[permaculture] Looking for good examples of the use of berms and swales &...

Tommy Tolson healinghawk at earthlink.net
Sun Jul 15 12:33:39 EDT 2007

The object of swales is to hold water on the land as long as possible to 
allow as much to sink in as will.  Observe the land to see how the water 
runs off it, then swale in opposition to that flow.  If you swale on 
level, water sits in the swales until it soaks in or evaporates.  Frogs 
love these waterholes.  If you have to, keep them full enough to allow 
the tadpoles to mature as frogs are a sentinel species and if you have 
them, you're doing something right.  Berms of the soil brought out of 
the swales thus stay moist longer.  Properly mulched, they never dry 
out.  The secret is to keep the berms covered with a thick layer of 
mulch.  Avoid sun contact with the soil, on berms or not, except where 
there is enough water to form permanent mud.  Plant annuals in the 
decomposing layer of mulch, not in the berm soil proper.  Trees and 
berries with their more extensive root systems need to be planted in the 
berm.  Shape the berm so the tree or berry sits in a basin that holds 
water instead of letting it run off.  If annuals need support they can 
be staked or caged.  Kept moist, clay/adobe berms need no amendments.  
Calcium will help to break up the clay if you want to amend, but you're 
faced with bringing in something from off-site.  Shell flour works, and 
comes in 50-pound bags.  Broadcast it on the berm before initial 
mulching.  That's all we did, and I could stick my hands into the soil 
of adobe berms up past my wrists in the height of the dry season. 

Tommy Tolson
Austin, TX

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