Bioswales – Making Rain Work for You

I learned a while back that our property was built over the site of an old creek. This made a stunning amount of sense to me, since every time we receive a truly heavy rain (usually in the spring) the water runs from the front ditch through a low spot between our house and the neighbors to teh north, under a section of our side fence, along a length of raised planters, curls around the maple tree, barrels along the front of our shed and then turns into a section of other raised beds before rushing out the back fence to inundate our neighbor’s yard to the west. It will settle there, submerging half of their yard in water during the wet season.

As for the flooded areas of ours, well, the ground will often have several inches of water sitting there, for days at a time, a boggy mess to mow and to deal with.

I planted a willow tree, hoping it would literally act like a vacuum hose and suck the water up. I think it did help, somewhat, but there is still such a massive amount of water coming through, that something needs to be done. At its peak, it can be five feet across and a good foot deep, that’s a LOT of water!

A bioswale is essentially a shallow ditch filled with substrate (such as rock) that guides the water and controls its flow, allowing you to better define where you need the water to go. You can also use a bioswale as a means of storing water, simply by digging a deep, rounded hole that will encourage the water to settle and be captured in one spot.

I found an excellent site that describes how bioswales work, and the different kinds of bioswales, along with the positives and negatives of each design. You can find it here.

And the very first picture shown…











Is exactly what I envision for my yard…with the exception of one thing. I will be planting water-loving plants in those rocks.

Nearest to the entrance, where the water first comes through and before it drains down into the rest of the yard, it would probably be a good place to plant another Asian pear tree, I already have two, but I could certainly use another. Another tree that loves water is the peach tree. I have one, but I could certainly use another!

I plan to plant a succession of smaller plants through the areas that will remain boggy. These include pussy willow, water iris, and possibly even cranberries. I found a great article here on tips for the home gardener to use to successfully grow them.

I will also be incorporating two other aspects to the bioswale…

1. A small reservoir of water that will enter a section of our chicken coop, allowing the chickens access to fresh rain water, but not inundating their entire yard with it.

2. Greywater from our kitchen in the warm months. This is a maybe, since I need significant assistance from my studious and overworked husband (he’s a full time student and full-time worker) for this aspect. What I envision is a type of valve that we can turn ‘on’ in the summer months and ‘off’ in the winter. When ‘on’ the greywater from our sink would drain out of our house into a cistern and be cleansed with plants such as reeds, water hyacinth, iris and duckweed. You can learn more about good cleansing plants here.

Eventually the water would flow to the reservoir for the chickens, ensuring they have fresh-flowing water during the warm months of the year.

That’s my vision for it anyway. We will see what happens (or doesn’t happen) when the ground thaws!

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