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Swales Update: A Pulse of Snow and Rain Offer Good Chance to Observe and Interact

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Good design depends on a free and harmonious relationship to nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interaction provide the design inspiration, repertoire and patterns. It is not something that is generated in isolation, but through continuous and reciprocal interaction with the subject.

- David Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability

 

Getting about a foot of snow a week ago, then a few more inches this last weekend, followed by rain today offered a good opportunity to employ Permaculture Principle #1 with our swales: Observe and Interact.  Above, see the sun glistening on the snow that has blanketed our raised beds and berms between the swales.  Below, see one of our swales iced over.

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Timeout for building a snowman (Permaculture Principle #12: Creatively Use and Respond to Change):

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From PatternDynamics (TM) by Tim Winton

From PatternDynamics (TM) by Tim Winton

 

In PatternDynamics, we call this big influx of snow and rain a Pulse event. “The Pulse Pattern signifies  the repeated rhythmic surges of activity related to resource flows and exchanges.” – See more at: http://www.patterndynamics.com.au/patterns/rhythm/pulse/#sthash.wVQ...

Since installing our swales last summer, we have been mostly Observing how they’re behaving through the seasons.  Brian Kerkvliet advised that we might need to tweak them at some point for fine tuning.  In a previous Swale post, Angela ended with this comment: “I’m excited to see how the swales work and to know that we can change them in subtle ways as the needs arise.”

Over time we have so far observed that the spillways at the end of each swale have not yet come into use.  The swales had not yet filled to the point of overflowing into the spillways.  We’ve been concerned that perhaps we need to dig the spillways down a little lower so that the swales could drain a bit, but we’ve been taking the Small and Slow Solutions approach (Principle #9), to just keep observing over time (for now).

Time to check in with the snowman again, and Observe how he’s reacting to a little bit of warmth. Our friend Sus observes: “This guy has so much class in all phases of life. I see him ecstatically surrendering to the sun.”

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After the big pulse of snow started to melt…followed by more snow, and then more rain…we were eager to see again today how the swales are responding. For the first time, I noticed that the spillway of the 2nd swale has been operationalized! It is now spilling out into the yard below – with puddles beginning to form in the yard (where without the swales we would have a huge pond right now).  The first swale, however (pictured below), is still not emptying into it’s spillway.  Instead it seems to be overflowing at the other end (on the west side closest to the fence).  That area has the most clay soil, and water is pooling on the ground near our peach tree between the two swales (peach tree to the right in the photo below).

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This next photo below shows the spillway from the first swale where water is not flowing. It has finally become clear to me that it is time to follow our Observations with some Interactions.

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But first lets go back in time a few days and check back in on our snowman…ah, devolution. I think this is the Order/Chaos Pattern at play.

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And now its finally time to go to work.  Going just a shovel length deep, I carved a deeper winding path in the spillway, and bingo! The water started to flow!

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I used some of the soil dug from here to build up a little more berm on the west end of the swale where it was overflowing.  It will be interesting to continue the Observation tomorrow and in the days ahead to see the effect of my actions today.

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It was very satisfying to see the water now flowing between the swales.

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*All photos in this post by Angela (except the first snowman by David).  Snowman constructed by David

Angela has also written 13 posts about our swales.  You can check them out here:

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