Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

This post goes over the Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures from the PDC I took this past summer.  The course was given by Charm City Farms of Baltimore, MD.  The course was great and had a lot of hands on activities.

The Class

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures – The Classroom

The class was held in Bryans Road, Maryland.  It ran for three 3-day weekends.  It was the first full weekend in August, September, and October.  During the August class the temperature was pushing upper 90s and in the October class we only hit 60 degrees one day.  Quite the contrast.

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures – Part of the Class

Busy Days

Our days were quite busy.  We actually started our days with a little downtime and went to sitting spots where we just observed what was around us.  This was done to get us to sit and observe without taking immediate action.  It falls back to a permaculture principle of observe and interact.  But that was it for the down time.  The rest of our days were busy.  We did a good bit of lecture, but also did a huge amount of hands on activities.

Mushrooms

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures – Mushrooms

We learned about mushrooms in the class room, then we went out to some mushroom logs that were previously planted.  We harvested some shitake mushrooms and cooked them up.  This is the first time in my life I’ve had a mushroom that I liked.

The next day we went to a local park to look for wild mushrooms.  We came back with a couple of dozen different types.  Some were poisonous and some may have been edible, but we didn’t eat any of the wild ones.  Better safe than sorry.

We also made some mushroom logs ourselves by drilling holes in logs and putting spore soaked plugs in the logs.

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures – Mushroom Logs

Designs

We interviewed the property owner where the class was held to figure out what she wanted done with the property.  Based on that interview we did a permaculture design on her property.  We come up with about ten different projects that could be done.

From those ten projects, we chose three projects that we were actually going to implement.  These we needed to come up with a detailed design for.  The three project that we were going to implement were; compost toilet, perennial garden, and cheap mobile green house.  One of the other groups also did some research on cover crops and presented that to the customer on the last day.  Cover crops were needed, but the timing wasn’t right.

Compost Toilet

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures – Compost Toilet

The compost toilets were for human waste.  Solids go in one and are mixed with sawdust to keep the odor down.  The compost will be “baked” in a year or so.  There was a separate toilet for the liquid so that you don’t get too much ammonia in the solid compost bin.

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures – Compost Toilet

Perennial Plantings

The original plan was to put in a key-hole design and do some other perennial plantings.  There was not enough time and materials to complete this project so the key-hole project was dropped.  There were several brambles that were planted in a new perennial bed.

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures – Perennial Bramble Bed

Green House

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures – Greenhouse

A portable cheap greenhouse was built from lumber, cattle panel and greenhouse film.  The total cost of the project came in just under $200.

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Miscellaneous

Some of the miscellaneous items that we worked on include making bio-char, soil cubes, compost tea, and grafting. We also used a couple different types of levels to mark contour.

Bio-char is wood that is heated up and burned in a low oxygen environment.  This is done so it stays as charcoal and doesn’t do a complete burn and turn to ash.  The bio-char provides a lot of living space for soil microbes.

Soil cubes is soil that is pressed into cubes when it is moist so it stays together.  Then when the plants grow, they will air-prune their roots. This is more environmentally friendly then plastic trays.

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures – Compost Tea

We made compost tea, which involves putting compost in a bucket of water along with other nutrients.  The brew was aerated with a bubbler system for a day or so and then it was ready to use.

The grafting and pruning sessions were cool.  We learned how to prune fruit trees and took our trimmings back and learned how to do some grafting.  We did a cleft graft, tongue and groove graft, bark graft and a bud graft.

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures

Permaculture Design Course Videos and Pictures – Grafting

Our Designs

In order to complete the course, we had to do our PDC projects which was a complete PDC design of our place.  We presented these to the class to get feedback.  We had to include a section on our perfect kitchen.  I think this was done to get us out of our comfort zone and to show that permaculture as a design science can be used for other things besides agriculture.

There was also a talent show that we had to do on the last weekend.  We had people pair up and make a band, people show some of their previous designs, show crafts and music that they do.  It was rather interesting.

