[permaculture] Introduction and a question about Swales

Dick Pierce dickpiercedesigns at gmail.com
Sun Dec 28 20:54:24 EST 2008

Welcome, Jeff.

I can't tell what Mountain Desert you live in but the best in the dry
mountain stuff that I know is Jerome Ochtenkowski (close, but sp?) and CRMPI
- CO Rocky Mountain Permaculture Inst in Basalt, CO. Their climate is very
similar to what you describe. So, check him and his web site, and classes
out - he is knowledgeable and inspirational. Then there are lots of
desert/drylands PC folks - Scott Pitman, et.al. in Santa Fe, and Clayton
Brascoupe of TNAFA - Traditional Native American Farmers Assoc. (lots of dry
land) - also in Santa Fe. They'll all have lots more for you to read but I
remember "Food from Dryland Gardens" by David Cleveland/Daniela Soleri and
"Growing Food in the High Desert Country" by Julie Weinberg.

When I lived in Boulder, I was surprised to find that we got only 15" of
rainfall (never knew if that included snowfall but think it did) - lots of
Yucca and Cactus around - and that the farmers on the prairie depended a
whole lot on mountain water and snow melt, held back in ponds and metered
out via ditches for irrigation.

The challenge for snowmelt is of course to use it before it runs off and/or
to store it so you can use it over the growing season. You can store it in
the soil, in the water table (if that is close to the surface, which it's
probably not for you), or in pond/dam combos. All of these are PC techniques
- and you'll find a good deal of expertise in the SW/CO/CA-PC Folks - it's
their world and was their Indigenous cousins before settlers showed up. I
helped run a summer camp with a garden in Bailey, CO at about 7,200 ft and
we had a 2" plastic pipe that ran from a snow-melt field with a 5'x5'x5'
concrete collector box that was about 800 ft above the camp. It supplied
high pressure drip irrigation on a timer to the garden to well into August -
1st frost was around Labor Day.

Permaculture was made for challenges such as yours. I'm sure you'll get a
lot of input from the Western and SW Permaculture folks. Please also figure
out how to get thee to one of their great design courses as soon as you can
- reading and writing is great but attending a class, somehow, is much, much

On your question about slope and flat - there is no such thing as flat. When
it rains enough, the water flows somewhere - in a direction - that is
downhill. One inch of slope in a hundred feet will move water downhill just
fine. That's what's happening in the Mid-East with Geoff Lawton's project.
In PC, you don't want water moving fast - that promotes run-off and erosion,
so haqving it on the flat and insoaking is best, moving it almost on the
flat (on a contour, to a pond/dam) is next best.

Swales are great for stopping runoff, getting it to insoak into the water
table, but a swale should go dry within 2-4 days of a rain/snowmelt event -
otherwise it is a pond and you should have habitat (continuous water) for
critters that eat mosquito larvae, or they'll eat you. Both swales and ponds
are great elements in PC Designs.

Hope this is helpful. Your situation sounds like a lot of PC-fun, as it has
a lot of challenge. Good luck

Dick Pierce

On Sun, Dec 28, 2008 at 4:14 PM, Jeff Hine <jhi at post.com> wrote:

> Hi, I am fairly new to the idea of permaculture. I have not taken the
> course or read the principal books on the subject. (money problems)
> Nevertheless, I have been pouring over everything I can find on the net
> and watching various youtube videos. And of course I am blown away by
> the work that you all are doing. I feel like I have been standing on the
> wrong side of the fence for 25 years of my working career and didn't
> even know it for 24. I want over asap!
> I live in an area that is considered mountain desert. We receive on the
> average 16 inches of precipitation per year with nearly all of it locked
> up in snow during December, January, and February. I keep trying to
> figure out what permaculture would look like here. I try to imagine how
> to use swales to hold onto as much moisture as possible. I know that
> even when temperatures are cold a lot of snow is lost to evaporation,
> you can see it happen. And then there is wind blowing that moves it
> around. Would swales help in a climate like this? And to be specific
> about my question, Geoff Lawton describes the swales that they put in
> Jordan. He says in the video that the land is dead flat and later says
> the swales were put in on contour. What does it mean to put swales on
> contour on a flat piece of land? Can you treat a building as a hill and
> use that as the contour point? Also, if you know of any resources online
> dealing with geography such as where I live could you point me in that
> direction?
> I feel like I live in a very challenging landscape, yet I know that all
> areas are suitable for permaculture design. I am learning and grateful
> for all the folks on this list.
> -Jeff
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DickPierceDesigns at gmail.com
SE-NE (summer) & Austin, TX (winter) cell- 512-992-8858

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