Swales Lessons Learned
With the swales and food forest now around six months old there are some takeaways that I believe are pertinent if you intend to design a system. I now realize that I stressed out over laying them out too much. I didn’t need to buy a transit, the A Frame level will do the job to the accuracy you need. It isn’t a big deal if they aren’t perfect, they’ll be close enough. Anyhow the operator isn’t going to be perfect either. In my case, my operator thought I was crazy to start with. Operators are used to digging straight runs and shooting grade from the bottom of the trench. I don’t think he understood what I wanted until he was actually digging. The concept of contour did not register.
I had to have them come back and power till up the berm material because it was so full of clay and grass. If I was doing it by hand I would still be out there. There were clods that probably weighed three hundred pounds. There was no way to move it by hand. We used a small loader to push it up into berms and honestly I still wasn’t happy with it. I spent a lot of effort with a shovel working the berms after they were done. After a few weeks I had the berms cleaned up better and more to my liking but they aren’t perfect.
Even though I planted lots of seeds initially, weeds out competed most of the seeds that I sowed. The disturbance basically caused the weeds to go ballistic. I tried weed eating them to start with but I gave up on that, succession will take care of that for me and most of them are annuals anyway. It has been very hot and it has not rained for a while and the grass is parched and brittle. The clover is dead. The weeds in the berms however are doing fine with no sign of wilting over from the heat. As far as I am concerned, I would rather have a cover crop of rag weed and Queen Anne’s Lace than bare berms. Fescue did get a toe hold in some of the berms in spots. I tried to keep that out as best I could because it is perennial.
Not having the berms manicured like they needed to be set us back and because of that the trees suffered. They arrived early to start with and I was caught flat footed. The temperature was warming up and they started breaking dormancy before I was ready to plant. The pecans suffered the most and they were the hardest to plant. They weren’t seedlings they were rather large and had large root balls that required us to dig holes with the post hole diggers, which is a chore. The rest of the trees we could put in using the “dibbler” which is a tree planting spade that makes the work go fast.