Establishing orchard - to swale or not to swale?

Discussion in 'Designing, building, making and powering your life' started by nchattaway, Jul 25, 2011.

  1. nchattaway

    nchattaway Junior Member

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    Hi all,

    I'm in the early stages of establishing a new orchard on our property. I selected the location because it is midway down a gentle northerly slope, with both north east and north west slopes (there is a ridge through the middle). It's lower than a tank I've put on a nearby hill, which will be pumped full from our dam by a good old fashioned windmill. The prevailing winds are south westerly in winter (uphill) so a planted shelterbelt should be effective as both a windbreak and a suntrap.

    We live in a cool temperate climate in the Adelaide Hills. Our place gets an average of 800mm annual rain, mostly in the cooler months.

    Reading Mollison's Permaculture Designer's Manual, it seems I should dig swales on contour and plant my fruit and pioneer/interplant trees along the swales. However, due to being partway down a ridge, the contours are far from straight lines. I've surveyed and staked out contours on most of the paddock now, and as you would expect, they curve around the ridge and, near one end, curve back again as they traverse a slight gully.

    I've seen some orchards where the trees are planted in nice straight lines, which would seem to make netting each row a lot easier than following a curving contour.

    So, my question is, are the benefits of having fruit and nut trees planted on contour swales in a cool temperate climate worth the extra time and effort of surveying, creating the swales and using more irrigation pipe and netting?

    Or should I just plant in neat straight rows?

    I don't want to be doing swales just because it seems like the right permaculture solution, it needs to be the best way. What's got me worried is David Holmgren's book Melliodora doesn't clearly show his orchards as having been established with swales, although he has planted along contour. In his case, the contours seem much straighter.

    Thanks,
    Nathan
     
  2. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Have you considered getting a permaculture designer in to have a look around and come up with a plan for you? It might answer this sort of question and more and save expensive mistakes.
     
  3. nchattaway

    nchattaway Junior Member

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    Hi eco,
    Yes. I tried for a while to get Graham Brookman from the Food Forest in Gawler to come and have a look, to no avail. Then, when I heard David Holmgren was going to be in Adelaide, I tried to get him to come out, but I left this too late and he was very busy and couldn't do it.

    I don't know of any other experienced designers who consult in the Adelaide area. So I thought I'd try this forum and see what eventuates.
     
  4. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    That's a pity. I had a quick look on Permacultureglobal.net for you and found this chap - Hugh Hunkin but it doesn't look like he does design work for others. I wonder if Nick Huggins would travel to your place for you?
     
  5. nchattaway

    nchattaway Junior Member

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    Getting guys from interstate sounds expensive. I've renewed my request to Graham Brookman and he said he'll let me know in a week or two. As we all are, he's busy planting and pruning this time of year.
     
  6. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    I have no authority to comment on this thread, but I would like to hear about what your feelings about swales are, and passive watering.

    Would the costs associated with pumping to the higher tank (already costed) and the reduced netting costs be less/greater than the reduced watering, potential overall health increase from passive and increased netting costs (plus/minus everything else)?

    What about active 'keyline' irrigation if the tank wasn't there?
     
  7. nchattaway

    nchattaway Junior Member

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    Hi S.O.P

    I've had a Keyline plan designed for our property by Ken Yeomans. This orchard block is higher than the highest dam on our property. We have approximately 3.7 Hectares of land that is lower than this dam, which would be a good future opportunity for gravity irrigation using canvas flags and diversion ditches.

    I have already bought the windmill to pump dam water to the 22,000L header tank that will then gravity feed most of the zone 2 orchard blocks. I put an overflow pipe from this tank back down to the dam so I can leave the windmill circulating dam water. My plan is to deliver the overflow back via a waterform aerator "water feature" built along the top of a mudbrick wall that will act as a suntrap and windbreak for a BBQ area I want to build next to the dam (one day!)

    I think the benefits of swales outway the costs.
     
