Swales and berms – urban Permaculture farm in the making

'Surveying the land' - Urban farm for owner in the in the heart of industrial Johannesburg

‘Surveying the land’ – Urban farm for owner in the in the heart of industrial Johannesburg

Yvette using a simple 'A' frame to determine the contour levels for the swales

Yvette using a simple ‘A’ frame to determine the contour levels for the swales

We adopted a 'no digging' approach to the new planting beds as the soil was eroded after years of water runoff. Leaves from 'Black Locust' invasive trees were used to assist our soil enrichment efforts. The next step was to line the beds with cardboard on which organic material was added about 40cm thick before planting

We adopted a ‘no digging’ approach to the new planting beds as the soil was eroded after years of water runoff. Leaves from ‘Black Locust’ invasive trees were used to assist our soil enrichment efforts. The next step was to line the beds with cardboard on which organic material was added about 40cm thick before planting

completed swales filled with grass and organic material

completed swales filled with grass and organic material

Completed swales with first garlic cloves planted. On the berms we sowed lucerne and 'vetch' as a cover crop to prevent erosion of the soil and once again as an aid to healthy soil.

Completed swales with first garlic cloves planted. On the berms we sowed lucerne and ‘vetch’ as a cover crop to prevent erosion of the soil and once again as an aid to healthy soil.

Using swales, (shallow, broad and vegetated channels about 30 to 40cm wide in this instance) designed to store and/or convey runoff and remove pollutants. The excess soil from the digging the swale (trench) was used to create a ‘berm’ (A berm is a level space, shelf, or raised barrier separating two areas).

Advantages of swales and berms
• Easy to incorporate into landscaping
• Good removal of urban pollutants
• Reduces runoff rates and volumes
• Low capital cost
• Maintenance can be incorporated into general landscape management
• Pollution and blockages are visible and easily dealt with.

The word berm originates in the Middle Dutch and German berme and came into usage in English via French.