Food Forest Earth Works Planning – Part I

Our first major project after acquiring Six Hands Farm is to get started with Phase 1 of our food forest.  The goal for Phase 1 is to prepare and plant a small portion of the land we have set aside for a food forest.  We are tackling 1/2 acre, of a total 10 acres we will eventually establish.  Our hope is to better identify species which will be successful on our property before investing in the larger area.  We’ll also be able to learn a lot in the process and use that knowledge to our advantage in Phase 2.

Quick Facts

Climate: semi-arid

Zone: 6a

Annual Rainfall: 9.1″

In this area water is the primary concern.  We laid out three swales to help catch run-off as it flows down the shallow valley.  Each is around 120′ long.

layout_swaleTo lay out the swales, I devised an inexpensive solution.  I used a quality, precision lazy-suzan bearing, and mounted it to a tripod.  I then mounted a high power laser pointer (from Wicked Lasers) to the top.  It is a bit of a hassle to level, but once ready it can be rotated to cast a bright dot on contour 360 degrees around the tripod.  The 2-watt laser can be seen for well over 2000 feet in full daylight.  Ideally one person rotates the laser, while another places flags in the ground to mark the contour line.

I had access to a 3d printer to print mounts for the laser and tripod, but something could easily be constructed from wood.  Total cost for my design would be ~$350, but in my case was only $10 for the bearing.  If needed you could use an inexpensive laser pointer and do your layout at dusk/dark.

Here you can see the flags laid out marking the southern most swale.  This area was cleared of brush with the backhoe first to make it easier to lay out the contours.


The backhoe used to do this work was a Case 580N.  I rented this from United Rental and it was delivered and picked up from my property.  A backhoe certainly isn’t the ideal tool for any part of the job, but it is capable of doing the job of multiple machines which significantly reduced my cost.  I used the backhoe to clear brush on the site, dig swales, and transport compost and mulch.  I have minimal experience with these machines, so the quality of my work was pretty rough – that said, it would have taken weeks to do the same work by hand.


One thought on “Food Forest Earth Works Planning – Part I

  1. Pingback: Food Forest Earth Works Planning – Part II | Six Hands Farm

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