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Swales in wetland  RSS feed

 
Posts: 89
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We have somemild wetland on about 1.5 acres of our future pasture. We don't want to destroy it, as wildlife use it and I know it os probably very fertile....but we are wondering ifwe could put swales across it to give us some planting space and sort of minimize the wwt area? We really don't know what we are talking about other than it's drainage from behind our property and it's marsh about half the time. The other half of the time it is dry forest. We would like it to be usable pasture at least when it's dry, if not the rest of the time. Any plants that will grow in those conditions that are edible by livestock?
 
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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My impression, from your description is that this could be a peat bog area. Peat bogs are wet half of the year and the other half they are dry land.

You can build it up but that will destroy the wetland and move the wildlife away. You can build berms instead of swales, if you want to get some of this area drier through out the year, but that will mean importing lots of soil and or deep mulches and compost.

This would be a great area to grow Nettles, cranberries, and other like items. Most of the plants that grow in such bog areas are not great fodder plants unless you are a moose, deer, elk or caribou.

Redhawk
 
Katie Jarvis
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Interesting, I hadn't thought of a peat bog, I'll do some research on that. We would like to put a pond in eventually, but it'll likely be years until we have the money to do that. It's only about 1 acre of wet area that drains rainwater - I think because our water table is so high, the ground just fills up and the water sits instead of draining. We'd like to figure out how to put it to good use sincewe getso horribly dry in the summer. Wondering if we put berms or swales across both the wetland and the dry area next to it if we could even out the moisture so a bigger area gets watered...
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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If you identify the specific areas that drain into that wetland, you can use swales and berms to move the water in a meandering path so that more of it soaks into the soil before it gets to the bog area, that will keep more of that precious water where you can put it to really good use.

When you get around to building the pond, you will probably need to find out just where the water table is and which aquafer it is part of before you start digging the hole that will become the pond.
Your state geological survey department might have detailed records that you could make use of. They might even offer some help in designing the pond.

Redhawk
 
Katie Jarvis
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Awesome suggestions, thank you so much!!
 
Posts: 318
Location: Pittsburgh PA
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Where do you live? And what kind of livestock?
 
pollinator
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I have an area like you seem to have, and about the same acreage in size as well, used by both wildlife and my grazing sheep alike. Last year I installed swales in the area with great success.

Swales:
For my swales it took the run off from two culverts draining a steep (9% grade) 25 acre field and contained the water flow. Immediately upon getting to the last culvert my straight swale went to some meandering paths that followed contour and checked with rock dams to prevent erosion. Overall this works well at draining and containing my excess water.

Grazing:
Here is the skinny on grazing wetland. It can actually work to a farmers benefit, but here is the problem. Wetland grass matures REALLY fast, about the same time as dandelion or orchard grass. Unfortunately most grazing livestock do not like wet feet if they can help it, so the sward reaches maturity before the livestock get to an area they really want to graze. Now unpalatable, the animals do not graze it leading the farmer to conclude that livestock dislike wetland grass, when that is not true at all. This same holds true for hay and forage as equipment cannot get on the wet area in time to harvest the sward when it is palatable. In short, livestock love wetland grasses, it just has to be really early in the growing season!

I am able to counter this problem a little by bush hogging the thick grass when it is dry enough to get on it. That gets the second crop growing and my sheep, now happy to graze with dry hooves, get on it merrily. In fact right now this area is really nice because we are in a drought and this area is acting as a sort of "grass reserve", sadly though it is only an acre in size. Still it is better than nothing.

As my Agronomist has always told me, "Fail Small", so in trying to work this area into something usable, to actually find a prescription that works is kind of nice, and now I can replicate what I have done on this acre, to other wet areas that need refining as well. (Maybe anyway, see laws below).