  8. Pink Angel

    Pink Angel Junior Member

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    The benefits of swales along your contour banks certainly outweigh having water pumped to the orchard. They can also work by diverting water to the areas you want them to.
    The types of trees also need to be taken into account to see where they need to be planted on the swale.
    Unfortunately you need to have a look at a few aspects before there is a straight out "yes, no" answer.
     
  9. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Cheers. Since I'm not doing it largescale (or really at all), I automatically believe swales are a long-term sound investment, the positives outweigh the negatives etc.

    So, your orchard. What are you going to plant? Predominately a mono (hence netting straight lines), or more of a 'food forest'?
     
  10. nchattaway

    nchattaway Junior Member

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    No monoculture for me! Having rows of food trees interplanted with nurse trees means you can net each row with a long net and a hoop of poly pipe over each tree. It doesn't mean each tree has to be the same variety, although you'd generally plant similar varieties nearby for effective pollination. You'd also want to keep trees in a row fairly similarly sized to make netting easier.

    But, I may not need to net them. I just want to have considered all aspects.

    We're planning on planting a few of many fruits. Pomes do well in our climate, as do cherries and late ripening stonefruit, almonds, filbert, chestnut, walnut. I'll probably have to grow dwarf citrus in pots in or near the future greenhouse or at least on the north side of brick walls.
     
  11. Terra

    Terra Moderator

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    You will get some heavy rains where you are , i would go with the swales you can put feed compost / manure / legumes ect in them , but they must be able to cope with heavy rain events if they spill over you will have an expensive mess , so you will need overflow spillway end/s with a suitable waterway to somewhere to handle excess , i cant see any difference between straight and curves rows for netting
     
  12. barefootrim

    barefootrim Junior Member

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    It comes down to what 's best for the site and the owner's preferences doesn't it?

    you have 3 maybe a 4th option of water harvesting ( not in any order )

    1, swales,
    2, keyline,
    3, net and pan
    4, boomerang swales for each individual tree

    it doesn't matter which one you choose, as long as you obtain water absorption fertility. you may want to choose a hybrid of many techniques,,,

    what if a small stand of good forest ( say 150 trees ) is right in the way of your swale line,,, are you going to knock those trees over and keep on swaling along,,, not sure if its the best plan,

    whay if its a bit rocky,,,and building a swale will cost heaps more in excavator/ grader time than just doing individual boomerang swales on each tree.

    what if you want inter -row tree pasture, for stock or hay baling or for tree mulching say,,, and the ground allows that,,, ---- then keyline plowing is the way I reckon.

    I think its correct and good management of you to not "just do swales for doing the right permaculture thing" ,,,,,swales are just one small dryland technique amongst many techniques ,,,, its good not to get caught up into any pragmatic thinking like that,,,,remember the major australian study that permaculture came from ( ie yeomans keyline) ,,,,, and yeomans did not use swales. One particular designer I know just does swales,,,and its very very very wrong in my mind

    then there is the keyline swale that is available - Mr Cam Wilson wrote of them in the forum in detail ,,,if you fancy them,,and they work on the country you have.

    swales are good they work,,,do they work everywhere --- no way,
    keyline works,,,no runoff in keyline,,,and turns the dirt into a pure black gold worms crave for.
    boomerang swales work,
    net and pan works
    keyline swales work
    laying dead tree trunks side ways across a slope works,

    what are your resources,,, do you have a keyline plow,,or can hire one from closeby,,, do you have enough money for the grader to come for swales for only 1/2 day or enough money for 2 days of grader work,,,, 2 days of grader work will build small swales for many kilometres,,,

    all the best
     
  13. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    nchattaway, it's really crucial to realize that if you have clay soil and you put swales to hold the water, you could saturate that clay and it will slide. Terra mentioned above that you have heavy rains there. Be very, very careful about how much water you are holding in place, when under natural circumstances that water has for millennia been able to go the way it's always gone.

