the pegs; the bulldozer follows you. If you strike clay, leave it narrow, or else deepen it. As a rule, in clay, deepen your swale in profile, and in sandy and gravelly places, widen it.
Along the swale, where you think it will hold, you have little ponds in clay. Where you think it will soak into the ground, you widen the whole water system so the surface area is large. Rain, particularly storms, comes down the swales, too. The water finds your widened areas, which are free, and soaks in, and thus charges your ground water instead of going down the hill and off the property. In three or four years, you will have 17 to 20 feet of fully charged soil. Your forest, just above your swale, is alive and has access to this water. Your forest will be alive when your neighbor's ground water has flowed away out of sight.
If you ever have the chance to design a suburb in a place where there is a semi-dry climate and storms, particularly summer storms, sudden rain rushes, this is how you do it: You run a hard-top road, swales, little bridges, houses that are back to back, footpaths, down pipes. This whole system is swales, with double rows of houses sitting between the swales. All the roof run-off is going into the swales, and all the road run-off is going into the swales. There is no guttering, no curbs. The swales sometimes pass under the roads.
An immense variety of treatment is possible, such as little block stepping stones across swales, little rocks across swales, little graveled areas, little ponds in swales, frogs croaking. You set your trees out along the swale edge, but not in front of the house, not on the sunny side of the
"Swales have a particular application in urban areas."
houses. It can be a remarkable environment! The swales are probably never less than two feet deep, very gently shoaled edges on them, great places for children to run in the storms and hop into them. Then when the storm ceases, the water, because you have broadened the swale at places, seeps away within a day or so. The swales will then contain water only in the over-deepened clay areas, the little ponds that we made.
This system exists nowhere that I know of except in the village project at Davis, California. Here they sit on a plain near Sacramento, and because of swales the place is an oasis in a desert of disaster. Nothing quite like Davis has ever happened in America, and is not likely to happen until we get out on the ground, 300 or 400 of us.
The trouble with America is that these things that people have been doing have been just with their own homes, keeping it to themselves. In Davis, you have the benefits of design orientation. A whole set of low-energy systems are demonstrated there. More of your urban areas should be permeable to rain so your street trees would remain healthy.
Ordinarily these urban swales will end up nowhere--start nowhere and end up nowhere. However, if you do think there are going to be very catastrophic rains, then you can lead the end of the swale out of the situation into a more normal drainage system. But in moderate rainfalls, the swale can hold it all. The efficiency of the absorption in swales increases as they age and as trees grow along them, because the trees penetrate the subsurface and carry water down. I think Davis initially absorbed about 40% of its water, then 85%, and now 100%.
Now it is absorbing water from offsite into its swales. It collects run-off from off-site and gets rid of it on its site. So that is very good. The older the swales get, and the more the tree roots penetrate down into the swale, the better they get rid of water.
These swales do not have to be renewed. I think possibly if they decayed badly, you would probably have to just chew them a bit, but it is not a big job. You could do it with a couple of kids and a spade. No work repairing drainpipes; no pipes; no gutters; no curbs--cheap!
Swales can also be quite useful growing situations. You might be able to raise ginseng up here in the swales. Your swales are obviously ideal sites for certain useful plants that like this moist, rich, highly mulched situation. Blueberries! You swale below a pine forest, grow blueberries in the swales. There are many techniques you can use with water in landscapes.
There are other good reasons for constructing swales. In a forest, many leaves will arrive in that swale, and they rot quickly there. It is a moist site. Your little salamanders run around in there. You can deliberately add to the leaves in the swale. It is a long composting system on site. Occasionally, you can take from the swale for the garden.
Swales greatly decrease the risk of forest fire because they collect a lot of fuel and rot it very quickly. Swales make for a far more moist forest than existed before. It is amazing how few trees you have to remove to run a swale in an existing forest. However, it is a good idea to swale a forest before you plant it as a forest. Some trees can stand in the swales.
Another reason for swales is that you are in an isolated place and there is no chance that you are going to be able to go out with your Land Rover and bring in mulch material for your garden, you can swale out from your garden, and mulch into your swales.