My Thoughts

This was an awesome class because of all of the hands on.  This is the third PDC that I have taken and they have all been quite different from one another.  I’m happy that I have taken all of them and have learned a lot from each.

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The Video

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Permaculture Keyhole Garden Design

Permaculture Keyhole Garden Design

I was all excited to plan out my permaculture keyhole garden design on My Sheet Mulching Project in the garden plot.  When I started doing some research, I realized I had my terms mixed up and what I want to do is not known as keyhole gardening.  As of this moment, I’m not sure what it is called, but I figured I’d write this article and give an overview of what a keyhole design is.  I’ll post later on what I’m doing in my garden after I figure out exactly what it is called.

permaculture keyhole garden design

Permaculture Keyhole Garden Design

The basic premise of a permaculture keyhole garden design is to build a raised bed in a circular shape with a keyhole access path to a center hole.  If you are looking at it from above, it looks like a keyhole or to me it looks like a “packman” figure that swallowed a golf ball.  You then fill the keyhole or center hole with compost.  (See the picture titled “Permaculture Keyhole Garden Design”). The keyhole access path allows you to enter the circular shape and reach the center, so that you are able to access your produce without climbing into the keyhole.  It also allows you to add additional compost as the old compost breaks down.  You plant into the area around the keyhole.

The permaculture keyhole garden design provides a lot of benefits.  It gives you easy access to the plants, conserves space, gives you a tidy way to compost scraps and the compost provides a lot of nutrients to the plants you are growing.

From inspirationgreen.com

From inspirationgreen.com

In researching this article, the guidelines for diameter for the bed itself seems to be around 6 foot.  The compost area would be about one foot if you go with a 6-foot diameter bed.  The keyhole access path could be in a wedge shape or just a straight path.

The walls of the bed can be made out of anything you have laying around.  Scrap lumber, logs, rocks or whatever else you have.  I saw some nice looking ones on line that were made out of stones and I have a good supply of stones at out my farm, so that’s probably what I’m going to use.  See the picture titled “From inspirationgreen.com”.

To make the compost area, you can use wire mesh or wire cloth to make a circle.  The picture below shows galvanized garden fence being used.  That looks like a good possibility to me. I’d probably lose the T-posts as the soil around the fence would be enough to hold the fence in place.  As long as the compost pile doesn’t get too low, it will keep the fence from collapsing.

libertygarden.us

libertygarden.us

Many of the designs show the lower parts of the planting area as a large compost area as well.  This would be a one-time compost area where you just add compost material and then cover with a few inches of soil for planting into.  This will add a lot of nutrients to the planting area initially and will eventually break down and become nutrient rich garden soil.  You will continue improving the soil because you continue to add compost to the center compost area that will keep the garden nutrient dense.  Click on the link for more information on Compost Information.

I’m not sure when, but I will be putting one of these together.  I’ll add it to my long to do list.  When I do build it, I’ll get plenty of videos for you.

Please give us your thoughts on permaculture keyhole garden design by commenting below.

Free Intro to Permaculture Design Course

Free Intro to Permaculture Design Course

The Oregon State University is running a Free Online Intro to Permaculture Design Course that runs from May 2nd to May 31st 2016.

Permaculture Design Course

Permaculture Design Course

An Excerpt taken from their web page states: “In this free, online course, you’ll learn about the process, ethics, and principles of permaculture while diving into climate-specific design elements through interactive technology, videos, graphics, and readings. Permaculture design is a method of landscape planning that can be applied to anything, from a home garden or farm to a city block or entire village. Permaculture uses design principles from nature itself and takes into account such things as how indigenous people used the land. This course is designed to benefit everyone regardless of learning style, time commitments, or available technology. Expect to spend between two to four hours each week on coursework.”

The course is taught by Andrew Millison of Oregon State University.  Andrew has been PDC certified for twenty years and has been teaching the Permaculture Design Course for fifteen years.

Although I already have a PDC and I’m almost done with another, I like courses like this because it gives you additional tools in your toolbox.  Every teacher has a different style and conveys different thoughts and information based on their life experiences.  With every additional course I take, I always learn something new.  And why not give this course a try, after all, it’s free!

