Author Topic: Swales for a typical suburban yard?  (Read 9498 times)

Offline romeo hotel

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Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« on: July 19, 2010, 11:49:54 AM »
I am reading Gaia's Garden right now and I just finished the section on swales.  I am curious if anyone has put swales in a typical suburban yard??  Worth it? Successes/problems?

I thought that straw swales might work well for a limited space.   

Offline tamo42

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2010, 12:56:17 PM »
I even put micro-swales in my community garden bed.  They are probably the most important element of just about any permaculture design.  The swale is the device that slows, spreads, and seeps the water into your land.  This then becomes available to surface plants and subsurface organisms, which then create soil.  Good gardeners are in the soil-making business.

If you want to create open water, you can use swales and overflows or a more keyline design that has a slope to it.
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Offline Uberman

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2010, 07:52:37 PM »
Dang my computer is acting up and I lost my post. I'll try again.

RH, I dug swales in my garden. I asked on here some time back if swales where good for wet environments or just for dry ones. What I have is a garden on the south side of my barn on a down hill slope. Water was channeled around the barn and through my garden. I decided to try swales. My ever informative neighbor let me know as I was digging them that I was just digging a mud pit. Not one to care much what he thinks I dug on.

Before swales the water rushed through my garden and washed away my mulch and made one big slick, muddy mess for days after a rain. I did some landscaping work north of my garden to re-route some of the water and guttered my barn which both helped alot. I then dug the swales and filled them with mulch. I did this-this spring and we have had some big rains since then. My garden after swales is much nicer, the mulch does not get washed away and even right after a heavy rain you can walk/work in the garden without sinking to you ankles in mud.

IMHO swales are the way to go for water management whether you are managing too little or too much, they seem to do the trick, they are worth the work. Mike

Offline CopperKnight

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2010, 10:46:31 PM »
That's good to know.  I keep looking at the west side of my house.  There is about 20 feet of land until it hits my fence and the neighbor's property.  It is on a slight slope away from the house.  I have never been able to grow grass there, partially because the dirt there is mostly from the excavated basement and is very sandy.  I have been staring at it for a couple days trying to figure out if a swale would work well in such a short space.  Part of the roof runs off that way and I could gutter part of the south side to run there as well.  I'm thinking I should give it a try. 

One of my main concerns is if, with such sandy dirt, the water would even make it to the swale before sinking into the ground.  I couldn't go any more than 10 feet away from the house or I would run out of room to plant things below the swale.  Any thoughts?
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Offline tamo42

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2010, 11:11:07 PM »
If it is total sand, you probably need to add organic matter.  Try adding plenty of material, whether it be compost, leaves, bokashi, cuttings, manure, etc.
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Offline dukejer

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #5 on: August 10, 2010, 08:06:50 AM »
I have put a microswale in my back yard.  I have a small gentle grade from the back of my house which slopes west.  I put rain water collectors next to a shed attached to the southside of  my house and then ran the closest rain spout into the rain water collectors.  The over flow from the rain water collectors flow into a microswale just below the rain collectors.  The microswale is just above my raised bed garden and keeps the soil watered fairly well.  The garden is on the south side of my property.

- Dukejer

Offline CopperKnight

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2010, 07:17:55 PM »
What is bokashi?
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Offline tamo42

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #7 on: August 11, 2010, 09:34:53 AM »
Bokashi is a method of anaerobic composting.  Youget a specially blended mix of microbes, add food waste and dry material, and the microbes go to work.  When it is fermented it looks the same, and you bury it in your yard.  Go back a couple weeks later, and it will have turned to dirt.
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Offline javabrewer

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #8 on: August 11, 2010, 11:08:35 AM »
I didn't know what a swale was until I looked it up just now but I managed to put one in my back yard two years ago to solve a drainage problem.

The situation was that my paved patio was slightly higher than the base of the grass, yet is on the "downhill" side of the lot and water was not running over it unless we had a heavy downpour.  So the water would pool up along the edge of the grass on on the patio and would stress and sometimes kill the grass.

What I did was dig a trench in the grass all along the edge of the patio, about 1 1/2 foot wide and about a foot deep.  Then I filled about 8 inches with gravel, put down some of that black weed blocker, then filled the trench with topsoil (remaining topsoil was spread around the yard in various areas to help drainage some more too).

This allowed anything but a really heavy downpour to soak into the trench and not pool up.  And in heavy downpours the pools drain into the yard before the pools have time to hurt the grass.  I also notice that the edge of the yard is always much more green and grows faster than the rest of the yard, so it seems to have an effect on the water supply too.

