Swale Building

Using an A-frame to mark out the contour prior to digging our first swaleA key need in this landscape is developing as many water capture methods as possible.  And that means thinking beyond the water butts ( useful though they are at times).  As part of our movement towards farming our finca in a regenerative and sustainable way, we are planning to build a series of ‘swales’ on the upper terraces, in order to slow the flow of water down the hill and keep it where it is needed – around the base of some of the most stressed trees that we have.

A swale is basically a ditch which is dug along the contour of the land, the dug soil piled up next to it – this pile is called a “berm”.  Rainwater runs downhill into the swale, spreads along its length from where it can percolate into the ground more slowly. Planting the swale and the small mound of earth with green manure plants helps to stabilise the soil and add organic matter, which in turn increases its ability to hold water.

So much for the theory …Loosening the soil using a rotavator attachment on our walk-behind tractor as part of the process of forming a swale for water harvesting.

Yesterday, perhaps the hottest day of the year so far, saw Graham lugging the homemade A-frame along the contour of our top terrace, while I (in true magician’s assistant fashion) floated along, marking his path with large stones.

Using our walk-behind tractor, G then dug a shallow trench along the marked path – we scraped out the loose earth to build our berm, and later, after a cold beer, planted the berm with lupins and broad beans – both regenerative “super plants”.

It may be that this initial swale is a little shallow – the rocky terrace and ancient rotovator blades made for an anxious and tentative first go with the tractor, but we both feel that we have done something that will improve the water holding capacity of that bit of land.  Meanwhile, it’s time to check the ripening plums and wait for some rain ….



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