I signed up for the course a week ago and it was fairly painless.  You go to the link below, click enroll, enter your name and email address and then click on a link they send you to set up your profile.

You can sign up for the Free Online Intro to Permaculture Design Course at:

www.canvas.net/browse/oregonstate/courses/permaculture-design

For more information on what permaculture is all about you can check out an article we did a few months back called So What is This Permaculture Stuff.

Tell us what you think about Free Online Intro to Permaculture Design Course by commenting below.

Sheet Mulching or Lasagna Gardening

Sheet Mulching or Lasagna Gardening

Sheet mulching or lasagna gardening,  is like composting in place. The process can take three to six months, but the finished compost does not have to be hauled. It suppresses weeds and builds fertile soil.

Sheet Mulch

Sheet Mulch

Sheet mulching or lasagna gardening is layering various compost material on the ground.  A sample picture of this is shown above.  The goal is to attract worms, build fertile soil, kill out any existing weeds, cover existing seeds so deeply that they can not germinate, and basically start a garden area from scratch with a clean slate.

Sheet Mulching or Lasagna Gardening

Sheet Mulching or Lasagna Gardening

I have a garden out at my farm.  It was there when I bought the farm and it has all kinds of tall prickly weeds that come up every year.  Last year I put a tarp over one section of the garden and weighted it down.  It prevented anything from coming up in that particular area, but if I simply remove the tarp, the weed seeds will germinate and I’ll have issues again.  Sheet mulching or lasagna gardening will solve my weed problem and pump life into the soil that will help my garden plants grow strong.  I actually started on the project this past weekend.  You can see in the picture titled “Sheet Mulching or Lasagna Gardening” where my father-in-law is watering the soil and in the back quarter of the fenced in area we already have an inch of manure down.

I’m Thirsty, but Don’t Drown Me

Before we get into the sheet mulching steps, lets talk about water.  You need to add water at several steps throughout the sheet mulch process.  The water is to keep the soil life happy.  But how much water.  You don’t want to drown your soil life.  The basic guideline is as wet as a wrung out sponge.  By this I mean, if you take a kitchen sponge and thoroughly wet it and then wring it out, the water just flows out.  What you are looking for is what a sponge is like after it is wrung out.  It is wet, but very little or not water comes out.  The optimum wetness is to get one drop of water out.  Taking this back to the garden, if you wet your organic material, let it set for a couple of minutes after watering.  Then pick up a handful and wring it out.  What you want is one drop of water.  That is the optimum.  If you get no water, you probably want a little more.  If you get a flood of water you are overdoing the water.  Now on to sheet mulching.

Sheet Mulch Steps (Long)

So this year I’m going to implement sheet mulching or lasagna gardening.  I go over the detailed steps here and I have an abbreviated list near the bottom of this article.

Cut, Loosen, and Moisten

First, cut down any tall weeds or grasses and do any fine leveling that is needed.  If your soil is compacted break it up a little with a pitch fork, but don’t turn or till the soil as this does more damage to the soil life than it does good by loosening the soil.  Then give the soil a good watering, as soil life likes a moist, but not soaked environment.

Add Amendments

The next step of sheet mulching or lasagna gardening is to do a soil test and see if you need to add any amendments.  You may need nitrogen or lime or a number of other additives that would be discovered in a soil test. In my case, I need to add gypsum, which is used for clay soil or compacted soil.  I found a 30-pound bag of gypsum at Lowes for $6.00. You can use lime if your soil is too acidic or use Elemental sulfur if you need more acidic soil.

I have done three posts on different soil test kits.  They can be found here:

Hold All Test Tube Soil Kit Product Review

Hold All Moisture Light and Ph Product Review

Ferry Morse Soil Tester Review

Feed the Soil Life

Then feed the existing soil life.  This is done by putting down a layer of compost or manure on the ground.  The existing soil life will be used to increase the rate of break down of the organic matter that you will be adding.  The faster the organic matter breaks down the faster your garden area will be ready to use.  After the compost or manure is put down, moisten it by watering.

