
20140715_162417.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20140715_162417.jpg]
 
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