Category Archives: From Field to Forest


If you’ve been here before, you know my field is in Donegal where, I recently discovered, it rains about 1,600 to 1,800 mm a year. That means, without drainage, my land would be covered 4 or 5 feet deep, except for the fact that I am the proud owner of a fine sloping field, (up to 20% in spots) and the rain runs off, but the ground gets bloody wet too!!

Permaculture videos and books and talks all seem to spend lots of time on swales, hence Patrick Whitefield refers to them as something of a ‘Holy Cow’.

But in our wet climate in NW Ireland, they’re hardly appropriate. However, how much is enough, when it comes to water? If I put in drains, the water runs away. If I put in swales, too much water hangs around. How do I decide? I can imagine a high pond, catching run-off from the road and from my house and the cement drive opposite,  with an overflow arrangement into a lower pond perhaps, but is 2 ponds too much in 2/3rds of an acre (circa 2600 sq. metres)?

Problems, problems. Any suggestions, anyone?

While I have a problem, it’s good to have it discussed online. I’d appreciate any help I can get. Tll next time. Byeee.

Oh yeah, any suggestions for the best PDC around these islands? R

see Book Review “How to Makea Forest Garden” by PW


Illness stops me in my tracks

Illness in the family keeps us from going to Donegal, so I haven’t had the opportunity to check out my mapping errors. In my previous post, I had said a student was drafting up a decent-looking map for me, from my plotting notes. Well, it seems I’ve a lot to learn!! I know that some of the ‘apparent’ errors are caused by the sometimes steep slopes in the field, but some of my measurements are way off. It strikes me that I should get a helper in the field, next time. So, not only can I not go to Donegal, I can’t even progress my mapping project until i go and check my measurements.

That said, I have been reading and watching videos online. I finally gave in recently and bought Sepp Holzer’s book ‘Permaculture’. Brilliant. He has such a complete understanding of his material and is so brave and relentless with his experimentation. You also have to be impressed by his observation of nature. So inspiring.

Speaking of inspiration, I get a regular email & video from ‘Peak Moment’ with Janaia Donaldson. This month’s video is called ‘Shaping Water and Soil’. It  features some land work by Brian Kirkvliet at “Inspiration Farm” in Washington State. (He’s a great explainer / teacher) What was interesting for me was the fact that they had a wet, soggy field (so like Donegal) where, in an average year, we have 1600 – 1800 mm of rain. Isn’t that scary… it’s 4 to 5 FEET of water … everywhere) I had been asking myself what was the difference between using swales and banks, as opposed to putting in drains to catch and move the water fast. This 26 minute video shows a series of on-contour-swales with grazing and/or vegetables between.

They always say about swales and water in permaculture videos and books,  that you ‘Slow it, spread it and sink it’. You make use of it as often as possible, before you allow it move off your site. So, it seems to me that, despite all that rainfall, i sill have to hold it on my land as long as possible and not just drain it away as fast as possible. I feel a pond coming on!

The Inspiration Farm video shows they use polycultures very well and layer planting with fruit trees, shrub fruits, harbaceous plants and groundcover, all together on the swale banks. Also in the mix are nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators and biomass makers. The ‘dynamic accumulators’ are the deep-tap-rooted plants that harvest minerals from deep in the soil and make it available to their neighbour plants (especially fruit trees which tend to have shallow feeding roots). For example, comfrey, nettles, teasles and dandylions. Finally, they make the point that they are growing SOIL, not food. If you get the soil growing and improving every year, the food will come naturally and abundantly, without irrigation, without manure and without pesticides. (Type ‘shaping water and soil’ into the search window on

Till the next time. Enjoy.