Now you decide the sort of mulch you bring in, because you plant trees above the swale to give you the mulch you want. We get alkaline mulch from western cedar, acid mulch from oaks, and so on. So you treat your garden from a continuing input from the mature system, thus reversing the axiom that maturity exploits immaturity. We make immaturity exploit maturity, because maturity is exploitable. It is also a great accumulator. Left alone, the forest will exploit the garden; but with us in control, the garden can exploit the forest.
I will show you an unusual technique, just throw this one in. You will discover these situations. Here is a little house that looks like a granite boulder. Its occupant is a rock freak. We have rock freaks in Australia, houses that just disappear in the rocks, and they look like a rock. All around this great granitic dome there is 40 feet of course sand, so goodbye water. You also have all sorts of granitic slabs and surfaces. So you run chicken wire around your granite, and go around with some cement and sand, constructing gutters, and you lead them into tanks. We have done a lot of this. Some of those granite slabs are big. You bring the water down, and put your tank at the bottom. You have to be able to use your eyes. You look at that slab and say, "A roof! a roof! and it is uphill." No keyline is possible, but in these conditions building concrete works well.
Suppose you dig a little Earth dam up on a hill. It rains. Nothing happens. It keeps on raining. Nothing happens. You have a dry hole. Bad luck!
A friend of mine had an open underground stream that ran like fury. He hired contractors to dig a dam. It should have worked. But he went a foot too deep, and--glub. You can't predict these things.
Well, you now have two or three things you can do. What we have up here on the hillside is a big hole. We have a dry place. So we put a couple of sills there, and raise a roof, and pour a floor. We are in business. Nice place! Good barn, good storage, cheap! The only thing you have to make is a roof. It's a good place for cattle in winter. Haul in your hay. Trap door right up here, throw your hay down, wheel it out. Take advantage of having a dry hole.
Now, change the scene: The hole fills, either because you pump water in, or there comes a rainstorm. So it is not a real dry hole. Stand by the bank and throw in three packages of water dynamite. Boom! It bumps the bank, and any cracks in rocks are sealed with great water pressure.
You might do it two or three times. That is fast, and often works.
Next scene: You have a dry hole? Just leave it dry. There are all sorts uses for dry holes. In dry climates, you can hop down in them and mulch them, and they are shady, an extra good growing situation.
Or you can do something else. When you see you are getting a fair amount of leakage, you can strew rich hay all around the edges of your pond. When the water turns green with algae, if there is a leak through cracks in the clay, the algae glue it up. You are gleying it, but with algae.
But in midsummer it dries out. Didn't work. So now we are getting down toward the final solution. We put green sappy material right across it, six inches thick. We gather the mowings from the golf course, and anything we can obtain. We pack it down. We chip green leaves and sappy material, second cut hay. We cover all this with sand or plastic or old carpets or a combination of all of those. Then it starts to ferment. You can find out when it does, because it is slimy. As soon as it goes slimy, you fill it with water and it fills without any trouble, and will never leak again. It is called gley. The only reason why it might not work is if you didn't do it properly. So you then go at it again, and find the spots you didn't do properly, and do it properly right there, because the rest of it is permanent.
If it is a very big area and you have a very rich client, you run across it with bentonite, which is a clay that swells up to 14 times. You spread a bit and roll it in hard, and then you fill it. That seals it. But it is costly. This is by far the most satisfactory solution.
There are many solutions that plug small holes, such as a sheet of plastic, or concrete. But gley is the best solution. You can make a dam in a gravel pit with it.
You would be lucky to dig a very dry hole, because usually it is on a slope. You can ordinarily get an entry out at slope level. Roofing it is easy.
Nice and sound-proof in there. There was a big one that a friend of mine made. It should have worked, but it didn't He stuck in sides to it and
turned it into an indoor auditorium. You can get in there with a rock band and not annoy anybody.
Once you set the water systems, you also have set a lot of other systems. Wherever possible, your fencing and your access roads naturally follow your water systems, and can be well integrated. Both assist the water systems.
If you are wandering around with a curvilinear fence, you run a series of approximate short fences, because the only fence you can build is a straight fence. So your fences, and your tracks, your on-farm tracks, all follow that system. Then, if you do that, your animal tracks turn into keyline tracks because they follow the fences, and animals will also have beneficial effects on run-off. If you don't do that, then your animals always walk anti-keyline. They always walk ridge down to valley, and animals can become a major erosive influence. If you set your fences valley to slope, your animals walk your fences, and all their tracks will keyline where you can't get.
