Tag Archives: swale

Flood and Drought: The New Normal

Over the last 10 months we have had weather records broken for wet and for dry. The heavy, compacted soils we inherited on this property don’t help either one.

Our main goals for the property are to improve soil and soil structure, and to moderate hydrological extremes. One strategy we have employed is building a hugelkultur swale along with a series of small ponds. This is what it looked like under construction on day one.

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This is what it looked like a year later.

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This is the day of our record floods last winter. Note the small tagasaste trees and broad beans.

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Ten months later the pond harvests water off the farm roofs. The tagasaste have grown alongside Jerusalem artichoke.

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One year of growth on the swale despite a very dry summer.

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Slowly but surely we are using nature and muscle to build a more resilient farm for our children and for everyone downstream.

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Peace, Estwing

Water Flowing Uphill, Part II

We finally had a good rain shower last week after a long dry spell. It is a welcome break from the hot dry weather of the last 6 weeks. Although the total was only about 20 mm (less than an inch), it was enough to fill up one of our ponds thanks to the large runoff area of our sheds and stables.

If you multiply the rainfall by the roof area it is easy to calculate the total volume of water. The trick is then delivering that water to a place high on the property away from buildings where it can be stored for as long as possible. We’ve run this water uphill.

In this image you can see the roofs and the spouting and the pond above the swale. The green hose delivers water to the pond.

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This image from the side shows how the water travels from the roofs across the road and up over the swale. The green hose runs just behind the chicken tractor.


Now that we know the system works, we can cover the hose with stone to keep it out of site and protect it from UV damage.

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The pond will trickle-feed the swale where 10 peach trees are planted along with blueberry bushes and black currants. The tagasaste are being used as nurse trees.

All of the earth works and trees in the images above are a year old.


Peace, Estwing

Swale at 1 Year

Our hugelkultur swale is now a year old. It is a thriving micro-ecosystem in what was formerly a worn out horse paddock. I’ll write more about it another time, but I wanted to post some images to mark its birthday.

The primary plantings are tagasaste, broad beans, lupine, and Jerusalem artichoke. Fruits include black boy peach trees, blueberry bushes, black currants, and kei apples. Other beneficial plants that have inhabited the swale include white clover, giant red clover, and plantain.

Kevin the rooster keeps an eye out from atop a chook tractor along the bottom edge of the swale.

Peace, Estwing

When Water Flows Uphill

June brought an historic flood to our city. December was the driest on record.

Climate scientists have warned us to prepare for these types of extremes. They have certainly arrived around the world, and according to predictions will only increase in frequency and severity. No matter what happens post-Paris in terms of carbon emissions, the planet is already locked into decades of volatile weather.

What is your community doing about it? What are you doing about it?

On our farm we have designed to address both drought and flood simultaneously. Here is one small example of how I am directing water to flow ‘uphill’ and over a swale to where it will be most useful to the black boy peach trees and blueberry bushes planted along the swale. The higher and longer we can hold water on the property the better. But at the same time we direct water away from buildings made of wood and steel.

This little water diversion project starts on the huge roof of our multi-shed complex. I’ve changed the spouting and run it into a section of Novaflo. In winter the same piece of Novaflo carries the water away from and to the side of the buildings. But for the dry summer I have decided to run the water uphill.

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The weight of the water is so great that I’ve had to build a ‘splint’ to support the flexible pipe from the fence to the barrel.

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Can never have too much baling twine!

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As the barrel fills, the pressure forces water through the hose fitted to the bottom of the side. The hose will eventually be covered by stone as it crosses the road.

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Then it climbs over the swale to the small pond dug behind it.

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I checked it this morning after a small 5 mm shower last night. The bottom of the pond was very damp and the end of the hose was full of water.

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Here is a reverse angle showing the water’s pathway up and over the swale. In winter the swale keeps water flowing down the hillside away from the buildings. But by the end of this dry December the ponds were dry and the small fruit trees were drying out. I was spending a lot of time watering them with a hose and decided that this project was to jump to the head of the line.

This hugelkultur swale was built one year ago and is already thriving compared with the worn out paddock around it.

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My belief is that it’s fine and good and important to talk about cutting emissions and embracing non-carbon based energy sources. But it is equally important to prepare ourselves and our communities for the extremes of both wet and dry. Good design moderates them both for the better. To me it’s all about designing and building resilient systems. This is just one small example on one small farm in the corner of the world. It was made in a morning by materials laying around the place at no cost.

What do you think you can achieve at your place?


Peace, Estwing

Early Autumn Permaculture Update

After an amazingly long summer it feels that autumn is finally here. I wore my winter wetsuit surfing yesterday for the first time since October. I’ve put new fire bricks in the wood burner and it looks like this will be the week to light it.

After a significant dry spell, we have had 100+ mm of rain in the last 4 days. As a result of that we have an unexpected pond on our property.

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Truth be told, it is not unexpected, just not in the space planned for it.

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We have been building a swale in combination with a rubble road and a raised area to plant avocado trees.

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But at the moment the pond is in the excavated area for the rubble road and not behind the swale.

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Just for fun I started digging the pond today. Under about 250 mm of topsoil is a clay pan.

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Ultimately we can line the walls of the pond with the clay so it holds water longer.

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 But it’s all good. The ducks love the temporary pond, and why spoil their fun.

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Peace, Estwing