Bee Forage and Permaculture Swales

In 2016 I started on a project to add swales to my property to hold some water when it rains and give it time to soak in rather than running off. On the downhill side of the swales I planted Aronia berries where they can take advantage of the extra moisture. Above the swales I planted yellow sweet clover and white sweet clover so the nitrogen they add to the soil will work its way down the hill, into the swales and to the roots of the Aronia berry bushes. In the wetter side of the swales I planted a pollinator habitat seed mix designed for wet areas and in between the Aronia berry bushes and the downhill side of the swales I planted normal pollinator habitat seed mix. The pollinator seed mix and the sweet clover both offer nectar and pollen for my honeybees and the native pollinators in the area. 

One of the biggest permaculture principles is stacking functions.  The plantings 1) hold the soil in place, 2) keep the weeds down, 3) provide food for my bees and native pollinators, 4) add nitrogen to the soil in the case of the clovers, 5) provide seeds for birds and other wildlife and 6) look attractive.  This is in addition to the Aronia berries and wildflowers I can harvest for personal use or for sale.

The most labor-intensive part of this project was making the swales.  After marking the location on contour with an “A” frame level, the swales were created with a road grader blade on the 3 point of a tractor.  The blade is angled steeply to one side so that it digs the soil out on the uphill side and dumps it out on the downhill side.  This goes a little beyond what the blade was designed for but if you make multiple passes and remove a little soil each time it works really well.  

Making the swales with a tractor:

Making the swales with a tractor:

The first and second year required quit a bit of time cutting the weeds down with a weed wacker. I also mowed the wildflower patches, about 6 inches high, Three times the first year and twice the second year.

This is three years after planting the swales: