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To swale or not to swale--"like a tree that's standing by standing wa-a-ter..."

 
pollinator
Posts: 1384
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
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Hey geniuses,

Here's the situation (not where I live, it's land in upstate NY):

intention: people want beauty, the spirits have asked us to plant beauty on the land.  

we're gonna do a sour cherry, pear, almond, apple, and paw paw (for the lacewing butterflies!).  They all have beautiful blossoms.  I'm thinking lupine also, but we can get a fair amount of food-producing plants for free so that limits things.

USDA zone 5

slope-y land (grade of 15 degrees-30 degrees ish I'd guess on much of the land), and the spot where we're gonna plant trees.

It's a zone at the bottom of the land near the road.  There's a creek there, and just above the creek (and over it) power lines--the power company has mowed along there, a few years ago.  So the clear zone is about 40 feet wide (13 meters).  

One of the vehicles made a big gash in the earth with its tire of about 1' wide (.3m) about 5' long (1.5 m), I think.  It's functioning as a mini-swale, I think, and it has standing water in it.  But f course the compressed earth hasn't been very absorbent, so the water is standing there not soaking in so much.  Leaves have been gathering in there and that helps but it stinks of nitrogen an soon will be a breeding laboratory for the mosquito renegades who seek to take over our village and control our minds .  

Current residents: there are some raspberries growing wild in that area, some wild rose, sumac, Solomon's Seal, a purple-raspberry relative I don't know the name of (really tasty and so far not poisonous!).

We also have a bunch of old rotting 6" (10 cm) square beams that have been sitting there for years rotting--don't seem to have been pressure treated in any way.  (They are like the kind people often build terraces with.)

The creek bed, it's about 4 or 5 feet deep (1.5-2 m).  Would a real, full-size, 4'-wide swale here be more of a disrpution than a benefit? would mini-swales work? should we "hugel" up? terrace?

(Understand, a huge amount of water runs down the slope of the land every time it rains, even with all the trees growing on it, and a fair amount ends up rising the creek or even flooding it on occasion)

Thanks!
 
gardener
Posts: 6644
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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a grade of 15 to 30 degrees is not prime swale territory, it is prime for terraces though.
You could use those rotting timbers for helping build terrace retaining walls.

for that  rut I would get some water loving grasses (cattail, bulrushes, even rice, all will help bring that soil back to able to soak in water).

The pawpaw will love you if you can place it not to far from the creek, that is the natural growing habitat (keep in mind pawpaw leaves of young trees are prone to sun scald).

Your tree choices are pretty good overall too.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1384
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
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kids trees urban writing
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Thanks Bryant!

Shoot, I ddidn't finish my sentence about the place where the trees are going: should say "it's almost flat (3-7 degrees?) at the bottom of the hill by the creek".  So, the 15-30 degree grade just means a lot of water stuff runs down to the flat-ish area, then it's flat-ish at the bottom.

So, yeah, we might terrace higher up, and have a bit, but down at the bottom it seems like either swale or "if it ain't broke don't fix it" are the choices we're looking at.

Bryant RedHawk wrote:a grade of 15 to 30 degrees is not prime swale territory, it is prime for terraces though.
You could use those rotting timbers for helping build terrace retaining walls.

for that  rut I would get some water loving grasses (cattail, bulrushes, even rice, all will help bring that soil back to able to soak in water).

The pawpaw will love you if you can place it not to far from the creek, that is the natural growing habitat (keep in mind pawpaw leaves of young trees are prone to sun scald).

Your tree choices are pretty good overall too.

 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1293
hugelkultur dog forest garden duck fish fungi hunting books chicken writing homestead
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3 to 7 degrees is perfect for swales, I have some that are shallow but wide in my land that has this same pitch (mine is at the top of the ridge instead of at the bottom), they are working really well for me.

If your steep grade is at the top then it would be really good to either terrace or make wide, shallow swales that will move the water to the ridges (1 degree down slope with small pond depressions at the ends and maybe one in the middle too).

The problems come from development of a water plume effect on steep slopes, that is why it is usually better to use terracing there, you can still incorporate a shallow swale on the uphill side of the terraces but you really want these to move water away to the ridge lines.
My land doesn't have this opportunity since we are on the ridge and the property slopes to the valley on both the south slope and the north slope.
So what I'm doing is swales to move water along the top with gathering ponds along the way and then where the slope steepens I start terracing along the lines of what the Inca did in their mountain cities.
Lots of work but will end up well worth all the effort, since it will keep our soil where it is (on the mountain) instead of letting fill in the valleys.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1384
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
120
kids trees urban writing
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Thanks Bryant.
Dealing with the rest of the slopes is another project, we have community energy for beautifying the land and hopefully we can get to more projects in the near future.  
Leading the water toward the ridge-line, got it.
 
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