Everything follows from that. Your forests follow. Your forests grow above those channels. They are themselves very water-conserving and insure steady water-flow systems.
Your forests that are of high value, your constructed forests, are below those lines. You can irrigate these. There are special sets of trees that may go on the ridges, very hardy trees that don't need irrigation. You will need to determine for your area its ridge-top planting set of hardy, drought-proof trees.
So far, we have only been talking about the water characteristics of your system. I would like to look more closely now at any one dam that we build, and see what structures we need within it to have a biological input into the dam. There are only about three or four things we would need to do. Say that we put in a six foot valley dam for a lake. We pegged it all out before, so we knew exactly where that shoreline would be, and we may have logged it out before we built the dam.
We take some of our excavation material and make an island in our lake. If we have fierce winds across water, we make a barrier islands, so that we have a quiet patch of water in front of it. When we put our island in the lake, we have increased our shoreline. We may, if it is a bad fire site, in an area where people keep getting burned out every four years, put our client out here on a peninsula in the lake. We might do that for other reasons, too. We give him a deck out there and a little dinghy. Instead of leaving all our shoreline as a gradual shelving system, we might grade in here, making somewhat extensive, but constant-level marshes.
If we know that we are going to be drawing quite a lot of water down from this, if we know that we might pull four feet off it sometimes, then before we make the main dam, we throw up low dams across easily dammed sections that flood at high water. In this way, even when the other water is four feet down, these dams hold and preserve the shoreline flora. Many small animals that live along the shore continue to have refuge. As the water rises again, it covers the whole area.
What we have done in there is to play around with the edge of the catchment, make shallows and barriers and islands--all sorts of useful things. You can put little pillared cottages out on those islands, little contemplative places, quiet spots, little retreats. You can put little stepping stones out to those places. We have done that.
Put in some underwater stones. This makes it a very lively place. Water birds nest on those islands. They are fox-free, except in winter, when they are not nesting. The shelving along the edges gives a very broad planting spectrum. You can align those shelves at different levels, specifically for certain plants, eighteen inches to three feet for wild rice. You can make marshes by grading off, away from the edge of the dam. Those marshes come out of little low mud walls, so that they marsh up.
If your dam fails, you still have your marsh for arrowheads and other duck fodder. If you do all that first, then flood the situation, you have created something that looks very good.
When you draw off water, your island sticks out a bit higher. Your shallows are mud-dammed, almost at water level, so that the main water rises over them a bit, going through them in pipes near the surface, and when it falls, your little mud walls come out and hold the shallows. You don't bother about sub-surface dams where you have constant level productive water. Your larger fish can't get into some places that are too shallow and too weedy. They provide refuge for quite a lot of fry. We intend to make a biologically active system out of our water storages.
What we are giving you is classic solutions, ideas that you will have to adapt to individual circumstances.
Slopes give us a very great advantage, and I pay a lot of attention to slopes, to how a system can be laid out on slopes. When we have this gravitational advantage, it is possible to do all sorts of things.
This is a section of a ridge, and there is a ridge running along. We could put a little saddle dam here, and it would collect water from all around the higher area. People often go to hills and mountains because it is a romantic place where they can look out on the world down below. They want to be up there. You can use larger shelves to get people down a little below the ridge. You can get water to them from the saddle dam above. You can also use shelves for their garden.
Some of their wastes can add to that system. You can run off water to orchards further down. Then when you get down deep here into these valley systems, you can create wet forests, we will call them, that will block fire out, keep it from running up slope easily.
You have water control on slope, and you have fire control on slope. Get your clients to build their storage units up high, units that themselves do not use water, or use very little water--the garages and the barns and the workshops. We don't have to supply these buildings with water, but their roofs can supply very cheap tank water. Put all tanks up on the slope above house roof level, if you can get them up there. You never fill a tank from a house roof, if you can avoid doing so. Of course, on the other hand, a friendly neighbor might do that, add a tank to his roof for the benefit of somebody further down hill.
That can happen. There might be some cases where we supply them with water better than they could supply themselves.
The diversion drain falls to the saddle; the road probably falls out to the slope; the garden should fall out from the saddle, so the water comes down from the saddle to the garden. So you must decide which inclination you give these various shelves as you work down the slope. It is obvious that if we can get water doing its work down slope and across slope, we are in a good position.
"Slopes give us a very great advantage."
Vi stnbufcto/i i C leans irva
"Slopes give us a very great advantage."
For reasons I could never fathom, you often see hot water or hot air collection systems on the roof. In level country, the good place for a hot water collector is below the sill level, so the thing thermo-siphons inside the system. You can clean it easily.
There is not much more chance of it being broken than the window itself. And it is low. Hot air systems also come down slope. I have friends who have set up large collectors on slope in front of their house, and bring hot air in low. Your hot air systems should go down slope, and low. Your water systems go up and run around.
You use all these techniques on slope. You must think it out, think which way the road will slant and for what reasons, and which way the gardens will slant, where your diversion drains must go in, what must come out, and so on.
If our slope is not an extreme slope, we can put a pond right here in front of the house. That is a great advantage. It is also a fire barrier, and it is a light reflector; it also makes for a pleasant environment. I think here we might attach glasshouses. We should examine each site to see if we couldn't also put a productive pond just in front of the attached glasshouse. The pond will provide additional heat buffering. It has the ability to absorb all but 15% of summer sunlight, while absorbing very little winter sunlight, and reflecting most of the winter sunlight into the living situation. A pond is a beautiful, automatic, self-regulating heating surface.
Where you can't get ponds, and you still want the effect of low winter light bounced up into the house, you can use white gravel, and highly reflective surfaces there. Snow is excellent!
On stony and steep slopes where you can't possibly run shelves along them, not even shallow shelves, you go to very small scale systems.
Here is a slope that we will describe as net and pan. You set up very shallow guide lines for drainage. You can hand cut the drains. You clear the slope of vegetation at the junctions, and make little flat planting platforms.
The intervals between these little platforms are those that would normally separate trees, squashed up a bit, because the advantage of slope is
th at tree crowns stack much better towards the light. You will get a lot more trees on a steep slope than you will get on flat land. Dribbles of water come down these drains, gathering in these pans that are absorbing overflow. It is, again, a small scale system. You can't run it on a very large scale, and you will have to interrupt it with planting bands. It is particularly effective in very rocky country that you would normally not use for orchards.
A group of five or six of us did a fairly large orchard in three days on a little system like this. We cut little flats in the slope, which we put a tree on, and we had a little water roll around it, soaking in. When it overflows, it comes down and soaks in.
Place your narrow leafed fruit trees here, and broader leafed species down there. There are exceptions to that. The fig is an exception. We put the fig higher because it is far more drought resistant. There are a few, but not many, narrow leafed trees that are high water demanding. You put the really drought resistant species up here. It has a secondary effect, too. Many of those drought resistant species are very good mulch providers. If you go high on the slope and put in tamarisks, and some of the pines that grow on the ridges, you get a good mulch layer to bring down hill.
After a few years, you can let your irrigation system decay, because your trees are established and probably don't need much water, or you can keep some of these maintained, depending upon conditions.
Arrange to have barn and loads coming into the barn on a level above the house. Have your animal accommodations up here. The wastes are thrown out here and rolled down to your annual garden system below. Your banks that are collecting water from the roof of your barn will provide a gravity flow system for the house and garden below.
Tanks themselves can be useful structurally. You can bury them to get them out of the way, or build over them; but you can also use them as quite bold structures. Often we trellis off them so that in summer you can be sitting under a trellis shade with a central ivy-covered tank that gives you a real cool place, real nice for hot climates.
Tanks can be structurally integrated into barns. In some areas, large tanks can be the base of the buildings. Buildings placed high on the slope can take tanks below them. The water will be used on lower areas, to which it runs down by gravity flow.
y^mrw A net and pan slope.
One of the advantages of locating chickens above the garden site is that the chickens will provide mulch waste for your garden, which can be easily brought down. That mulch will be already shredded. Chickens are shredding machines, and they also remove the seeds. So by the time your mulch has come to your garden it has received added nutrient, the weed seeds have been removed, and it is shredded.
It is mainly used right in the garden. You can also take it through a water system below the garden again, or within the garden. The idea is to strip the nutrients out the way down, getting a product for it. In this kind of system, your nutrients are falling down. You use your slope. How often you go to places and see all of this completely in reverse, and people are working hard because of that, pushing wheelbarrows uphill and carrying mulch uphill, carrying water uphill.