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Offline CopperKnight

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #9 on: August 11, 2010, 08:35:18 PM »
Bokashi is a method of anaerobic composting. 
Thanks for the explaination.  Never heard of it, so I will be adding that to my evening web surfing list.
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Hare of Caerbannog

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2010, 03:39:57 PM »
I have heavy clay soil and a gentle east to west slope with about the last 15 feet on the western border dropping a good 5 feet in elevation.
In previous years, rain and downspout water would just rush off my property and pool in the back yards of my western neighbors.
This Spring I cut a swale down the length of my backyard. The overflow drains into a french drain I installed on the side of my house.

Here are links to the two videos where I dug it and one from this week.
I'll do one more this Fall and perhaps one with Winter snow.


Video 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSjk1l3dZWI#

Video 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyinaWgQpPc#

Video 3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HalduVJEdg#

Offline CopperKnight

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2010, 09:05:00 PM »
Excellent, Hare.  I'm going to give a shot at a swale on the west side of my house.  I will get the digging in this fall and see how much water it will hold from the snow melt.  Seeing what you have done gives me hope that it might just work.  Thanks.
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Offline I.L.W.

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #12 on: September 02, 2010, 10:15:48 PM »
The size of the land is less significant than the location and slope of the land.  Obviously, the steeper the slope, the greater the tendency for water to shed off the top and erode the soil.  If you have a steep slope in a neighboring property (house is built in the middle of a hill, you can reclaim a lot of the water from above you. In a suburban area, by aware that you may be capturing run-off from neighboring properties, including fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, oils, and if your downhill from a septic tank or old well, you could be getting contaminated water. Make sure you know the source of your water.  Things may be fine now, but if the property above you sells to someone else who contaminates that water source, and you've terraformed and landscaped with large perennials, you're in for a lot of work to remedy the problem.  Make a through assessment before starting.

If your land or neighboring land is flat, hilling accomplishes the same thing as a swale.  Set a steak in the ground, tie off a rope about 10' in length and using the steak as a center, work in circles with the rope as your guide, digging at the furthest extent of the rope and piling the dirt at the base of the steak.  Combine circles for a more abstract pattern.  Just make sure the low spot is level everywhere you dig so it doesn't all pool in one area.  Add some small gravel to the ditches, this shades surface water below the rock line to slow evaporation.  Plant dwarf trees or large shrubs where your steak was and fill in around the area with smaller plants according to your light penetration and exposure.
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Offline minimalist

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #13 on: September 21, 2010, 01:10:14 PM »
Thanks for these videos Hare. Gives me a better idea about how swales work. Sadly, I'm not sure there is enough elevation on my property for a swale to be effective.
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Offline I.L.W.

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2010, 07:33:43 PM »
Even with minimal slope, you should consider the quality of the soil.  If it's mostly sand, it'll drain away before the swale catches it anyway. In packed clay soils, swales will catch every drop, but may easily overflow if not big enough.  Ideally you'd have something in between (Loamy soil).  Since you're obviously looking at this from a planting perspective (more than drainage), you're target soil should be a loose loam, rich in organic matter.  If you achieve that quality of soil, the following may be helpful. I saw a formula for swaling, but I'm just basing this on a vague recollection.

For every 50 yards @ 10° of slope, you dig a 1' wide swale, ½' deep.  Walling it up on the down slope to get you to about 8" of depth.  For every additional 50 yards or 10° of slope, you add 25% to the trench width and depth.  This was based on 30" of annual rainfall.

That's a good rule, but the land wont always support those relative depth dimensions, sometimes it needs to be shallow and wider, or deeper and narrower.  The important thing is that you maintain the same ratio, so as to keep the same volume of capacity.  I believe it assumes the rainfall average is spread out over different times in the year.  I lived in Arizona for a while, so I know monsoons would wash that out in a minute, even though the annual rainfall is only around 25".  Of course monsoons and hurricanes are the exception, but account for them with deeper swales if that may be an issue in your area.  The "formula" obviously neglects soil penetration etc, but it'll give you a crude idea of what's needed.
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Offline bowins

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #15 on: December 03, 2010, 10:15:14 PM »
This is great info guys. great job hare. I'm in suburbia, but my house is at the top of the slope and a large portion of my yard is fairly useless because of this. I was considering a retention wall and flattening things out and putting some raised beds on top, but it seemed I was fighting mother earth and adding a ton of work. I think I'll give swales a shot. December might not be the best time, but its warm and we should get some rain tonight. I'll post some vids/pics and let y'all see progress. Hopefully it turns out. Good project before i do a ton of composting, which was another project for this month...
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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #16 on: January 03, 2011, 04:30:20 PM »
Awesome Hare, can't wait to see it this spring!  Did you get several varieties for Hazels for cross pollination?  Personally I think you could shove  a few more of em in there.
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Hare of Caerbannog

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #17 on: January 03, 2011, 06:19:54 PM »
Awesome Hare, can't wait to see it this spring!  Did you get several varieties for Hazels for cross pollination?  Personally I think you could shove  a few more of em in there.
I think I will add more.
I was suppose to have two varieties but a bunch of the bare root trees I got on that order were mislabeled so now I don't even know if they are Hazels.
I'm not happy with the Arbor Day folks over this.

