Permaculture, one swale at a time

Let’s start with a definition of permaculture, from, for all the newbies out there, including me.

Permaculture is a holistic approach to landscape design and human culture. It is an attempt to integrate several disciplines, including biology, ecology, geography, agriculture, architecture, appropriate technology, gardening and community building.

Guy Baldwin, Cortez Is, BC

It’s a Big Idea, an approach to gardening and life.  I have learned bits and pieces about the philosophy here and there, and even incorporated some principles.  Fellow MG Mary Prentice has taught me about fruit tree guilds–the concept of planting communities of plants around trees that fulfill different functions in the overall health of the “orchard.”  For example, we have comfrey planted around trees.  It is fast-growing plant that produces broad leaves that can be continually cut back, thus creating one’s own mulch “on site.”

This year a local permaculture-minded orchardist named Bob Riedy contacted me about volunteering in the garden.  Hooray!  I love these e-mails/phone calls.  Where do we start with additional permaculture principles, I said?  He suggested we look at where the water goes when it rains and think about how to capture it better.  We decided to build a “swale” or a trench at the base of the slope where our fruit trees sit.  With no gutters on this side of the building, the water pours down on the sidewalk, which already has little notches in it, draining water down the slope where the fruit trees are growing.

Because they study water issues in their grade, fifth graders took it on, digging the swale, measuring it, and seeding the mound with clover.


May has been incredibly rainy, and so we’ve had many opportunities to see it in action.  You will see here that is has filled with water.  The idea is that the water will then seep in slowly to the area where the roots are, instead of draining away and out of the garden. Students were very excited to see all of the rain they “caught!”  Thanks Bob for your generous donation of time and expertise to work with our older elementary kids to teach effective and critical water conservation.



6 thoughts on “Permaculture, one swale at a time

  1. Wow, that’s just awesome! I’ve been fiddling with the idea of permaculture and have added a few perinneals to the garden, employed the chop-and-drop method in the highbed, and utilised the leaves from the plants as much as possible to mulch their pots/areas or provide additional boosts to the highbed soil. I started doing these things when I read about how the concept comes from the observation of the forests & how everything kind of stays in place and mulches/nutures itself.
    I think using/directing your rainwater is genius! I’d love to do something like that but living in an apt complex has its limitations – my neighbors are already concerned, lol.
    Thanks so much for sharing this concept; it’s logged in my memory for the day I get a house & can really put permaculture into practise!
    Good luck with everything!

    • Mary, I also want to thank you for making the connection between me and Bob—I believe he contacted me after chatting with you. Much love to you gardening friend!! (I think we’re finally going to do the Ventura/Ojai trail this summer, so thinking of you as I research the area. Beautiful!) Oh, and I LOVE your peonies!

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