Kill Those Stubborn Weeds

The next step will help kill out stubborn weed seeds and perennial weeds.  You put down ¼ to ½ inch of newspaper or thick cardboard.  If using newspaper, use only the print pages and not the glossy color inserts.  Those likely contain a lot of metals and toxins.  If using cardboard, remove any stapes, tape, and labels that will not break down quickly.  The newspaper and cardboard will break down eventually, but will kill the weeds and perennial plants before it does.  It also makes for good worm food as they start working their ways up.  Overlap the paper or cardboard by at least 6 inches so weeds don’t come up in the seams.  Then thoroughly water this level.  I use cardboard boxes folded flat and water the inside, and outside of the boxes before I lay them down and then I water them again while they are down.

Worm Food

Lure the worms up from lower layers by adding manure or compost on top of the cardboard or newspaper and then water it.  This will give the worms a reason to work their way up through the layer below.

Thick Layers of Organic Matter

Now add thick layers of organic matter.  You want to add 8 to 12-inches.  I’m using hay and oak leaves for my carbon layer and then horse manure for my nitrogen layer.  You want to watch your carbon to nitrogen layers here and have them be as close as possible to a good compost mixture.  Follow the highlighted link for information on compost mixtures.  After every couple of layers, add some water to keep it moist.  You don’t really want to wait until the end and water from the top because it is very difficult to get the pile evenly wet once it gets thick.  The compost link above gives you the full list of what a carbon is and what a nitrogen is.

Quote from Permaculture Magazine

According to Permaculture Magazine: “The first year of break down means the wood (and fungi) steal a lot of the nitrogen out of the surrounding environment, so adding nitrogen during the first year or planting crops that add nitrogen to the soil (like legumes) or planting species with minimal nitrogen requirements is necessary, unless there is plenty of organic material on top of the wood. After the wood absorbs nitrogen to its fill, the wood will start to break down and start to give nitrogen back in the process. In the end you will be left with a beautiful bed of nutrient rich soil”

(Source:www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/many-benefits-hugelkultur)

Now Add Compost

Once the organic matter is added, you want to add some compost on top.  If you have some compost that isn’t fully “cooked” yet, that would be even better.  The uncooked compost will add composting bacteria to the pile and give it a jump start from the top side on the breakdown process.  Even if it is fully cooked, there are still bacteria in there that will help.  Now water the compost in.

The Final Touch

Not cap it off.  Put a mulch on top to keep the pile moist and so it won’t dry out or blow around in the wind.  I plan on using wood chips for my pile.  Then water it in.  Usually it takes four to six months to break down.  If you want or need to plant in the sheet mulch before then, make a hole in the sheet mulch by pushing it aside, add some compost where you need to plant and then plant into the compost.

Sheet Mulch Steps (Short version)

  • Level the area
  • Cut down any tall weeds or grasses
  • Amend the soil as necessary (get a soil test and use the results from that to figure out what you need.)
  • Water the area
  • If the soil is compacted, break it up a little
  • Add an inch or so of manure and then water it.
  • Cover with cardboard or ¼ to ½ inch of newspaper, overlap the sheets by 6 inches or so
  • Add an inch or so of manure and then water it.
  • Add organic material such as straw or wood chips and water again.  Try to balance the carbon to nitrogen ratio.  See the article about COMPOST
  • Put a few inches of compost on top and water in.
  • Add a couple of inches of mulch or wood chips to cover the area and water it.

In a few weeks I’ll be posting a video and some pictures of my sheet mulch project out at the farm.

Give us your thoughts on Sheet Mulching or Lasagna Gardening by commenting below.

