DIY drainage swale using a reverse hugelkultur

FullSizeRender (8)Last year we had our our back yard cleared of invasive brush in the fall and then planted with low mow grass in the spring (some conventional grass seed as well, which I regret).  Over the course of the summer I couldn’t resist and put in my first attempt at at hugelkultur to house the many tomato plants that had seeded themselves around the garden.

This year I decided to take down the hugelkultur and put in a larger garden bed in it’s place.  It’s the one part of our yard that gets full sun but unfortunately it also has a bit of an underground stream flowing through it that becomes a problem during rain storms.

We got some HUGE quotes from local landscaping companies to deal with the drainage. Um, no thanks, I don’t want to spend 16k to make my back yard pretty! I’d much rather keep our money and just have a stream!

But then I started thinking about using a swale.  I’m kind of obsessed with permaculture but actually incorporating it into our landscape is an ongoing challenge.  Basically a swale creates a holding tank for excess water that will then slowly release into the land below.  Conventional drainage just moves the water away to the side of the yard or whatever.  This allows you to still USE the water for the garden!

I had made a small swale as part of my hugelkultur last year but it didn’t quite do the job. I decided to expand it to cover almost a quarter of the 20×10 garden space.

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I dug a hole about 18inches deep.  Deeper would have been better but getting through the clay and rocks was a challenge.  The water quickly filled the area, delighting my kids but somewhat frustrating me!

I tried my best to keep it in line with the grade of the slope.  I want it to really hold the water rather than just funneling it away.

While digging I was sure to separate out the topsoil from the lower levels of clay. The best part though was dismantling the hugelkultur and finding tons of worm castings and nicely broke down compost!  When I put it up last year I had said, worst case scenario it will be a big compost pile and I can use the soil for my new garden.  Score!

I decided to fill the trench with rotting wood.  In the same way that a hugelkultur uses rotting wood like a sponge to hold water above ground, this should do the same under ground.  Well, I hope it does…  I looked it up again in Gaia’s Garden to make sure my line of reasoning made sense and it seems like it should work!

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I just can’t help myself.  I LOVE the idea of a closed system where you just use what you make and make the things you use.  I’m REALLY far from that reality but I do have lots of rotting wood so I figure it’s worth a shot!

After I filled the trench with rotting wood I had a chance to see how it performed before covering it fully.  After a full day of spring rains I could see that it was holding a lot of water but some was escaping out the side.  I decided to go with that and create an overflow drainage ditch that is higher than the rest of the ditch so the runoff will go where I want it to.  I also caved and just bought a drainage pipe to use in there. I couldn’t figure out how to keep it open enough to move the water while also having it be just shallow enough to just catch overflow?  Maybe one of you knows?

I then filled in the crevices with some smaller sticks to help keep space for air and water.  IMG_0003

I separated out the dirt, soil and compost to rough in what will be the garden beds.  The local tree guys fortuitously called to ask me if I wanted more wood chips the week before so I used those to cover the swale and the garden paths.  They had pine, which apparently isn’t so great for plants but I’m hoping it will be fine since I’m not planting directly over it.

A traditional swale would usually have a raised mound directly down slope from the ditch.  I’m not doing it that way though. Sometimes I like to just half follow directions and see how it goes.  And when I say sometimes I mean usually.  But anyway, I’m hopeful it will work!

Next I covered the swale with wood chips which will serve as the pathways for the garden.

I also put in the beds.  I used large rotting logs to create the boundaries of the bed on the lower level of the garden.  I kind of love dragging big rotting trees from the forest! My hope is that they will help create a barrier for weeds, store extra water and break down over the next few years to eventually add more biomass to the garden. I was lucky enough to find a whole pile of rotted wood that crumbled into soil as soon as I picked it up. I filled up several wheel barrows with this and mixed it in with the soil I saved from digging the swale.  Again, rotting wood from around the property serves as a great free recourse!  And don’t worry, there is still PLENTY of rotting wood out there to feed the forest floor!

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Now all I need is to put in a fence and add some extra compost and amendments to the soil.  I’m planning to break down a few more rotting trees to enrich the soil too. I hope it all works!