On slopes, fire will always travel uphill fast. Water, roads, Earth walls, stone walls, and short grazing systems toward the downhill sector are all fire defenses. Only in rare circumstances do you need to be really worried about hot downhill fires.
The way that we set up all these systems also suits fire control. A dam with an Earth bank is good fire control. A high access road is also good fire control. So once you get people correctly placed on the slope, and the elements correctly placed around them, you again find that you have done a lot more for other conditions, such as fire safety, than you had originally planned.
You might have planned that dam just for biological production. It works also as a fire barrier. You might not have planned for it to work for fire except to provide water. You will find it has high radiation defense because of its Earth wall, and so on.
Start to get things right and they get real right. That is the reason we put that rain forest in right at the base of the slope in the valleys.
In steep valleys low down, very steep valleys that you are not going to get to work in, and in which you don't put dams, you can, nevertheless, bring small drains out of the creek. They are usually hand made, or light machine herringbone systems that pull water out of the creek and drop it down the banks. You can set up rain forests very fast if you can saturate that valley with ferns and mosses. Once your rain forest is established, it becomes self-perpetuating. It holds its own water. Again, you can let those little diversion systems decay. So try to get your major advantages out of slope; don't let a slope go without using it.
Engineers generally want to dam a valley, put in a monstrous pond. That is their solution. Yet we have been able to set up these high water gravity flow systems without any trouble at all. Electrical pumps are one of the first things to go in a fire. A characteristic of fire on site is that you have no water unless you have gravity flow.
We will leave the hills now and look at some house situations on very flat lands. We will move out into the plains--300 acres, two foot drop.
There is no way out here that we can get all the advantages we had on the hills. I will describe a site plan that we designed. You could see all over that country for miles. Here, water is always stored below ground in tanks.
When I arrived on the scene, the excavating had already been done. The Earth was piled in four great heaps around the edges of the hole. That's a normal situation. It wasn't very aesthetic, not very pleasing. I said, "Where will we put the house?"
For a while, it didn't look very hopeful.
We first determined the directions from which summer cooling winds would be coming in, winter cold winds, and summer hot winds. In any westerly belt, the cold winds come from off sun, while hot winds come from on sun, from middle interior.
Depending on which side the continent lies, they will come from the Northeast or the Northwest. In your case, here in New England, hot winds come from the Southwest. Cooling winds will come in at about 45 degrees from the coastal summer winds. For each site, that set of characteristics is very easily determined. Any old timer will tell you. For the site itself, you then look for any deflection of that system.
So we brought the man back in, and got him to reorganize his Earth. We located his house so that it would have all the advantages of pond reflection, be sheltered from the south westerlies and from the hot winds, which would have to pass across water and through vegetation, because we planted the banks. For the cooling winds, we have a good brisk circulation going by Earth banks around the whole system. We don't have any noise on that site. It is very private.
So what I want to say about flat lands is that, rather than paying so much attention to the water and water surface, let us have a look at the Earth we move, at what we can do with Earth bank.
The fastest way to run a windbreak is to grade up Earth bank and swale. Rise a four to six foot Earth bank and
"We don't have any noise on that site. It is very private."
"We don't have any noise on that site. It is very private."
start your planting work. The swale works perfectly well. The fall here was very minute across the site.
We did a diversion off our roadway. The water came in and around the pond and went out again. Part of the annual garden is water garden. Access from the living area to workshops and vehicle areas comes in through the bank.
We planned for a single story house surrounded by Earth bank, and a tall barn with water tank. That is the solution to the water problem in flat lands. You have to make your slopes, throw up your roofs, and throw up your tanks, while you keep your house low. Or, you can put up a high dwelling, but these upper rooms must be bedrooms, and the lower rooms, your service rooms. In that case, the house roof also becomes of uses as a water collector. That is an elegant site now, a highly admired site.
Don't be frightened to use Earth bank in flat landscapes. You can use water effectively for cooling. Flat areas are often hot. In general, you can use Earth banks in two ways. They give you a racing start in windbreaks; and they provide a very good livestock shelter with quick growing plantings on top. Those plants can be things like pampas grass and bamboos.
Earth banks are excellent radiation shields from fire, and they will decrease noise, particularly traffic noise.