    I live in a Mediterranean climate where we don't get rain from mid spring to almost winter, but there's so much ground water that an orchard can tap into that ground water in just a few years and not need much more than annual rainfall levels, which are not extreme where I am. I give them some extra water as the fruit ripens, perhaps a month or two. We rarely get heavy rainfalls, and when we do the clay saturates and slides. The soils engineers around here won't agree to help build a house on any soil they feel could slide on a heavy-rain year. it gets very scary. So swales are not always advisable in all situations. And fruit trees don't always need extra water. Their trunks will split and you can kill them if they get it at the wrong time of year.

    Maybe collecting runoff and making sure it gets used in a more spread-out fashion would work as well.
     
  14. nchattaway

    nchattaway Junior Member

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    Hi All,
    Thanks for the advice. There's lots to ponder on there.

    Barefootrim, I have a small 35hp tractor and 1.8m grader blade and "Automatic Level" survey kit so swale construction is cheap and fast for me.
    Sweetpea, we do have clay soil under the topsoil. I am establishing this particular orchard on one of the higher areas on our property, which has a ridge running down the middle of the approx 2 acre area. I would say it could benefit from slowing down the water passing off and over this land. Certainly the lower paddock below this one (where I hope to establish alleycropping for sheep, tagasaste and grain production) could do with a bit less water than it gets at the moment! I am hoping that swales in the higher orchard will allow some surface water to be absorbed into the deeper clay that would otherwise flow over the surface down to that lower paddock, and that planting 100 food trees plus a 300 native tree windbreak in this 2 acre orchard will absorb much of this water.

    I went out and cut the first swale last weekend. It has conveniently rained a fair bit this weekend, so today I could see that the swale is filling up evenly and water is sitting still along the whole length. At least this tells me my surveying work was accurate. Phew! After the rain stops I'll see how long the swale takes to absorb this water. Since I cut down into the clay when digging it, this could be some time. Our dams don't seem to leak at all, so the soil must have a lot of clay I suppose.

    I wonder how you can tell if it's suitable for making mudbricks or even standard fired clay bricks or clay pottery?

    I've got P.A. Yeomans book "Water for every farm" and it's great. I've even had his son Ken Yeomans do a Keyline consult for my place. But his plan was about increasing the catchment into our existing dams rather than adding new keyline dams because under current "Western Mount Lofty Ranges Water Management Plan" prescription, this is not allowed.

    The big dam has several megalitres and even through drought holds enough water to keep a Redfin population alive. I caught a 43cm Redfin when we first moved in, wich I'm told is huge. Tasted good in any case. So maybe drip irrigation to the food trees will be sufficient?
     
  15. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    For what it's worth, be careful with too much water on native trees if they are drought tolerant. They don't want extra water, and it will kill them. Plus mature fruit trees that are established don't want a lot of extra water, especially not standing water.

    Have you looked at the Sepp Holzer You Tube videos? He puts his ponds at the top of the hill, and the water slowly seeps downhill. This might be a safer route to take.

    I have a pond that is spring fed that is about 150 meters up a hill from the road, lined with clay so it holds water, and the slow seeping down the hill from it allows established grapevines and 90 fruit trees to do well. But when it rains hard here, I know the majority of water is running into the pond, not saturating my steep hillside.

    The hillsides slide here, so I guess that's why I am concerned when you are saturating your hillsides in several places with standing water. :)
     
  16. nchattaway

    nchattaway Junior Member

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    Thanks for that. I've seen some of the UK Permaculture magazine articles on Sepp Holzer, but not watched any of his videos. I'll check them out!

    A pond or small dam at the top of my orchard paddock would be great. I could probably dig it under the canopy of a mature redgum tree so it can't be seen from satellite pics (we're not allowed under current govt legislation to create new surface water storage). Redgums don't mind a good drink. Since the hill continues up into my neighbour's place, I'd get quite good catchment, especially with a couple of diversion ditches cut just above contour heading away from the pond in either direction. I can't call this keyline, since the keypoint on this slope is further down the hill (below our house actually), but high water storage will give me more direct control over water egress on the whole slope. Not to mention not needing a windmill to pump irrigation water from the main dam.

