The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Building Mounds and Swales

Building swales and planting moundsOur hybrid hazel plants arrived on Saturday!  Hazels are one of the few food-producing plants that grow well in partial shade, so I made them a home in our young forest garden.

This part of the garden is a trouble spot in wet weather.  I suspect that the topsoil eroded away when the land was pasture (before we bought the property), so the remaining soil is pretty much pure clay.  As soon as the grass dies back in the winter, the area turns into a waterlogged mess.  I've tried to plant directly into this soil a few times and ended up with dead plants, so this time, I opted for building mounds and swales.

My first step was to graze chickens pretty hard on the area.  They ate every bit of greenery and dropped a lot of good fertilizer.

Next, I mounded up some semi-rotted branches, asparagus tops, and wingstem stalks to give the mounds some structural integrity.  I dug ditches on the downhill sides of the mounds and piled the excavated soil up onto the branches. 

When raked flat, the mounds were a couple of feet off the ground --- that should provide plenty of good drainage.  I planted baby hazels in each mound, mulched the shrubs with leaves, then planted some comfrey along some of the mound walls to increase the structural stability.  I transplanted some horsetails from the floodplain into one of the swales to add fertility since horsetails accumulate silicon, magnesium, calcium, iron, and cobalt.  If they like it there, the horsetails should spread out to take over the whole ditch.

I'm hopeful that our new swales will help dry up a trouble spot.  If not, I'll dig the swales deeper and add a berm on the downhill side.

Our chicken waterers make great chicken gifts.
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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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