Contouring for an Orchard

edited November 2013 in Water Management
Good Morning!

I have a 6-acre field on a slope that I'd like to convert from grass, mowed twice annually, into an orchard. We get plenty of rain, but quite a bit flows off the property. I have in mind to do ridge-and-swale contouring to put some rainwater into the soil, and also build a small retention pond to capture the runoff. Not sure if this is the best way, and I'd like to invite discussion on this idea.

Thank you!


  • Yes.It's great if you can capture the rainfall in ponds and swales as it flows down the hill and plant your trees on contour on the downhill side of the swales.There is a lot of info on this in various Permaculture books,YouTube videos etc
  • Contour planting works great, a couple of things you might want to consider before going through the expense and time of putting in ridge and swales is going through a site assessment. Is your soil holding enough water during the growing season now? Does your soil test indicate that there is enough OM to hold water? and you might consider digging a couple of test holes to get an idea of what your subsoil looks like just so there are no surprises after you start digging. I am in the midst of putting in another orchard and I found that in a maritime climate with as little soil as there is on top of glacial till, that any type of soil movement would most likely make thing worse instead of better. Building your soils water holding capacity might be a better option once you determine what type of soils you have....Just a couple of thoughts
  • guy
    edited November 2013
    The first thing I thought when I read the initial post echoes what Treeguy said: "...any type of soil movement would most likely make thing worse instead of better." But, that first reaction on my part is conditioned by my experience working with very thin Ozark soils--if I were to scrape enough top soil up to form a ridge, the swale would be sitting in a rocky, red clay subsoil. I did, however, farm for about 10 years in a deep, alluvial flood plain which I had ditched and bermed. If I hadn't ditched and bermed, I probably would've been wiped out by flooding in at least two years. So, to me, the answer is dependent on the soil type...but even then, everytime we till, plow, bulldoze or otherwise expose the soil, we are destroying worm channels (and other macro- soil structures), accelerating organic matter decomposition (thus messing with micro- soil structure), risking erosion..... I agree sometimes it's the right thing for the farmer to do, but with great bulldozer power comes great responsibility!

    Guy Ames ~ ATTRA Specialist
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