Laws:
Sadly I was only able to do this because the required "Wetland Determination" for some reason did not determine this area was a wet area. Had it been identified, I would have been in conflict against the "Swamp Busters Act", as well as against environmental law for state, federal and now Army Corp of Engineer laws. So the question is, do I do what I know is right for my farm and sheep, or get the required wetland determination which will limit what I can do inevitable in some locations of my farm? I do not have the answer for the latter, and bring this up only so that you (and others) know farming wetland right now is quasi-legal.
 
pollinator
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Location: Stevensville, Montana; Zone 4b
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I would suggest doing berms as well, but rather than a wall of soil, make a raised wicking bed with strawbales/wood like hugelbeds. This way you get your plants up out of the water, but the roots get moisture, you don't destroy any fertile ground or habitat, you use a lot less soil, and the wood/straw will act like a sponge keeping more moisture during the dry times.
 
Katie Jarvis
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chad Christopher wrote:Where do you live? And what kind of livestock?



North of Houston, TX
Right now a horse, mini donkey, chickens/ducks/geese. Next year pigs, year after that a dairy cow and calves. Possible sheep or goat at some point to help woth browsing.
 
Katie Jarvis
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Travis, that's really helpful, thanks! I've been wondering how grazing it would work - if we could graze it when dry. We are just working on fencing it right now, and will then be working on getting it cleared with pigs. Also hoping we can borrow a herd of goats to clear the underbrush. We are excited to seehow it all goes, I'm glad to hear you are able to use yours - we may be able to do something similar.

I know wetlands are really touchy...we kind of figred the "what they won't know won't hurt them" approach would be best. If someone worriesabout it, we'll apologize then. Frankly, every proeprty on our street has put in a pond in their little areas that used to be wetland, so obviously no one is paying attention. And we are working hard to leave as much as we can still viable for wildlife.
 
Travis Johnson
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One thing to keep in mind Katie is that sheep work as good, or better than goats at clearing underbrush. They really like browse too, but when you fence them in tight, their flocking ability means they utterly destroy the brush and rid the area of it.
 
Katie Jarvis
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I'm glad to hear you say that! We are hoping to get one ewe to keep in with the horseand donkey so they can al rotate together. There are some endangered breeds in our area that I think would do very well, and a lamb or two each yearwpuldn't hurt either.
 
pollinator
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I have 2 acres of 1 foot flood plain. When my sister had the farm she grazed horses on it in the summer but kept them off of it in the winter because the clay is around 10 feet deep. She would rotate them on paddocks on the higher sandy soil until they would dry out and stop growing then move them onto the flood plain when it was firm enough to hold their weight.
I do not have livestock on the farm now but I manage the grass by mowing with a scythe.  As mentioned in a previous post some areas will produce abundant forage that the animals would love to eat so mowing enough for them to eat at night or that you can manage for hay drying and storage is good practice. Cutting small areas at a time, I am able to manage what grows by the timing of the cut. mowing undesirables before they form seed and using them for mulch.  Letting patches of lucerne and vetch form seed and mowing it just before the seed pods burst and moving it to an area that needs the seed.
Working it on foot like that I discovered  the natural swale pattern that was there and have enhanced it, correcting the previous efforts to drain it.

You could rotate electrified paddocks of ducks and geese through it in the winter time. I would like to do that if my circumstances allowed it.  The end of this video shows my wetland.

By the way the county wetland inspector stated on  her report for a building permit that the well managed agricultural activity on the buffer zone and wetland could continue. 
 
Travis Johnson
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Katie; as I and others have stated, wetland is an incredible resource because it s so fertile and drought resistant. I cannot state this too much as it is not my wish to get political, but I am working with my congressman to abolish the Swamp Busters Act for sure. I can see why they started it, as in 1985 the method for managing wetlands was to simply drain it, where as now we have a more active approach.

On my farm I have a bulldozer and its footprint is actually lighter than a human being, meaning the thing practically walks on water. It can be wet still and I can operate in these areas with no ill effect. Today other farmers are turning once again to steel tracks for traction and flotation. Another trend I see is Pisten Bully, a manufacturer that typically has catered to the snowmobile trail and ski resort snow grooming market. They now are aggressively targeting wetland agriculture and for good reason; their rubber machines can go anywhere.

