Geoff’s Online Permaculture Design Course offers students weekly question-and-answer sessions where Geoff addresses various questions via video. This particular question was selected from the 2021 collection. For additional permaculture knowledge, be sure to explore Geoff’s free Masterclass at


If the maximum slope for a swale is 18°, what is the minimum slope to consider for swales? When would you avoid using swales on a site? How can I best calculate the depth and width of the swales I need for the site I am working on?

Key Takeaways

– Nothing is exactly flat in nature, so there is always a slope with which to work. Even on engineered flat spaces, swales can work because they are below grade and the mound can be wide.
– Close to the Arctic Circle, there are only 90 days of growing, there is very little evaporation, and the sun is low and long. Swales aren’t necessary.
– Otherwise, swales shouldn’t be used where the slope is too steep.
– To calculate the depth and width of a swale, the back cut will limit it. The land will define the earthworks.
– Swales should be sized in relation to the size of land it’s on, keeping in mind the equipment that might be needed on it, e.g. a wheelbarrow or mower, or tractor.
– The cheapest, bang-for-your-buck swales are flat-country swales.

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About Geoff:

Geoff is a world-renowned permaculture consultant, designer, and teacher that has established demonstration sites that function as education centers in all the world’s major climates. Geoff has dedicated his life to spreading permaculture design across the globe and inspiring people to take care of the earth, each other, and to return the surplus.

About Permaculture:

Permaculture integrates land, resources, people, and the environment through mutually beneficial synergies – imitating the no waste, closed-loop systems seen in diverse natural systems. Permaculture applies holistic solutions that are applicable in rural and urban contexts and at any scale. It is a multidisciplinary toolbox including agriculture, water harvesting and hydrology, energy, natural building, forestry, waste management, animal systems, aquaculture, appropriate technology, economics, and community development.

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