Fun with swales

Kathy Shollenberger and Julia Grisar-Shryock dig trenches for the swales. (May 1, 2020)

Slowing the water

Swales are designed to capture water when it rains. A swale slows the water so it doesn’t rush off the property — the water soaks evenly and deeply into the soil, where it can be used by trees and other plants.

During a spring rain, Charlie Shryock and Barry Stahl tested how quickly the trenches would fill. (April 30, 2020)

To create swales in our new food forest, we made raised beds that would function as berms (mounds of soil). Then we dug 1-foot deep trenches next to each one. Each bed is curved (in a fish scale pattern). The location was chosen based on the shape of the land.

Trench filled with porous material to capture water for plants in the adjoining berm.

After digging the trenches, volunteers filled them with sticks, mulch, and other materials that would let the water soak into the ground. Working in April and May 2020, the volunteers for this phase of the project were Barry, Kathy, Julia, Charlie, Nolla Mae, Steve, Mimi, Rachel, and Mona.

Here’s a quick tour of this process:

And for comparison, here is how it all looked at the start:


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