Biological CleaningIrrigationRegional Water CycleSwalesUrban ProjectsWater ConservationWater Harvesting

Letters from Zaytuna – Mini Swales in Urban Permaculture Gardens

by Patrick Blampied

Swales hold and soak water that would otherwise get away without doing anything positive for your property. In fact it can cause problems – like soil erosion.

Swales are critical features in the design of any permaculture project but most of the applications you see on youtube are broad acre properties and many people might think that’s what they’re reserved for. Not true!

Small swales are very useful in urban gardens and can double as footpaths. Have a look at my video of Geoff Lawtons kitchen garden, which is a great example of how to improve your urban garden.

Much Love! Pat


  1. I used to irrigate my vegetable in a very similar way, but after a year or so sodium build up got to be real problem. Plants were stunted and very slow to mature where the beds accumulated salts from the evaporating water since. Unless you have high quality irrigation water (like rainwater), it might be best to let the water sit directly on the growing areas to leach out some salts. Now my beds are flat and I have berms so I can flood about 500 ft2 at a time.

  2. Swales are great but with the very heavy rains we’ve experienced in South East Queensland (Australia) over the past months I have learned (the hard way?) how important the safe disposal of excess water is. Improperly designed swales can cause more erosion when they breach than if they had never been built. Swales hold and therefore concentrate water and even wide and level spillways can start to erode when they had insufficient time for vegetation to grow on (like vetiver grass, lemongrass etc) after the earthworks. Maybe it would be a good idea to do earthworks at the end of a rain season in areas like ours?.

    We terraced part of our property and each terraces has a pond and swale like ditches on the inside to hold water to hydrate the land after rains. 3 weeks after the earthworks we’ve had over 350mm rain overnight (one in over 100 years event apparently) and even though we have mulched 2.5 acres with over 5 tons of lucerne mulch (to prevent erosion as well as help fertility) we still suffered some eroded banks as each of the terraces (8 of them) drained onto the next which has an accumultative effect. It’s far from a total disaster but I would just like to highlight here how important the design for drainage is for extreme weather events.

    Now the land is barely visible under an extremely dense layer of cowpea that has now started develop its purple flowers. Permaculture sure is an interesting ride once embarked on…

  3. Now I see them again. The internet gods conspired to make me look like an idiot.

    And if these are “mini” swales then the ones I just put in my herb spiral must be “micro.”

  4. Thanks for the link Tim, your article is great!

    Matt, I’m sorry to hear of your unfortunate timing with the weather and I couldn’t agree more. In victoria I don’t see quite so much rain so coming here has shown me the power of that much stored water.

    We’ve had to run out during a couple of heavy rain falls and clear silt from pipes, relieve swales that were about to break and repair a swale that did get away from us (it was new as well)

    I think like you say, plan well before installation and remember swale maintenance before the rainy season is a good idea too.

    Jbob, not sure where you are but if you have salt problems steming from evaporation you might need more shade so the water has a chance to soak in. This is how the school is growing in jordan

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