Offline albertlee

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #18 on: January 07, 2011, 09:56:29 AM »
Great videos, Hare.  I'm contemplating a similar project for the North side of my berm house, which now just runs water straight off the roof, down the slope and onto my back driveway.  The result is a muddy mess whenever we get a decent amount of rain. 

One question I have about swales... if you keep dumping mulch into the trough, won't it eventually build up and level off, thereby short-circuiting the water gathering effect?  Or will the resulting loam/mulched soil continue to gather water due to the differing density of soil?  I have some pretty heavy clay, so I suspect that is the effect I would have here.

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #19 on: January 07, 2011, 10:35:40 AM »
My plan for the mulch is that a couple times a year I will drag some of it up out of the ditch onto the mound to build it higher.

Offline Nicodemus

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #20 on: January 20, 2011, 02:56:39 PM »
Great posts! I was drawn to this via today's TSP. Thanks to Jack for that.

My back yard is about a 30º slope. I'll probably have to terrace and swale the whole thing to make it an effective growing space.

BTW, you apparently are now the "Hare of Carnage".  ;D

We need to hip Jack to some Monty Python.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2011, 03:13:07 PM by Nicodemus »


Offline oktx

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #21 on: January 23, 2011, 01:31:18 PM »
This is great info guys. great job hare. I'm in suburbia, but my house is at the top of the slope and a large portion of my yard is fairly useless because of this. I was considering a retention wall and flattening things out and putting some raised beds on top, but it seemed I was fighting mother earth and adding a ton of work. I think I'll give swales a shot. December might not be the best time, but its warm and we should get some rain tonight. I'll post some vids/pics and let y'all see progress. Hopefully it turns out. Good project before i do a ton of composting, which was another project for this month...

I have the same problem and I'm looking at the same solution.  I'd love to see pictures of what you're doing along the way. 

Offline LJH

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #22 on: January 24, 2011, 09:58:38 PM »
'Hare of Carnage'  :rofl: Good one, Jack.

Seriously cute dogness there, Hare. Can't wait to see your project progress come spring. I'm still waiting for the rest of the snow to melt so I can start on mine.

On the swale subject, there's a guy here in southern Utah doing full-race permaculture on a suburban lot. His front yard has a very minimal slope but the swale he put in kept his water out of the street and if you follow his video progress it shows amazing results. His name is Jake - I haven't met him yet, but we've corresponded a bit. He turned me on to a local organic nursery that I can't wait to visit. He's a couple of hours West of me and several thousand feet lower, but I think I can pull off some of the stuff he's doing. Click on his Video link at the top of the page:

http://www.rawutah.com/
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Offline endurance

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #23 on: January 25, 2011, 01:06:05 AM »
I think I will add more.
I was suppose to have two varieties but a bunch of the bare root trees I got on that order were mislabeled so now I don't even know if they are Hazels.
I'm not happy with the Arbor Day folks over this.
Interesting and worth noting.  I was planning on ordering mine from them this year.
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Offline Oldhomestead

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #24 on: February 06, 2011, 11:47:00 AM »
Wow, great info guys.
I've got 15 acres of flat virtually no slope farmland where the soil has just been worn out by constant hay operations for decades. We've had it for about 5-6 years now and I've been grazing it and letting it rest without plowing. It is slowly moving back towards a mixed pasture instead of mono-culture hay. I do have access to irrigation.

I was looking at creating swales with a series of broad ditches and mounds with the ditches interconnected so they could be flood irrigated and left set for the water to sink in. The mounds I was planning on working into a string of food forests with differing fruit/nut combinations.

So it would be something like low ditch with pasture grasses, mound with bushes and trees, low ditch, mound, etc.

But with mention of the circle method it brings up some thoughts of mixing some of those in as well.
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Offline SPLIT_LIFE

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Re: Swales for a typical suburban yard?
« Reply #25 on: February 06, 2011, 02:45:25 PM »
For a flat property,  you should consider this:

http://agroinnovations.com/index.php/en_us/multimedia/blogs/podcast/2010/12/episode-114-land-imprinting/

Great podcast and interesting land reclamation work.