Digging a Swale

As I had explained in the post Planning to Dig a Swale, we decided to dig a swale to redirect water away from our home. This isn’t the ideal solution for handling the rainwater, but in the short term, it should prevent a pond next to our house during heavy rains and keep water from pouring into our basement. In the future, we’ll find ways to channel this water into the ground.

The first thing we did was to measure and insert stakes into the ground at the proposed corners of the swale. We inserted the first stakes two feet from the lot line (to make lawn mowing easy on that side) and then measured another two feet over for the other stakes. Some twine was laid out between the stakes as a guideline.

After marking the location of the swale, we removed the sod.

After marking the location of the swale, we removed the sod.

Next, we removed the sod from the marked location. The dimensions of the swale are 48 feet long by 2 feet wide, so this produced a large amount of sod. If we had been able to finish this project in a couple days, we could have reused the sod after digging the swale. However, that wasn’t an option, so we piled the sod up in one of the compost bins to make use of later.

Next, we dug the soil out in the swale and adjacent to the pond location. One question was how deep to go in the swale. We wanted it to be deep enough that the water along the house would flow into the swale, but also high enough that the water would still be able to travel away from the house. This proved to be difficult to judge. My husband purchased a laser level, which helped a little, and we tried to use a string to look for irregularities, but the best test was to turn on the hose and see if the water flowed the way we wanted it to. A couple heavy rains helped us to see the effect of the ground’s depth just by looking out the window. The sides of the swale are steeper than they perhaps should be, so we will need to keep an eye out for erosion, but since the ground is such a heavy clay, I don’t expect it will move much. We piled the large amount of dug-up soil next to the house for later regrading.

While digging, we came across a couple of large roots from the Oak tree next to the swale. We didn’t want to chop through the roots and hurt the tree, so instead, we dug tunnels under the roots. The idea is that the water will just flow around roots and keep moving. It seems to be working so far, but we’ll have to keep an eye on that area to make sure that sediment doesn’t build up there and clog the swale. Some of the small roots got chopped, but we tried not to harm them in hopes that they will just get buried again and be fine.

I bought a yard of compost at the Bruce Company and used my Dad's truck to haul it home.

I bought a yard of compost at the Bruce Company and used my Dad’s truck to haul it home.

To prepare for the swale project, we had purchased one yard of shredded compost from the Bruce Company. My Dad helped me haul it home with his truck and it was great fun taking it across the backyard to dump it on a low corner of the yard. That compost would be used for enriching the soil in the swale when we wanted to regrow some grass (it looked unlikely to grow well with only the clay soil). We also thought we could use some of the compost for regrading or filling in some low areas in the yard. We could also use some compost for preparing a strawberry bed or adding to the vegetable garden… compost is just so useful. A yard looks like a lot at the garden center, but when you actually bring it home, it’s not as much as you thought it was. We’ll see how far it goes.

After the swale was in place, we added an inch of compost and then watered it. I handspread grass seed (the package instructed 12 seeds per inch, not 5 or 30) and straw and then lightly watered it again. I set up a sprinkler to make the daily task of watering a little easier.

After the swale was dug, an inch of compost was added along with grass seed and chopped straw.

After the swale was dug, an inch of compost was added along with grass seed and chopped straw.

Our next project will be to regrade along the side of the house. We already can see a great deal of water going through the swale during heavy rains, meaning that we should have less water by the house. But it’s equally important to get rid of the low area right next to the house so the water just doesn’t have a place to build up.


2 thoughts on “Digging a Swale

  1. Pingback: Planning to Dig a Swale | SimpliCitySoil

  2. Pingback: Water in the Basement | SimpliCitySoil

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