Earthworks Guide

Biodesic Strategies

A Vision Proposal for Earthwork Projects at JV Learning Center

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INTRODUCTION

Earthworks are a game changer. The initial investment that goes into these large ground carvings seems like a lot of work in the beginning but when done right will have enduring results. Terraforming earthworks in your landscape in a permaculture system helps utilize the most out of whatever natural resources you may have on your land. Harnessing water, restoring biomass, collecting nutrients, creating micro-climates, these techniques have shown their effectiveness for hundreds of years.

*Before beginning the earthworks, have a pioneering seed mix ready to sow immediately after digging is done.

OUR VISION

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Swales

A swale is a water harvesting ditch built on contour to capture and spread water across the landscape. They store, sink and spread water and are great for recharging groundwater and building soil.

Using an excavator to dig a swale:

  • About your slope: It’s suggested to build on no more than 15% gradient; or a hill that climbs no more than 1 meter for every 7
  • Swales are often built around 10 to 20 foot apart uphill or downhill
  • The design must include designated spillway for water to overflow, probably down into the next swale. These spots are lower than the top of the berm and level across Use rocks in this area to help against erosion
  • Mulch inside swales to help stop evaporation and promote a humus ditch
  • Make sure the bottom of swale – is level – across hill contour
  • The swale is generally built 3 times as wide as is deep

 

 

Dig from downhill, piling dirt on the downhill side – creating berm – where you can plant trees. The berm will be mostly rich topsoil ideal for planting.

Immediately sow trees, deep rooting plants, cover crops and nitrogen fixers.

Don’t let your slopes be steeper than 1:3 ratio – don’t let the sides of your swale or berm drop more than 4 inches for every 12 inches.

Ponds

When designing a pond geared toward permaculture – maximize your edges; keep a wavy parameter with lots of inlets and spurs.

With your pond, it’s generally suggested to keep at least 3 varying depths to allow for more habitat. If you can leave trees near the pond they are good for shade. Shade keeps the water from too much sun exposure, which prevents excessive algae to grow and prevents evaporation.

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If bringing in clay for your liner, use at least a foot, compacted.

Add stones, logs, stumps and other natural features to the pond. Some fully submerged and some partially immersed. These features act as heat sync and allow for more niches and habitats in your ecosystem.

Introduce the appropriate plants to your new ecosystem. They help with bank stabilization/erosion control. For our site we have selected waterhawthorn, golden club, buttercup, bulrush,water hyacinth, water fringe, common fishweed, water violet, flowering rush, watercress, fool’s watercress, white water lily, arrow head, and water chestnut. All of these plants possess multiple aquaculture functions and varying levels of depth and location in proximity to the pond. Some of these functions are: water purification, food baring, medicinal, wildlife habitat, erosion control, fish food, ornamental, weaving fibers and other tools.

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Bat boxes and bird habitat near the pond help with mosquito control. If the pond is uphill, a pipe can be run through the dam wall with to gravity feed water to areas downhill. Be sure to use a pipe collar to keep water from seeping into the dam wall. Keep the pipe opening at about 16in below surface of water for best quality. Too low and the water is gunky – too high and there are bugs in the water.

Design shallow areas of the pond to allow access for smaller animals.

Terraces

Terraces can be geared toward permaculture as multi-function features to add to your land. They can act as a pathway for access and also catch water and nutrients and allow for a better gardening environment. At first your terrace can act as a road to access other areas to do further digging. Once done driving on the terrace it can be sown and turned into a vegetable field. Terraces by design are self irrigating and self fertilizing and stop the erosion of soil. One session with the excavator and your terrace can last for generations.

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While terraces can be all different sizes, the width of most large scale permaculture terraces are about 10 to 20 foot.

Rice Paddies

Rice paddies can be added to a landscape for a more diverse growing terrain.

Rice paddies do well in sunny locations below a good water source. Rice likes very wet soil with a lot of nutrients. Paddies are designed to accumulate water and nutrients.

A rice paddies are kind of a mix between a swale and a terrace. The bottom of the paddy should be carved flat and level, with a stable berm on the downhill side. Paddies should be kept weeded.

Other forms of engineered wetland agriculture are pumpkin and melon patches, and polyculture shallow water crops such as sweet flag, watercress, azola, and arrowhead (duck potato) to name a few.

Natural swimming pools

An alternative to a pond is a natural swimming pool. No chemicals are used in these pools. The water is purified by biological filters and select plants placed around the borders of the pool.

Here are a few examples:

  • Buttercup – not edible; as a ground cover for the pond edges it absorb nitrates from the water and is suitable for clay
  • Water Hyacinth – cleanses waste water, beneficial for fish, can be invasive
  • Water Fringe – shallow waters of the ponds edge, prefers alkaline conditions, edible and medicinal
  • common fishweed – oxygenates the water preventing anaerobic bacteria buildup
  • Water Violet – Oxygenating, semi-submerged, attractive flowers, and shelter for fish
  • Fool’s Watercress – water cleansing, and edible

 

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Equipment Options

When choosing equipment there are appropriate tools for different landscaping projects. Excavators are great for making swales, terraces and paddies. Bulldozer are efficient for dam building. Different scoops can attached for different results.

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While we have the equipment we could use the opportunity to try making a walipini  underground greenhouse.

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In conclusion:

With just a few short session with the right equipment, you have the opportunity to create a majorly productive permaculture infrastructure that can transform the landscape into one of productivity, profits, and enjoyment.

 

sources
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture by Sepp Holzer
Permaculture a Designers' Manual by Bill Mollison
Whole Systems Designs Website by Ben Falk

 

 

 

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