Podcast Episode 22 – So What is all this Permaculture Stuff.  A Brief Introduction and Description of Permaculture

Podcast Episode 22 – So What is all this Permaculture Stuff. A Brief Introduction and Description of Permaculture

Podcast Episode 22 – So What is all this Permaculture Stuff.  A Brief Introduction and Description of Permaculture

Podcast Episode 22 - So What is all this Permaculture Stuff. A Brief Introduction and Description of Permaculture

Podcast Episode 22 – So What is all this Permaculture Stuff. A Brief Introduction and Description of Permaculture

Great Escape Podcast is an audio version of the blog posts from Great Escape Farms, Specializing in Unique Edible Plants, Permaculture Gardens, and Homesteading. The blog posts can be viewed at GreatEscapeFarms.com.  This episode is a rebroadcast of an episode posted in October 2015.  That episode was a weekly episode and I pulled this subject out because I think it warrants having a separate show.

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Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD Review

Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD Review

Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD Review

This is a review of the Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD Review. The DVD “Introduction to Permaculture Design” is written and presented by Geoff Lawton.  The DVD gives the viewer an 80-minute introduction to what it takes to design a permaculture solution and gives you a tour of a property that used this design and has been functioning for many years now.  Geoff explains that with all of the problems in the world today, permaculture design is a design system that give you a positive view of the future.

Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD Front

Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD Front

The Sections

Ethics

Geoff starts out explaining that permaculture is a movement of people that starts with ethics.  Three ethics to be exact; Earth Care, People Care, and Return of Surplus.  This surplus could be time, energy, information, and so on.  Permaculture leads to absolute abundance.  Permaculture is about science and ethics.

Concepts and Themes in Design

The next section on the DVD goes into concepts and themes in design.  Some of the topics covered in this section include sustainability – produces more energy than it consumes, follow the patterns and diversity in nature and the system will give us fertility followed by productivity.  Stacking systems through diversity and time is important – succession planting and the reparative nature of the systems.  Permaculture systems are about polyculture systems.  Finally, he goes into how we need to look at how nature works and improve on those functions.

Methods of Design

The section Methods of Design gets into elements, functions and cause and affect.  Every element supports multiple functions, and every function is supported by multiple elements.  Permaculture is about patterning of design.

Design through Observation

The section Design through Observation covers how to observe and interact.  If you observe a weed growing in the garden, it is telling you that the land needs that type of plant or that type of plant does well there.  Either way, if you can find a plant with the same requirements or benefits to the land, that is also beneficial to you, it should do good there as well.

Zone Planning

Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD Review Back

Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD Review Back

The Zone Planning section gets into zones 1 through 5 and other factors that affect zones.  Zone 1 is a zone that you are at all the time or needs your attention a lot.  Zone 2 is larger with less maintenance, all the way out to zone 5 which is the forest or wilderness – basically land that is untouched/unmaintained by humans and left to nature to tend to.  There are some other things that affect zone design, such as slop and orientation as well as the human element.

Sector Analysis

The Sector Analysis section covers how we observe different energy and how it affects the land.  Where the sun rises and sets, which direction the wind predominantly blows and if there are flood prone areas all come into play.  You will also take into account views, noise, dust, and potential frost pockets as well as other things.

A Walk in the Garden

At this point in the video he walks through a yard and points out the zones, sectors, and shows the many different types of edible plants.  As he is walking through he talks about how all the zones, sectors, functions, and elements all interact together.

Patterns

The next section is Patterns and he explains that all patterns are created by pressure between two medium – like wind blowing on the ocean and creating waves.  He explains to not recreate patterns, but let the patterns evolve and only use the patterns as a guide – not to be out right copied.

Climatic Factors

In the Climatic Factors section, he explains that there are 3 main climates. The 3 climates are the temperate climates that have cold wet winter and dry summer, the tropical climate that have a wet summer and dry winter, and the arid climate where evaporation is greater than the total rainfall.  There are also sub-climates and he gives several examples on the DVD.

Farm Forestry, Trees, and Soils

There is a section on Farm Forestry and a section on Trees.  There is a section on Soils, where he talks about feeding the soil not plants.  You feed the soil by making compost and getting soil biology correct with bacteria and fungi.  He also shows several compost piles and worm bins and explains how to use worm juice.

