Last weekend, Ria and I attended the next module of our permaculture course at Kasteel Nieuwenhoven. Since there were only three students this time, we all decided this would be a perfect time to trace the swales at Dorpsstraat.
Swales are permaculture’s answer to water management for lazy people. Here’s a definition I found: “A swale is a slight depression that runs along the contour of the land. That is to say, it is level all along its length. It can be deep or shallow, or even hidden (a ditch filled with gravel and capped with topsoil), and the dirt from digging the swale is usually used to make a berm on the downhill side. A common sized swale is two or three feet wide. Of course, you can make them any size you want. An important distinction is that a swale is not a drain. It is a water collection device. The cheapest way to store water is in the soil. And of course, by stopping the run-off, it prevents erosion as well.
How it works is this: Rain falls on your property, and instead of running straight down the slope, it runs to the swale and gathers. There it soaks in slowly, forming a lens of water underneath the swale. This provides a plume of shallow sub-surface water downslope from it for an amazingly long time, so your grass will stay greener, and you won’t need to water very often.”
On Saturday morning, we started by making an A-frame level from three long pieces of bamboo, some nuts and bolts and fine nylon fishing line. If you ever want to do the process I am going to describe here (including making an A-frame level) you can find some great instructions here (downloadable pdf).
We all piled into my car, with the A-frame and Taco’s brush cutter, and bucketed along the country roads from St Truiden to Ransberg. 16.9 km…
Over coffee we sketched out the basic concept of the swales and the positioning of the ponds – for the reedbed at the top to catch and clean the household grey water, and another pond at the bottom of the meadow.
While Taco cut back the long grass with the brush cutter in the general area we wanted to work, Heidi and Ria set to work marking out the contour lines. Being pleased by small things, I was very happy to see that we had found yet another use for the sticks we had salvaged from the trees we took out of the orchard last month – sticking them in the ground to mark the lines.
We did the first line with Taco and Heidi on Saturday, and the other two on Sunday, with Ria on the brush cutter and Chrisje and I marking the lines. The next job will be to find a local contractor to dig the trenches for us.
More photos here.