In Earthworks, Methods of Design & Patterns, Water

Last year, we did a series of videos looking at the swale systems on our property and demonstration site. Part one looks at how we’ve combined the featuress of a Hügelkultur system, a wicking bed, and swales to nourish a productive garden that requires very little additional irrigation:

Urban Swales Part 1: Weeping Tile & Mulched Pathways
This second video in the urban swales series looks at permaculture design with water as the primary consideration. Here I work on redirecting water passively from roofs and topsoil overflow areas into our property’s gardens:

Urban Swales Part 2: Construction, Spillways & Catchbasins
In this third video on urban swales, I explain why the level is a key tool in permaculture design and demonstrate its use to ensure that our swales work as intended:

Urban Swales Part 3: On Levels and Transits

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  • Jennifer Hoglin

    I am setting up some new raised garden beds (in a better location closer to downspouts and sun) and have a couple questions about these swales. Firstly, how do you determine their depth/length/volume? You mentioned in one of the videos that you should determine the infiltration rate of your soil and then determine the volume of the swale using the loading rate from that infiltration test. Unfortunately, I have had no luck finding how to do this. Could you point me in the right direction? Secondly, do you have an overflow somewhere? I couldn’t tell from all your videos. I intend to have my swales as the path between my keyhole beds that are fed by the overflow from my rain tote. Any information you have would be helpful.

    • Rob Avis


      All great questions.
      1) In an urban environment, I usually go about 8-12″ deep with the bottom set dead level.
      2) Always be at least 10′ from your home foundation and don’t use this swales if you already have water issues or a sump pump in your home.
      3) Yes, an overflow is important. Basically you need a low point somewhere where water can flow out of it in the event there is too much water. Preferably this overflow is away from the house.
      4) You can feed the rainwater from the tote into the swale as long as you have an overflow somewhere.
      5) If you google, or youtube infiltration test you will get some resources.


      Rob AVis


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