Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Day 9 - How to dig a Swale
This is such an important topic I think I should spend another day discussing the key aspects.
Val asked me last night about'buzzwords' like sustainable. Sustainable just means to go on, it doesn't mean anything positive except when applied properly. As my mother wrote to me after reading my last post on permaculture, "folks are putting together many disparate aspects to create thoughtful human habitats. Robert Rodale would be proud and preaching practices, if he'd lived (but he'd still be dead of old age!). He created Organic Gardening mag. My hero. I'd love to build on those principles, too. Water and compost are keystones, if you could have two." I decided to quote her here because that is the same reaction I had to learning about this type of agriculture and development. It's better than sustainable, the yield can be better than regular organic gardening because of the beneficial relationships between the plants and the animals they attract, and the soil can be improved instead of stripped from cropping. It's pretty amazing stuff.
The activity for Day 9 was to build a swale. Now, first of all, a swale is used in permaculture design to slow and capture runoff by spreading it horizontally across the landscape along a contour line. On contour means that it is all at the same elevation so it doesn't flow through the trench. This captures water, holds it, and allows it to absorb into the soil. Later in the program we will be building a permanent structure, so in preparation for that we want to design that land for what we want it to look like when we are done. We analyzed the site for where would be the best place for a swale to fulfill our specific restrictions. Then we needed to learn to survey the landscape using a transit and grade rod (we also practiced using an A-Frame and a Locklevel to try different methods). Then it was time to actually get in and DIG!
We were worried about time, it was already 3:50 by the time we even got out the pick-axes. However with 9 of us we were able to dig the 50-foot ditch in an hour! The design called for the ditch to be dug about 4 feet wide, on contour, pulling the rich topsoil out and then piling the dirt on the downstream side of the ditch, topped with the better topsoil, to create a berm. To rebuild this soil that we had just disturbed we quickly planted it with legumes (innoculated with a natural bacteria to increase their nitrogen-fixing capabilities) and a few morenga seeds to grow into larger trees.
All in all, the process helped us understand what would go into designing and then actually executing the construction of a home site.
The awesome home-made pizza, coconut icecream, and vegan cookies were definitely appreciated after a long and fulfilling day of work. I'm curious to see where this takes us next!