In Part I I discussed how we laid out a small portion of our property for Phase 1 of our food forest. Now lets take a look at how the swales were dug and mulched.
I used the 18 inch wide bucket on the backhoe to trench about 12 inches deep along my marked paths. All removed soil was deposited down slope from the trench. This deep narrow trench certainly isn’t typical of the swales I have seen previously, but given my limited heavy equipment experience it was the most simple solution, and should catch water just fine.
Here you can see a raw trench/swale immediately after digging with the backhoe. It is very rough and will require a bit of shovel work to clean and level the uphill side and smooth the bottom – but it is quite level in terms of depth.
Because this is a relatively small area with poor soil I decided to have a significant amount of compost and mulch delivered on-site while I had the backhoe. I had 35 yards of a steer manure compost blend, and 35 yards of wood mulch brought in. The compost isn’t of the highest quality, but it has a significant amount of organic matter in it which should pay dividends over the next few years.
Unfortunately these came on a tractor trailer which could only drop them at the entrance to my property, about 500 feet away.
After the swales were dug, I used the backhoe to carry the material back to the swales, around 2 yards at a time. The compost was laid down on the berm first, and smoothed with the bucket. The wood mulch was then laid on top.
Here you can see the material being laid roughly into place on the berms.
Here is a great picture taken via aerial drone that gives you a sense of scale, and lets you see how the three swales are laid out. It is great to see that island of rich compost and mulch nestled in the arid landscape. Note the significant soil damage done by the backhoe during the many trips to move material to the swales. This is definitely something to watch out for.
Next post we’ll get into planting!