    I need to tie this design together. My almond trees are now flowering in their pots, so I suppose they're stuck for another year. Even the apple trees are looking suspiciously like blossoming very soon. Aargh! I thought I had 3 weeks of winter left.

    In any case, the native tree planting is above any swales I had planned, so they'll get by on rainfall only. And most of the standing water is going to be when the deciduous trees are dormant. Hopefully by the time they're waking up, this water will have soaked in.
     
  17. Woz

    Woz Junior Member

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    This statement "both north east and north west slopes (there is a ridge through the middle)" caught my eye as it immediately screams KEYLINE. Having said that though, as Barefoot says, it is dependent on many on-site factors which are beyond the scope of a forum discussion.

    As BF mentions, there are many possibilities, of which Swales and Keyline are but two. A few points:-

    Water naturally falls, not only from the top of the property to the bottom, but also from the ridges to the valleys. Hence you run the risk of having the ridge in your orchard drier than the slopes. Of course, this could be used proactively by planting trees with less water requirements on the ridges and plant trees with progressively higher water requirements down the slopes.

    Swales (on contour) will capture water slow down it flow through the property, but swales won's correct the imbalance in moisture from ridge to valley.

    Keyline on the other hand, will. There is more to Keyline than just Dams and Flags. Keyline plowing (off contour) is designed to infiltrate moisture into the ground as with swales, but also to move moisture back to the ridges thus evening out moisture levels. And this can be (should) done both below and above the keypoint and dams.

    If Keyline plowing is not an option, then perhaps a Keyline swales might be something to look at, which are a hybrid of the two techniques designed to maximise plumes whilst balancing out the moisture levels from ridge to valley. See https://permaculture.org.au/2009/11/30/keyline-swales-a-geoff-lawtondarren-doherty-hybrid/ for more info. It sounds like you already have the equipment to implement this.

    >Aargh! I thought I had 3 weeks of winter left.
    Hehe, looks like everyone's blossom trees are somewhat confused.

    Cheers,
    Woz
     
  18. nchattaway

    nchattaway Junior Member

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    Thanks for the contribution Woz. I have read Cam's Keyline swales article before, it's a good one for explaining water flows.
    I have placed my access road right up the middle of the ridgeline for a couple of reasons.
    1. It should remain serviceable during winter rains due to being dryer
    2. There is an existing poly pipe buried along the ridgeline that supplies my house with water from a well. So I'm leaving a 4m wide gap between swales on the ridge.
    3. I will therefore run my new irrigation poly pipe from the windmill on the dam down the ridgeline as well, branching each waist high dripper run off this along each planting mound.

    Any pond I dig at the top of the orchard would be situated right on the ridge, so I could divert water down to any part of the orchard. Would I use a diversion channel on both sides of the access road and a flag system to fill the swales? If I could establish a large enough pond/dam to provide irrigation for the trees right through summer, I would not even need the dripper lines from the main dam if I did this. I like the sound of that! Or would standing water in swales in the height of summer simply evaporate before it had a chance to bloom down into the subsoil?
     
  19. mischief

    mischief Senior Member

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    With regards to being able to tell if your clay would be suitable fro making bricks.
    If you take a lump and roll into a sausage about 6 inches long, then curve each end together.
    If it stays in shape as a curved sausage then it should make bricks okay.
    Cant remember where I got that tidbit from so it is probably worth verifying.
    (A friend of mine is a potter so it might have been from him).
    Apparently if the clay has too much organic matter in it it wont hold its shape and wont fire properly.
     
  20. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    Correction - Hehr Holzer has ponds and waterways criss-crossing his property of 100 acres that starts at 5000' above sea level and has a 1500' elevation change with I think over 30 wells and springs.
     

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