Earthworks

The next section covers Earthworks and Earth Resources.  He shows the building of a dam and a swale.  He makes a miniature spillway swale and dam and uses a hose to fill it up and show how it operates.

Strategies for an Alternative Global Nation

The last section he covers is Strategies for an Alternative Global Nation.

The Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD  is available from time to time at http://www.ecofilms.com.au/tag/geoff-lawton/, but is not available at the time of this writing.  Check that site often as it shows up for a month or so and then disappears for a few months.

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Thanks for visiting the Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD Review post.

Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD Review is a great DVD for someone who is learning permaculture and is a wonderful review for the permaculture enthusiast.

Epi018 – Swales A Permaculture Practice

Epi018 – Swales A Permaculture Practice

Great Escape Podcast

Great Escape Podcast

Great Escape Podcast is an audio version of the blog posts from Great Escape Farms, Specializing in Unique Edible Plants, Permaculture Gardens, and Homesteading. The blog posts can be viewed at GreatEscapeFarms.com. This episode covers the topic of Swales – A Permaculture Practice.  This topic was covered on January 4th 2016 on the Great Escape Farms blog post.

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Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture Book Review

Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture Book Review

Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture Book Review

This post is Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture book review. From front to back this book is 232 pages and consists of 6 chapters, each with many sub chapters. The book covers his farming practices, experiments, experiences and some mistakes all on his own farm.  A picture of his book is shown in the picture titled “Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture Book”.

Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture Book Review

Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture Book Review

Sepp’s farm, called the Krameterhof, consists of 100 acres on a mountainside surrounded by a monoculture of spruce trees. The Krameterhof has terraces, raised beds, ponds, fruit trees and many other features that are quite different than the surrounding landscape in Austria.

The chapters in this book include Landscape Design, Alternative Agriculture, Fruit Trees, Cultivating Mushrooms, Gardens, and Projects.

Landscape Design

In Landscape Design, he talks about his childhood and what got him started in this line of work as well as mistakes he made along the way. He talks about permaculture and how to set up a permaculture system and ventures into microclimates, how to build a terrace, raised beds, and waterscapes.

Alternative Agriculture

In Alternative Agriculture he gets into soil fertility, green manures, plant diversity and polyculture. He talks about alternative ways to keep livestock to include pigs and poultry.

Fruit Trees

In Fruit Trees he goes into the wrong way of doing things and then his way of doing things. He gets into fruit varieties, propagation and grafting, how to grow a fruit forest, and how to process, market, and sell what you grow.

Cultivating Mushrooms

In Cultivating Mushrooms he goes into the health benefits of mushrooms, the basics of how to cultivate mushrooms, and how to grow them in wood and straw. He also goes into cultivating wild mushrooms.

Gardens

In Gardens, topics such as kitchen gardens, medicinal gardens and vegetable patches are discussed. He talks about natural fertilizers, helpers and pests in gardens and characteristics of town gardens. In this chapter he has tables of companion plants as well as a table of medicinal plants.

Projects

In his Projects chapter he talks about projects he has worked on including those in Scotland and Thailand. This chapter gives a lot of pictures and describes what they did on these projects. I have always found it easier to learn by looking at what others have done than looking at words alone. This is a great chapter for those that learn through what others have done.

The Book

This book has a cover price of $29.95 and is a good read. Unfortunately, this is one of the first books I read and some of the concepts were beyond my interests at the time. Now that I have a great deal more education and a PDC under my belt, I will thoroughly read it again from cover to cover. For the purpose of this review I only skimmed through the book and I see all kinds of things I missed or wasn’t interested in first time around. With that said, I would recommend some basic understanding of permaculture principles prior to reading this book. It would make this book a much better read and you will retain a great deal more.

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Swales A Permaculture Practice

Swales A Permaculture Practice

Swales A Permaculture Practice

This post, Swales A Permaculture Practice, describes what a swale is and my experience building swales over the past to years.

