Not sure how to dig my swales

Discussion in 'Permaculture' started by Lookin4GoodLife, Oct 2, 2017.

  1. Lookin4GoodLife

    Lookin4GoodLife Well-Known Member

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    I'm building a swale to plant a food forest on. So far, I built the A frame level which is 6' wide from foot to foot and I've marked my contour line. I will extend that contour line much longer once I clear out some saplings and scrub, but I wanted to go ahead and get this part dug out and get some things planted.

    My question is, as you hopefully can see in the pictures, my line meanders along fairly gently until right at the end where it deviates pretty sharply in two places. Reason that is, is there are two cuts right there where you can tell that's where the runoff established itself. When I dig this thing out, should I just continue the swale as normal even though it's a pretty sharp jog right there, should I just bring the swale across that dip more gently and fill those ruts in at some point, should I position some type of water diversion a few yards above those such as a hugel bed or what? I was thinking that could also be where I left an overflow area and put some rock right there after digging the swale out which would allow more water into my next swale. Or maybe dig everything, wait until my first rainfall to see what happens and adjust from there. If my A frame level were wider, I don't guess the deviation in the line would have been so sharp, but I built it out of the scrap wood I had.

    That line is currently 66' long (well not "as the crow flies", but 12 flags with 6' between each one) and I want to extend it to at least 100' as I will plant a pecan tree at the north end of the line. I will then dig additional swales at roughly 30' intervals planting mostly smaller trees in between and then in the 4th swale which will be approximately 100' away, plant another pecan tree at the north end of that one so they won't dominate each other with shade as they grow and carry the swales on down the hill as I clear out land for my orchard / food forest. My soil was in fairly decent shape (much better than I was anticipating) according to the soil test I got back from the local university, but that area of my property has been pretty severely eroded over the years and I hope to repair that over time with swales and plantings.


    A Frame Level.jpg
    Swale 1.jpg
    Swale 2.jpg
    Swale 3.jpg
     
  2. Terri

    Terri Singletree & Weight Loss & Permaculture Moderator Staff Member Supporter

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    I know enough about swales to know that I do not know enough about building them. Hopefully someone else can answer your question!
     
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  3. CIW

    CIW Well-Known Member

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    What are you going to dig them with?
     
  4. Lookin4GoodLife

    Lookin4GoodLife Well-Known Member

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    I was going to drag them with the box blade on my tractor, but don't know if I'll be able to follow that sharp a curve. So maybe a tiller and shovel. :) Maybe I can get most of it with the box blade and then just those couple parts where it's sharp, just do that part with a tiller. I was hoping someone would tell me that I didn't have to curve it that much there, I could follow a more gentle line, but no one has popped up to tell me that's ok. (sigh)
     
  5. CIW

    CIW Well-Known Member

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    The key to a good swale is that the bottom of your excavation is level, not the top. That way the water spreads itself across the hills grade.
    If I were in your situation I would put a plow on your tractor and turn over a couple of rows down grade. You then can use a blade to roll the sod out into a mound. If it were me, I would follow the general contour of the ground and not worry about those indentations.
    I don't believe that your box scraper will work effectively. You need a blade that you can put a lot of angle on, to roll a berm up on the down grade side.
    After WWII they did a lot of terracing on these mountains. My grampa drove a team and a slip scoop to dig the terrace after they loosened the ground with a plow and disc.
    The swales on these terraces were sometimes 8' high and 16' wide.
     
  6. Lookin4GoodLife

    Lookin4GoodLife Well-Known Member

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    Unfortunately, I don't have a plow or a blade at this time. Good to know I don't have to worry about those indentations, though. :)
     
  7. CIW

    CIW Well-Known Member

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    I have an idea for you.
    If you can get a hold of a 2"x 2'" piece of steel that is about 24" long, you can bolt it inside the side panel facing down at an angle, sticking out the bottom 6 or 8". You can then lower that side and use it as a ripper to break up the sod. Tearing up the sod will allow your box blade to work more effectively.
     
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  8. Lookin4GoodLife

    Lookin4GoodLife Well-Known Member

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    That's a good idea CIW. I've been considering subsoilers, bottom plows, etc for breaking up soil. I wish I could find one of those big dozer teeth like I saw them weld onto their blade on Alaska TLF, for busting up soil. I'd like something I could rip the soil and minor roots around a tree stump. Not big stumps, I just have THOUSANDS of sweet gum saplings on my place and although my tractor is 32HP, sometimes it just doesn't have the weight to pull even a 3 or 4" stump sometimes because of the root system. If I had something like you're talking about to rip out some of the side roots, I could then pull the stump pretty easily. I just have to stay small and use common sense because I don't want to bend my box blade or jack up my 3PH by using too much side force. My ground is pretty hard when we go for a couple weeks with no rain since it has so much clay in it. I bet if I put a point on it or just a good little bevel, it'd break ground pretty easily. I've got a buddy who's a retired auto mechanic who has acres of old scrap iron out in the woods on his place. Next time I go out there I'll see if I can find a piece of angle iron or small I beam that I can adapt to my box blade.