[permaculture] Introduction and a question about Swales

L. Santoyo santoyo at earthflow.com
Sun Dec 28 21:04:52 EST 2008

Jeff Hine,

Swales will work where ever there is run-off water. Swales are shallow
basins (a ditch) and level berm (a long mound). These simple structures are
primarily used to collect or "harvest" run-off water (best and less
technical and can cause relatively little damage on slopes less than
15degrees). For steeper slopes you can calculate more frequent and lower
volume structures and/or shorter lengths (ala "boomerangs").

Even on a so called, flat piece of property you can determine slope by
watching to see which way the water drains off during a rain. A swale would
then be best placed perpendicular to that run off (basically that would be
on contour)

The swales act simply to intercept that run-off water and spread it out the
length of your basin -with the objective to then infiltrate into the soil.
The level berm ensures that water will spread out evenly in the basin before
draining, overflowing and/or continuing on downhill...

If the basin and berm were off contour, where the water would flow to a
lower end -then that would be a drain -not a swale...  (you could have a
drain directing water to an infiltration swale)

In any case -there are, of course, far more examples of swales in action
than there are on YouTube. Brad Landcaster's books have some good
illustrations in them for Drylands. Other examples of water harvesting
include "dish swales" and "waffle gardens" that are great for flatter
places. see  http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

L. Santoyo

On Sun, Dec 28, 2008 at 2:14 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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