The Great Upper Swale

Last April we began digging our first swale – “The Great Upper Swale” – along the contour of the hillside on the upper part of the Bosque.

Making swales is a popular permaculture practice for rainwater harvesting.  Swales are essentially long ditches dug on along a level line of a hillside.  When the rain pours down the hill, the water collects in the swale and seeps deep into the earth below it, capturing the rainfall and reducing the speed of evaporation.  The rainfall will continue to provide water to the life beneath the swale for much longer than it would have if it had just run down the hillside.

Marifer, Linnet, Fer, and Minerva digging the swale

In the photo above, Marifer, Linnet, Fer and Minerva are working hard digging the swale.  We have dug about 50 meters so far – a little over 1% of our goal for the Bosque.  If, that is, we decide to continue with swales.  Another option is to begin terracing the land.  Since they seem to provide a similar function for rainwater harvesting, and also create flat spaces for use as gardens, sitting areas, and camping spots, we are probably going to stop working on our series of swales and begin terracing instead.  Well done terracing should have the same effect of slowing the waters’ downhill path, but also improve the land for other human uses.  Doing terracing by hand in small parts, fitting into a decades long plan, should allow the native flora to repopulate the small disturbed areas we create while digging terraces.

If you are a property owner and are interested in digging your own swale, you can find tons of information online by doing a search on “permaculture swale”.  Many permaculturists dig their swales and then fill them in with a non-dense material.  We are skipping this step because the forest will take care of this for us with time, by dropping pine straw and oak leaves into the swale.  You can read about how you can make your own swale here.

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