The first keyline


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We are putting in our first keyline berm and swale system in order to harvest water strategically across the contours of our property, for tree and shrub irrigation as well as to water our pastured animals. In the past we have dabbled in berms and swales, but now we have taken the concepts to heart and incorporated them into our overall permaculture design.


We think spending time, even years, on a property definitely helps to conceptualize the ramifications of major surgery such as berms and swales on the landscape. We have made mistakes in the past with this and so we knew we needed to take our time and really come to an understanding of what are intentions were and what we were trying to accomplish.


The first swale was marked out in the last few days using a transit level and flags/sticks/ribbons. As we walked the first contour and envisioned the future landscape, we saw the placement of the catchment ponds to come and how they would interact with the livestock as well as their usefulness in irrigation. Today we started to plow out the swale line in order to get this project underway before the next few days of rain. With the rain will come more observation and interaction, and we will adjust the swales as needed.  We plotted the line with 1% slopes that direct water to flow very slowly toward three pocket ponds, about equidistant across the line. We don’t want totally on-contour swales as we have a very clay rich soil that will become waterlogged and overflow. The point is to catch the water on this line and feed the roots of the trees and shrubs, and when the swale  is saturated to capacity, then the water flows to a pond where we use that water in other applications.


Turns out the soil was a bit more soaked then we thought, so after the first plowing we decided to call it quits on earth manipulation today. We have a heavy silt clay loam and when it is saturated with water, it is slicker then a hog in oil, and it sticks together making it harder to break apart and create that well mounded berm. The overall line is good, and as mentioned before we will adjust as needed and fine tune within the next few days.

At that point our order of bareroot trees and shrubs should be here and we will then plant them out, with a shovel full of goose/goat manure on top of a paper weed control barrier, as well as soiled/rotten hay.


You can see here how much moisture was already seeping into the swale as we finished up the plowing for the day.

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