Dancing with Waters: The Art of Swales in the Heart of the Earth

Introduction – Nature’s Enchantment

In the quiet countryside, where the wind gently caresses soft fields and sunlight weaves into the profound secrets of the earth, exists an ancient art that intertwines with the magic of nature itself: swales.

Imagine the gentle sound of water, a harmonious ritual where the earth dances with the sky, and water embraces the soil.

Dance of the Elements

One day, as I walked through sun-kissed fields, I discovered a hidden world, a symphony of swales dancing with the elements.

The on-contour swales, like graceful ballerinas, followed the contours of the land, cradling every water droplet in a delicate embrace.

The water-transporting swales transformed into water channels that glided gracefully, bringing life without causing harm.

A graphic depicting swales as natural waterways amidst lush greenery, highlighting their function in guiding rainwater to enrich the earth and sustain the aquifer.

Construction – An Earthly Masterpiece

Picture, if you will, the process of creating these earthly masterpieces.

With the sun as an accomplice and the earth as a canvas, each swale comes to life.

Site planning becomes the first step, like the beginning of a well-orchestrated choreography.

Then, with lines drawn and stakes planted, the dance of creation begins.

The Step Beyond Planning

Here are the nine steps to create your swale dance:

Plan the Site

Choose a location slightly uphill from the targeted area.

Connect Line to Stakes

Ensure the land is at the same elevation using a water level or laser level.

Plant the Stakes

Creating a choreography that suits the slope of the land.

Dig a Trench

Loose soil goes on the downhill side, creating a “berm” that retains water.

Level the Bottom

Ensure the trench bottom is flat and level.

Fill the Swale

With gravel or compostable material to simulate the natural soil process.

Add Massive Material

Like decomposing wood, contributing to soil fertility.

Final Layer

Add material like straw to complete the process.


Dig more swales and plant in the created “berms.”

An image showcasing terraced swales integrated within a green landscape, demonstrating their effectiveness in channeling and conserving rainwater for soil hydration and groundwater replenishment.

When to Build a Swale: The Perfect Moment

Building a swale is not just a technical response but an act of synchrony with nature.

When rainwater threatens to become destructive, the swale becomes our protective dancer, altering the course of water to preserve nutrients, silt, and organic matter.

When Not to Swale: A Dialogue with the Earth

Uncertain if a swale is the right answer?

Look at the image depicting slopes, soil types, hydrology, management, ecosystem condition and available resources.

In some cases, the dance of swales might be replaced by Keyline Design, an equally elegant alternative.

Should I Swale That?

The original image is from Ben Falk of Whole System Design, we modified the image to bring more details. 

Conclusion: A Ballet of Sustainability

As an agronomist and cultivator, I’ve learned that the swale is an art to be respected but not the answer to every call of the land.

It’s one tool among many, a ballet of sustainability that requires harmony with the earth itself.

Without trees, a swale might be less of a dance and more of a destructive monologue.

In this dance with waters, we learn to understand that every piece of land has its melody, and the swale is just one of the instruments we can tune to harmonize the earth we call home.

Be ready to dance with the earth and create your symphony of sustainability.

Giuseppe Tallarico

Discover how Giuseppe Tallarico, an agronomist dissatisfied with office life, transformed his passion for nature into a regenerative revolution. Leaving behind a career in the corporate sector, Giuseppe followed his heart towards permaculture. His transformation from a professional in quality and environmental fields to an innovator in regenerative agriculture has been an inspiring journey. Through founding the Urban Permaculture Laboratory and teaching, Giuseppe has created a lasting impact in the community and the world of permaculture. Join Giuseppe in his courses, consultancy work, and innovative projects to explore how you too can make a difference. Discover his blog articles, evoking images, sounds, and emotions, immersing you in the world of regenerative agriculture. Unlock Sustainable Solutions with Giuseppe Tallarico - Explore Here!