Ungroomed Swale

Ungroomed Swale

Water flowing down a hill that may erode that hill is not really termed a “problem”.  It is termed an unused “resource”.  If you can slow that water down and get it to hydrate the soil where it is at, then you prevent erosion and conserve the water for the plants.  One way to accomplish this and tap that unused resource is to use a swale.

The definition of swale in Wikipedia is as follows: “A swale is a low tract of land, especially one that is moist or marshy. The term can refer to a natural landscape feature or a human-created one. Artificial swales are often designed to manage water runoff, filter pollutants, and increase rainwater infiltration.

The swale concept has also been popularized as a rainwater harvesting and soil conservation strategy by Bill Mollison, Geoff Lawton and other advocates of permaculture. In this context it usually refers to a water-harvesting ditch on contour. Another term used is contour bund.

Swales are used to slow and capture runoff giving the water time to soak into the soil, thereby hydrating the soil.  This type of swale is created by digging a ditch on contour and piling the dirt on the downhill side of the ditch to create a berm.

3 Swales

3 Swales

In arid climates, vegetation (existing or planted) along the swale can benefit from the concentration of runoff. Trees and shrubs along the swale can provide shade which decreases water evaporation.

Swales are best when used on slope grades of 3 to 15%.  Much less grade than 3% and the water is moving slow enough to to hydrate the soil already.  Much more than 15% and it would be to steep to slow the water down and store which could cause the swale to fill and overrun and possibly wash away from the quick moving water.  As a general rule, the steeper the slope the closer together and deeper your swales need to be.

Swales are most useful in reforestation of degraded, mostly-bare, arid or semi-arid hillsides, to direct water to trees. They also help immensely on soil with shallow depth to bedrock, or relatively impermeable and compacted soils because these type soils need the water slowed down to help hydrate the soil. A swale would usually not be needed in an established forest because the fertile ground and leaf litter will allow the water to soak into the soil.

Groomed Swale on Rainy Day

Groomed Swale on Rainy Day

Perennials trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and vines do best in swales.  The varied root structures help hold the swale together and a swale will allow the soil to hydrate which helps the plants with deep roots.  Annuals, hay, and pasture land don’t benefit as much from swales.  They usually have shallow root systems so deep hydration is of little benefit.

You need to plan for what happens if your swale fills up.  The recommended way of dealing with a full swale is to have a spillway channel in your swale that will divert overflow to a ‘safe’ area.  While the berm in a swale is purposely not packed down so that plants will grow in them better, the spill way is packed down to allow water flow without erosion.

After building the swale, you will want to plant into the berm that is on the downhill side.  You will want to plant a centerpiece tree, some shrubs and groundcover.  You will want to have plants with varying levels of roots, both deep down and near surface roots.  These varying root systems will help stabilize and hold your swale in place.  After the plants are in, you will want to put mulch down on the swale and the berm to conserve moisture.

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Diversion Ditch

Another type of swale is a diversion ditch.  This is where you are trying to slow the water down and move it to or away from something.  This could be away from a house or to a pond.  The diversion ditch is usually at a 1% angle.  This means that you have 1” of drop for every 100” of horizontal distance.  Or it could be 1-foot of drop for every 100-foot of horizontal distance.  At 1% angle you slow the water down enough that it will not allow wash away to occur.

My Swales

2 Bottom Plow

2 Bottom Plow

While actually not my swales because they are not on my property, they are swales that I helped dig and level. The pictures on this post are of a project I worked on at Elisha’s Spring Farm in WV in the spring of 2015.

We used a two bottom plow to dig a trench along a contour line.  We used orange marking flags and the laser level (discussed below) to mark the contour line. We actually did two passes with the plow to make the swale wider.  After the two bottom plow went through, we used a lot of manpower with a lot of Rogue Hoes to shape the berm on the downhill side.

We used the Spectra Precision LL100N-1 Laser Level laser level to level out the ditch of the swale.  This laser level has one stationary tripod base piece and one mobile receiver.  The receiver is moved to a reference point for your initial level and all other measurements will be done based on your initial level.  Then you move the receiver to other areas and move it up or down to figure out what actions must be done to get that spot level.  The actions could be to dig down a little further or to add a little soil to build the area up slightly.  The model I bought from Amazon is shown below.  I will be doing a product review on this model in the future.