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Edible invasives: Garlic Mustard

IMG_0110I’ve been excited by the idea of foraging for food since I was a little girl. I remember sucking the sweet nectar from clover buds in the fields around my childhood home and the delight of finding wild raspberries or blueberries on summer walks.

It seems like foraging is really having a moment now though, which is equally as exciting! Foraging gives us a cheap source of  food that is high in vitamins and minerals that occur naturally in the forest floor. Unfortunately, over foraging can negatively effect healthy growth of the foraged species as well as the health of the overall forest.

That is NOT the case when it comes to foraging for invasive species though!  Eat all you want! PLEASE!

Garlic Mustard is a terribly invasive plant that was believed to have first been introduced in the late 1800s as a culinary and medicinal herb.  It spreads rapidly  when left to go to seed and not only does it push out other native plants but it also releases chemicals into the forest floor that interfere with tree growth.  So yeah, not so good!

BUT it is very tasty and easy to harvest and prepare.  Look on forest floors, around the edge of the forest and in shady rode side area.   It has a somewhat heart shaped leaf and grows in bunches so it’s easy to find. If you are unsure just press a leaf in your hands and smell it.  Do you get a big whiff of garlic and onion?  You’ve got it!

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The leaves can be large or small.  These ones are pretty big.  Lovely, right?

Make sure to pull out the root too to stop this guy from spreading even further!

I decided to use mine to make pesto!  You could even just use the leaves in sandwiches or to add a spicy kick to salads though if you want to keep it simple.

You will need:

  • Garlic Mustard
  • Parmesan cheese shredded (or whatever hard cheese you have)
  • Olive oil
  • Walnuts (or pine nuts, or whatever you think would be good)
  • lemon (although vinegar could work too)
  • Salt (I LOVE salt)

Call me crazy but I kind of just do all the ingredients to taste and based on how much I have.  I’m not much for measuring…

Next take it in and wash all the dirt off.  I like soaking in a big bowl of water as it’s an easy way to separate the dirt from the plant.  I threw in a few pumps of my Dr. Bronners soap since I put it in everything I wash.  You can read about how I make mine here.  Then rinse well with cold water and you’re ready to go!  I just used the leaves but you can also eat the roots like horseradish apparently?

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Toast walnuts in the oven until fragrant.  We were roasting a chicken at 375 and that worked but I think 325 is the ideal temperature.  Maybe 5-10 minutes?

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Combine Garlic Mustard, walnuts, olive oil and shredded cheese  in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Add in some lemon if you want. I like squeezing lemon into a strainer so that the seeds don’t get in.  Add salt to taste.

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Use your own judgement as to what it needs until it’s just right!  Toss with pasta, use it as a salad dressing by adding extra oil and vinegar or spread on sandwiches!  It is surprisingly delicious!

So yeah, Garlic Mustard is a super healthy ingredient that you can find in your own yard from spring until fall!  The flavor is usually best in spring though so test a leaf before going too far with the recipe.  I LOVE the idea that we can decrease invasive plants, help encourage native species AND feed our family well.  Now that’s permaculture right there!

Which edible invasives are your favorites?!?!

 

“Mama, I love nature.”

“Mama, I love nature.  I love nature more than anyone else loves nature!” said my four year old daughter as I was putting her to bed tonight.  Obviously my heart melted.  And it gave me the feeling like I’m doing something right!

Today we went for what is becoming a weekly walk with friends through the forest.  We dress the kids up for wet and muddy play.  That usually means Bog boots, waterproof rain pants and jackets.  Then we just let them free.  They climb, they run, they jump.  They WALK in streams and mud.  They draw lines in the mud with sticks then use those same sticks to stir in the stream.

IMG_3475Today they surprised me by climbing up a huge rock outcropping.  I watched as my little girl scanned the area for the best path up then carefully climbed with her hands and feet to the top.  At one point I couldn’t help myself and so I shouted up, “do you feel safe?” To which she answered, “yes!”

These are the moments I dreamed of before becoming a mother. Giving my kids the space to explore their own limits and the world around them.  It just doesn’t get much better!

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