There is one main rule to follow. From the crown of the road to the top of the Earth bank, we want to deflect in a straight line so that we clear the roof of the house. Vegetation does not do a lot for noise reduction unless you can get a hundred meters of it. It takes a lot of vegetation to absorb noise. Street noise is just like that. A well-insulated house with an Earth bank protection can be near a fairly noisy system and be quite quiet.
Achieving privacy and insulation against noise can really be a problem in some flat areas.
In flat land, you often find fairly eroded gullies with little steep banks. I will tell you of another real situation. It was a flat site, eroded gully. There is only one place to build here to get away from fairly noisy conditions. The client had made a dam across the gully with provision for draining it. What we did was use a backhoe to dig a cave under the house site. He built his house over the top of
this cave. The cave extended beyond the house at both ends. It opened out to the pond at water level. We just trellised the top of it there.
Then at the other end of our cave, we glassed the top of it, making it integral with the house structure. It was very cheap to do, and very quickly done, because it was an alluvial plain. So he now has an underground glass house in which we also made a shower.
He is proposing to grow bananas there. The cave end next to the pond is his cold cave. So he has good heat control. He can bring heat up through the ducts anywhere within the structure. The cool end of the cave is good for storage of root vegetables.
The whole thing opens out on the deck above, under the trellis, overlooking the water. His cave is dry as a chip inside. It is about a foot above the dam level. It is a beautiful place in the summer time, down, out of everybody's sight, by your own little lake, on your own deck, which you enter through your cave.
So in flatlands, you can do excavation on site in all sorts of ways.
We had another site, an excellent wild site, with a lot of excellent trees and other growth. But it was a very bad site for water. After a rain, you could see little twigs and leaves up against things. We designed a below-grade Earth tank, a lake. There was a lot of excavated dirt with which we made a peninsula into the water, about 9 feet above grade level.
We put his house, which was two story, up on this high peninsula. This is a high fire frequency site, with a fire about every fifth or eighth year. So we put the client on this peninsula. We got him up high enough so that from the second story he has a good view of the mountains. Surrounded on three sides by water, he has all the advantages of light reflection. As he is a good fisherman, we put fish in his pond.
We ran two very low Earth banks to deflect the down-flow of flooding rains away from the garden site. We directed all the water from off site into the dam site. When this water is flowing across landscape, it brings a lot of silt and mulch. These Earth banks we have thrown up accumulate leaf and silt that we transfer as mulch to the garden. That works very well. It is good mulching material and very cheap.
An enormous amount of water diverts through these Earth banks, flushing out the lake. Water diverts from the garden at the same time that silt and mulching materials deposit at the outside of the garden wall. The flotsam stops here and defends the dam from silting up.
The client has a couple of hundred acres. We restricted this whole thing to about two acres. He only wanted a small garden. He is a very good gar dener. He is also the director of parks and gardens in Melbourne, and a landscape architect. He hired me to fix this place up.
This man wanted a windmill, a rather odd thing with all this water coming down across the site. Still, he wanted a windmill. He got a windmill. He was sort of fanatic about windmills.
I pointed out to him, though, that we could at any time raise the Earth bank with a tank in it, and we could run water off his roof for him. He knows that. He just wanted a windmill. He liked it. He sits and looks out of his window at his windmill.
His sole purpose in choosing a two story house was that he wanted to see mountains, which were on the shade side. So he had to get up above the trees. It gets very hot there in summer. We gave him a shaded veranda on his second story where he can sit and look at the mountains in the summertime. This gets him up above the trees, rather than clearing trees to obtain a view. A two-story house is a very efficient structure for insulation.
Here are three totally different solutions to flatland situations. One solution defends from noise, and does something for privacy and cooling. The second one deals with a situation near a gully in a flatland. We gave the client an interesting house with low heat and a cool place to go in the summer. In this last situation, we gave our client a very sophisticated system of water control, plus a mulch collecting system. I can't tell you how to deal with flatlands in any general way. Just study the flora and see what your client wants, and what the problems are, whether privacy, noise, water, whatever. You can build up a whole set of solutions, and you have plenty with which to do it.
* For more precise definitions of the terms used in the Keyline Method, we recommend a careful reading of the latest edition of Water for Every Farm... by P. A. Yeomans, available from Yankee Permaculture.
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