I enjoy all of the little projects that we do around here but this is what really gets me out of bed every day. It’s been a long time in preparation to get swales laid out and actually put in but we finally have about a two acre field in swales! Check the video out here.
It was a process that started with burning some brush piles that were on the site. They were already here when we bought the property. After pushing up all of the brush piles we burned them. They were mostly juniper, or as they are commonly called around here, cedar. It didn’t take much to get them to blaze and just like clockwork the wind started blowing hard. I had some help from our neighbor and we got it knocked out. Then we bush hogged the rest of the pasture. Getting the grass down helped when we were surveying and flagging the contour lines.
I bought a “builders level” from Dewalt for about $200 that had a tripod. It’s a transit to me. A laser auto level is over $500 although one person can lay out contours with it. I couldn’t justify spending that much for one. The transit worked just fine and it has more versatility.
We laid out three main “rings” of swales starting from the top of the pasture and working our way down. We left about 30 feet of room off of the fence line to allow for access. We also left a space in between the middle sections for more access. After the field was mowed I found what I think used to be an old road. I think it used to cut through the property but I’m not sure. I found another one over toward the east and you can plainly see where it does cut through the property and there is actually a gate in the woods that is fenced up now. At some point the entire property was probably 80 acres before. Anyway, I decided to not swale over the old road bed and to leave it in place. It would have created a very difficult bit of digging. I actually noticed it while I was using the A Frame level to do some preliminary surveying since I was getting a really wonky path during that procedure.
The swales are generally semi-circular in shape which is what I expected they would be but one side of the hill is much flatter than the other one. So the swales on that side are sort of straight for a good ways. We found a little draw in the hill too which isn’t unusual. On the eastern side of the hill is nearly one smooth curve all the way down. On that side at the bottom is a small pond that has been here awhile. There is a little draw that feeds into the pond about 30 yards in front of it. We laid out a possible swale beginning on the north side of that little draw if we had time to do depending on how the digging went. It turned out that we had plenty of time so we put that lowest swale in on the eastern side so there are four swales on that side and only three on the other side. I had the operator cut the swale into the draw so that we can use that swale to feed the pond. Overall the swales are around 4 feet wide by 1 foot deep, but they do vary in depth.
Up at the top swale the soil had very little clay and it was easy for us to break up the grass clods. Further down there was more clay and it was going to be nearly impossible to get the clumps of sod broken up. Lesson learned, get your operator to put your sod further downhill of the berm! I had to get Bill to come back over and pull the big hunks of sod down with the little John Deere that has the loader. It didn’t take him long to do it. He has convinced me to let him get a tiller and run over the sod clumps and bust them up before we push the berms back up so I am goin
g to give it a shot as my elbows are nearly shot from shovelling. It cost a little over $700 to dig the swales.
The top berm we were able to shape by hand decently. So up there we put in about 70 trees already. Mostly persimmon, pecan, and elderberry. I ordered 600 trees or so from the Missouri Department of Conservation. The trees are very reasonably priced especially when you order in bulk. So we don’t have more than just a couple hundred bucks in those. The Department of Conservation has a very good website and a large assortment of trees. In the past I tried ordering trees from the State of Georgia and every year found that although they showed having many variety of trees they were always out of stock except for pines. I had better success with the State of Virginia with some trees but out of state you have to pay for shipping.
The trees I got from Missouri were bigger than I expected them to be. Some of them are at least in their second season already. I was expecting six inch trees and most of them are between 18″ and 24″. I am extremely pleased with the quality of trees we received. It’s good to see the swales in because now the food forest can begin. There’s a place to put things into now that we will not have to water. A place to experiment with grafting and other things. It’s not too big to manage either. If push comes to shove I could water with a five gallon bucket by hand if I have to.