I might be talking some bigger farms that what you envision, but the point is today, we can use the fertile soils of wetlands to feed our hungry nation...without draining and destroying it. We have the technology to work with wetland, and not change it...which would ruin its benefit.

I am not sure where other people live, but here where I live tillable land is getting to be at a premium. When a dairy farmer quit leasing my farmland, I had 18 different people ask if they could rent it...such was the demand. I use it for my own farming needs, but I am quickly running out and have turned to clearing forest into farmland. Some of these areas are wet, and yet it is silly to pay the outrageous taxes I have to pay, and not use it for farming. As stated earlier, I found a method that works well for me (and is what you propose) and it is sad that I cannot feed a hungry nation with that method, with my land. This applies even more to people who cannot afford expensive tillable land and have to buy wetter land, and yet still wish to far. Should that be illegal for them? (Here, tillable farmland commands more per acre then house lots!)

Now keep in mind, Swamp Busters only pertains to farming. Legally I can bulldoze, drain, ditch and stump any forest wetland as long as it is for logging activities. Is that stupid or what, it should be the other way around; farming is allowed, logging is limited!!
 
Katie Jarvis
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Thanks for the info! I am excited to hear that others are using the area well - I would definitely like to make use of it and not just drain it or destroy it!
 
Posts: 199
Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
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A century ago much of Northern Ohio was swamp. Then folks clay tiled their fields. Now they do the same thing using huge rolls of black plastic flex pipe. You might consider trying drainage, instead of earth moving. But, keep in mind, anything you do to your land or drainage that affects your neighbors land, can get you a law suit. Effecting your neighbors is not something to "apologize" for, its something you should really avoid. As far as talking to the gov't about what you are doing/planning, that's problematic. My experience is that many government employees are book educated, and experience ignorant. 50 years ago you could get a guy who understood how things actually work. Now its more likely to run into a college educated toff who only knows the charts someone else worked up for them. I find the new gov't employees to often be insufferably annoying and often far less help, than helpful. Unfortunately, they have the power, you don't. Once you ask, you are on record and have automatically lost a variety of options that being less public might have afforded you. ....One other consideration you might think about. If you tile your land you don't much change your land. The next guy that comes along (and they will) and owns "your" property might prefer a swamp. Then all he has to do is cut the tile. But if you start earth moving and making swales or berms, you've committed the land to a long term nature. And you may have forced the next guy to bulldoze the ground to undo your idea.
 
Jim Fry
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Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
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I've been doing a bit more thinking about your question concerning building swales to help drain a bit of wet land, and about the answer I posted. I wrote you might want to consider the possible drainage changes to your neighbors land, and how they might react.

.....Thinking about it, I wonder. I have noticed very little talk about what the land wants (actually I haven't noticed any). It seems that most people are concerned about what they want. Sometimes they are concerned about what the government might require, and occasionally folks wonder about the impact of what they do to the neighbors and their land.

Permaculture seems to usually be most basically defined as "permanent agriculture". But from reading the posts here it often appears that folks seem to think of "permanent" as the period they own their land (and occasionally for how long it will be permaculture if they can find another permaculture person to buy their land when they are done with it). But I wonder if "permaculture" doesn't last much longer than that.

Any given piece land has been here for millions of years. The Earth for billions. The land has it's own history, it's own way of being, its own story. --That might be something to consider the next time we decide we want something and pull out the bulldozers. Maybe we might consider asking the land what it wants. Ask it before you have your way with it. Sit down and listen. Ask if the land wants a new history as pasture or swale. After all, part of the doing of something is the determining if that "something" benefits All. Ask if the land would really prefer remaining as it is. You might find the place where you live is a much happier place, if all the elements of that place are in agreement with what happens to that place. You can ask, you can listen. And if you do so long enough with clear intent enough, you just might hear a "voice" share their feelings on the question.
 
Travis Johnson
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I respectfully disagree.

