Edible Forest – Swails (Part 2 of 4)

My water supply wasn’t the best. I had a productive well, but I pumped directly from it to the demand. I had no storage, about 40 lbs. of pressure across a single 1″ line. This of course, resulted in a serious deficit in supply (both pressure and volume). It also resulted in a situation where my well was cycling all day, every day each time I needed water. My power bill was not fantastic.

Keeping in mind, my end goal is an edible forest and a property that is lush and full of life, I had to improve the infrastructure of the ranch. This would need to start with my electrical supply, followed by my water system. The infrastructure in my mind, needed to include robust and healthy septic capabilities, along with cleaver water capture systems that fed the soil and the mycelium within.

Part of that water capture system was a want to avoid watering the eventual orchard from above (sprinklers and/or drip; at least long term). The solution for me was swails. This idea worked for me, the back few acres are on a gentle slope, and arched with varying topography. The solution? an 8′ wide swail, followed by a 6-7′ mound (3-4 feet deep; completely level from end to end). Within the mound, branch material covered by the soil taken to dig the swail.

The ditch that will become a swail

This adventure started by measuring the area to get swails. I measured the centerline of each, separated by 25′ each, marked each in paint and marked the topography. Following level across the length of the field. The result, meandering red lines from end to end. These were going to be swails and I was excited to see to look of these water captures in harmony with the land.

If you haven’t discovered this, I need good function of the systems that underpin the ranch. I tend to optimize for more industrial or commercial solutions, but also the aesthetics are critical. With this said, I rented an excavator and began digging. I have to say, it was long process. Each swail is long (1 – 174′, 2 – 208′, 3 – 210′, 4 – 201′, 5 – 120′). I got one length finished and came to the conclusion that while I could certainly finish this myself, getting someone who really knew what they were doing to dig and shape these, would give me not just the result I wanted, but the result I needed.

Tractor Operators

During my attempt, I managed to hit a line that I had placed many years earlier. This was a 1″ line that, when I was a new farm owner thought would be sufficient supply (now I have 5 -2″ lines, pressured at 70 lbs)

It took two seasoned operators one week, full time to dig and shape the swails as well as the mounds. They also installed the gopher wire on both the slope to the swail as well as the uphill side of the mound (pictured below). I did both sides to accomplish two goals (a) to keep gophers out and (b) to act as some amount of erosion control; as you’ll see I’ll plant native grasses. Keep in mind, gophers wont tunnel deeper than about 18″ so the bottom of your swail should be safe w/o.


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