Midwest Permaculture

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I am wondering about the viability of installing swales in clay soils.  Several folks in northeastern Missouri are wondering about this.  Just reading the landscape, we see any little depression becomes a pond with a little rainfall--seems like it evaporates before it soaks in.  How can we get this water to infiltrate?  I am thinking mulch, the answer to everything, but I am hesitant to recommend swales at all until I hear from someone with experience that it works and doesn't just make a giant standing-water problem.  Thanks.

Tags: clay, soil, swales

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Go to www.permaculture.org.au. Geoff Lawton has a DVD on Water Harvest and Earthworks and in it, he is digging a dam and swales and said that the clay that they dug into was PERFECT for what they were trying to do. He also has a forum on his website you can join and ask the senior members there their opinions on this.
Yeah, I've heard Geoff say that before. Like when he oversaw the digging of a 2 million liter dam at our project in northern Thailand 4 years ago and it still isn't holding water.
Welcome to the site Queen Bee...

The clay content in any given place can vary quite a bit so the best test for any site is to dig a hole about the size of a 5 gallon bucket and then fill the hole with a bucket full of water and watch. If it is still there in a week you've got swimming pool or potters clay...!!! Go into business.

The odds are 95% however that it will be gone...and not solely from evaporation. In practice it will probably soak in within several hours if not minutes. Also the rates can vary from hole to hole, sometimes within feet of each other because of variations in the soil qualitites.

If percolation is slower than you want however, the best method to increase increase this over the long term is to plant deep rooted plants. Some prairie plants will send their roots 10-20 feet down. Over a period of 3 years you will notice how the water sinks in faster and faster as the roots go deeper and deeper. Among the deep rooted plants (comfrey is a good choice too) you can plant other edible species that will provide fruit or nuts. Hazels will go very deep as well.

Hope this helps… Bill

P.S. Michele's suggestion concerning the videos by Geoff is excellent.

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