 

 

After the swales were put in and shaped, chestnut trees were put in about every 6 to 8 feet.  Then an annual cover crop with some perennials mixed in were thrown down on top of the soil to help hold the berms together.  After the plants were in, we put up an electric fence to keep the cows out of the swales.

Writing this blog post, Swales A Permaculture Practice, reminded me of all the fun I had last year working with permaculture.

Cattle Checking Out Swale

Cattle Checking Out Swale

Groomed Swale on Rainy Day

Groomed Swale on Rainy Day

Swales A Permaculture Practice - Swale with Cover Crop Down

Swales A Permaculture Practice – Swale with Cover Crop Down

Swales A Permaculture Practice - Swale with Seedlings

Swales A Permaculture Practice – Swale with Seedlings

Swales A Permaculture Practice - Seedlings Going In

Swales A Permaculture Practice – Seedlings Going In

Gaia’s Garden Book Review and Description of Topics

Gaia’s Garden Book Review and Description of Topics

Gaia’s Garden Book Review

This post is a Gaia’s Garden Book Review.  It covers a little bit of what this book is about and my impression of the book and how it relates to gardening and permaculture.

Gaia’s Garden is a book written by Toby Hemenway and is one of my favorite gardening books.  The book is written around permaculture and delves into several topics like; building and maintaining soil fertility and structure, catching and conserving water in the landscape, providing habitat for beneficial insects, birds, and animals, and growing an edible “forest” that yields seasonal fruits, nuts, and other foods.  He also includes a chapter about urban permaculture for people with limited growing space.

He starts the book out explaining what permaculture is and what natural gardening is and why you would want to do this.  He then goes into several key concepts to include soil building, annual vs perennial, plant communities, stacking functions and more.

Toby then goes into different designs and talks about patterns and keyhole design, herb spirals, branch and net patterns and mixing the many patterns together.  He does a wonderful job of describing the zones and sectors.

Gaia’s Garden Book Review

Gaia’s Garden Book Review

He goes into soil building and humus as well as how to make compost.  He includes a good table that describes the carbon to nitrogen ratio and how the different materials in compost play into this.  He goes into till vs. no till and hugelkultur, sheet mulch, and cover crops.  He has a very nice table on different plants to use as a cover crop.

He gets into water conservation and water needs of plants.  He describes a swale, mulching, grey water, and other water catchment techniques.  He gets into different plants and function stacking of plants.  He specifically gives details on some of my favorite plants to include: goumi, maypop, and comfrey.  He includes a table that gives details on plants that are dynamic accumulators, nitrogen fixers, and nurse plants.

He goes into many of the beneficial bugs that we have already covered in the blog posts and some that we will cover in future posts.  He also talks about how to attract these beneficials.  He gets into polyculture, and one of my favorite subjects… Plant guilds.  Plant guilds is where he ties most of the rest of the book together and with this one concept changes any garden or planting for the better.

He has tables in the appendix that gives information on plants that you can use for you garden. The tables are broken up into; tall trees, small trees, shrubs and small trees, herb layer, and vines and climbing plants.  Each table gives you the common name, botanical name, USDA hardiness zone, light requirements, edible parts or use of the plant, animal use, other uses, and comments.  If you get hung up on what plants to put in a garden area, these tables are a great place to get ideas.

As I write this review and look back through this book again, I want to read it again from cover to cover.  This is one of my go to reference books for plant guilds, but there are so many other concepts in this book that I could really pull it from the book shelf once a week and reference parts of the book.

Gaia’s Garden is a fun read that is difficult to put down.  It is not like some other books that are good reference manuals, but bore you to sleep if you try to read it from cover to cover.  This is a book I can see myself reading cover to cover many times over.  I read it all the way through this past summer and now think it is time to read it again.  Maybe over the holidays.

The book can be purchased on Amazon at the link below:

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