One misconception of landownership is that we actually own it, when legally that is not the way it is. Legally speaking, our deed (and even then assuming it is a free warranty deed) means we are free to perform a variety of things on our land base, and exclude others from doing what they feel should be done. That is land ownership legally speaking, and just as a point, we never give up the rights to taxation, use for the good of the public, and a few other rights that are always retained by the governing body wherever the land base resides. This is why airplanes can fly through my airspace, I cannot dump 5000 gallons of diesel fuel into one of my streams, build within 100 feet of a property line, and why I have to pay property taxes every year.

Even in earthworks though, nothing is permanent. In United States terms, my farm is pretty old at 10 generations; officially started in 1746 with land clearing beginning in earnest in the year 1800. Even such permanent markers of previous generations are obscure, like rock walls, which after 217 years of leaf drop have obscured them with a thin layer of leaves turned soil. Soil erosion over the years has done the same thing, most uphill sides of the rock walls having built up silt to the top of them. Ponds, swales, ditches that have been dug have been silted in as well, to the point some are ineffective or almost non-existent. And trees...oh my, 90% of this county was in field in 1900, yet today in 117 years it has completely swapped, with 90% of it being in forest!

For the most part mother nature corrects our changes, and at the very least tempers it. A simple log falling into a stream will change the current flow, direct it towards the bank where it scours away and changes the stream bed. More than one archeologist has made the mistake of thinking treasure lies where the current river lies when really it might have changed by several hundred feet. And water does not just move across the surface of land, it moves through it, frost itself expanding by 9% every winter and thrusting anything atop of it hither and tither, filling in ruts and voids. And the tremors from earthquakes give us those pesky rocks that do rise to the surface of our gardens as the smaller rocks settle down, as counter intuitive as that may sound. In short; the world around us is in flux man-made and natural alike.

I cannot think of anything I have ever done that caused permanent changes to this farm. Ditches will ultimately be silted in and the water moving across the land will eventually revert to its old path. Rocks that I have removed will be replaced by new ones that have popped back up by frost. Ponds will silt in, and even my house and barns will decay after my demise, fall down and eventually be farmed over...just as I farm over my forefathers homes and barns of just a few years ago. In fact my father can remember when many of these structures were still standing, and he is only 72 years old.

No greater example of what I claim is more evident then the Chernobyl Disaster. Yet today, 31 years later, nature is reclaiming what humans have screwed up, and what they walked away from. If the stark contrast can be seen in 31 years, imagine how benign the changes are to my farm by cutting in a swale.



 
Hans Quistorff
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Thinking about it, I wonder. I have noticed very little talk about what the land wants (actually I haven't noticed any).


In my post that is what I tried to do.  Having to undo some of the things predecessors did without asking which actually worked against what they wanted.
Take for example the field across the road from me.  It wants to be either a swamp or a sylva pasture with animals grazing between the trees.  It has problems because the owners don't ask what the land wants only what they want. The cows are confined by a perimeter fence [in dilapidated state] to about 9 acres of the flood plain.  There is no rotation except there instinctive effort to keep their feet dry if they can without starving.  Pluss they plow the paths between the trees several times a year by holding mud racing events. The cows then escape the perimeter fence and come to graze in my field while it is still to soft to carry their weight.  I will try to convince them to at least bring them across the road onto the high acre around their house when they are feeding hay and thus be able to use the manure around their fruit trees and gardens. Posibly even to learn rotational grazing.
 
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Putting in a pond is not expensive.  Here, it costs about $1500/day to get a track hoe, and about 500 a day to get a big cat.  That includes an operator.  A track hoe with a 2 yard bucket  can do a 6000 cubic meter dugout in about a day.  6000 cubic meters = 35 x 60 feet  10 feet deep.  It will take the cat about 2-3 days to spread it out.

This doesn't change the wetland as much as you think:  There is less area that is wet, but more area that is wet year round.  Your biodiversity goes up, as you now have a full time wet environment, a year round dry enviornment, and an edge.  I predict more frogs, more types of birds, a bunch of new plant species.

Talk to your local rural fire department.  There may be money available to help if you grant access to the fire trucks.
 
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