Making Swales Part 6: The Weekend Event

Another guest post by Angela

First we’d like to thank those who participated last weekend in our swale making event. Thanks to Brian Kerkvliet who taught us and led us every step of the way. He did so with an easy going attitude and a passion for this work that he loves to do as well as a fantastic amount of knowledge.

Thanks to Larry who operated the excavator. Janaki and Kevin  participated from beginning to end, learning and working on every aspect of the project. Special thanks to Janaki for bringing delicious dessert and a box of starts for the finished swales.

Thanks to Andrew and Naomi for joining us on Saturday and getting their hands in the dirt as we sculpted the swales. Thanks to Celt  who swooped in near the end with some much needed landscape fabric.

Thanks to our lovely hens who stood by patiently while we made a lot of noise which they aren’t used to. And thanks to our beloved Kitty who gave up her usual run of the house so we could tromp in and out. And thanks to the land that supports us.

Here’s the site before we started the work:

First Brian gives us an overview of the design process of swales for our property:

It’s always helpful to refer to some visual aids and Permaculture design principles.

Janaki and Kevin use the A frame to find and mark the level path of the contour. Janaki sets a stake.

If you look closely you can see the stakes and the faint line of flour that marks where the swale ditch will be dug:

David is ready to go to work:

Angela is ready too:

Larry gets to work with the excavator:

Here’s a deep sink hole. We’ll have two in each swale. They are about 4 to 5 feet deep. We will add gravel and then cover that with soil to the level of the rest of the swale ditch. The sink hole will collect excess water that will then be available for  plants above rather than flowing off the property or keeping the top soil too soggy:

We make one of the sink holes into a Hugelkultur. It will be filled with brush then topped with soil and perennial plants. The brush will act as a sponge absorbing water and slowly breaking down, enriching the soil. Here David is cutting brush for the Hugelkultur;

Kevin and Larry jump on the brush to pack it down in the hole. Janaki prepares more brush:

Naomi joined us and here she and others are fine tuning the swale ditch:

And here’s Andrew and Brian breaking the clumps and shaving the ditch edge to make the swale edges less abrupt:

The spill way between the upper swale and the lower swale is roughed out. It’s on the left. That will also need to be refined and some additional shaping to slow and spread the water flow in the super rainy seasons.

Keetah watching over things from a safe place:

Refinement is nearly done. On the berm we’ll plant cover crop seed and work on increasing the soil microbe life and biomass. In the ditch we’ll plant grass seed and I’ll keep that scythed for mulch:

Kevin continues breaking clumps and making the other berm ready for planting:


After the swales were shaped, we planted cover crop seeds and lightly spread hay to protect the seeds. Then we added some plants. Here we have blueberry bushes donated by Hannegan Farm and Home and Janaki planting some starts that she brought:

Here’s what the hugelkultur part of the swale looks like after it was filled and planted. After a year it will settle more and we’ll plant some kind of fruit tree:

Here’s the other swale. David planted his young apple tree near the end:

Here’s a final shot of one swale, We added a board over it to make a way to run a wheel barrow across. Later we will decide if we want to build a little bridge or use a culvert and a raised path over the top.

This coming Sunday we will have another work party and learning event starting at 9 am. We’ll be finishing the sink holes by adding a liner and large gravel. We’ll need help hauling gravel with wheel barrows and doing some finishing work shaping the swales. Angela will be making a lunch for everyone.  And Brian will be giving an overview of swales and the design process. It will be a great opportunity to see swales in the making and to hear Brian share his wealth of knowledge. Plus it will be fun. Lets hope the weather will be conducive.

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5 comments on “Making Swales Part 6: The Weekend Event

  1. Jamie Jedinak says:

    sad to not be able to participate! I really look forward to seeing it and the new garden layout!!!

    Luv, ~ Jamie SHIFT HAPPENS ~ It’s Happening!!!!

    >________________________________ > From: integral permaculture >To: fourwindsflowers@yahoo.com >Sent: Thursday, June 27, 2013 8:00 PM >Subject: [New post] Making Swales Part 6: The Weekend Event > > > > WordPress.com >davidm58 posted: “Another guest post by Angela First we’d like to thank those who participated last weekend in our swale making event. Thanks to Brian Kerkvliet who taught us and led us every step of the way. He did so with an easy going attitude and a passion for this ” >

  2. davidm58 says:

    Hi Jamie, Sorry the timing hasn’t worked for you to participate.

  3. […] soil, reshaping the garden beds (and by “we” I mean mostly head gardener Angela), and redesigning our landscape with swales, rather than an emphasis on food production.  Hence the cover crop of buckwheat on these newly […]

  4. Very glad to see your project! May the blueberries bring you many years of enjoyment and full flavored fruit!

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