Building Homestead Ponds for Resilience


Adding multiple ponds to our permaculture style homestead is a major part of our mainframe design. We previously added swales and rainwater catchment because they were higher on the priority list. This spring we took the next step! We added two ponds (more will be added in the future). We are very excited to see how this pond develops over time.

Ponds bring huge value to a homestead. In permaculture, stacking functions is an important principle. It is not so much that permaculture adds functions to an element but that the individual practicing permaculture sees the multiple functions in the element itself. Many people might look at a pond simply as an aesthetically pleasing feature to a property. A good practitioner sees much more than that.

Pond Area Before Construction

Here are some of the functions that ponds can provide to a homestead: water storage during emergencies; irrigation of nearby areas (we designed ours to flood irrigate our swales); Potential fire control; food production through plants, fish and waterfowl; micro-climate enhancement through attraction of beneficial insects, amphibians and birds; wildlife attraction; drought proofing the landscape; recreation; and yes, aesthetic pleasure, and much more.

 "What will nature allow us to do here, what will nature help us to do?" - Wendell Berry

Ponds can be built anywhere but we would do well to heed Berry’s quote above. We look for areas where ponds want to exist. Low lying areas, wet areas, valleys (draws) where the least amount of dam wall can hold the most water etc… We can build dams on ridges, saddles, and flat areas but it will likely take more work. We want to achieve the greatest effect for the least input. We choose to build two valley dams: one small for many reasons but primarily to catch silt, flood irrigate swales and attract beneficial insects, amphibians, bees and birds. This one is above the “main” pond which will serve all of the functions listed above. On our main pond we carefully dug out, with an excavator, an initial trench in order to build the keyway (a highly compacted wall of dirt that stops the penetration of water). We packed the keyway as best as we could considering the circumstances and then dug out the pond area in order to obtain material for the dam wall. If a pond is not going to be lined (ours is not) with an artificial barrier it must contain sufficient clay content in order to seal and hold water. Our material content is questionable (one of our mistakes was to assume we have good clay content based on a small test pond) but I believe workable. However, the key to a good pond is the compaction of the material. Track rolling with an excavator works really well. Time will tell if this pond seals well. If not there are many techniques that can be used to seal ponds: adding clay material, adding bentonite, letting animals like pigs work the area for a time. If our pond does not seal we will use a combination of these techniques. For more detailed information listen to my podcast on building ponds.

6/21/2015 4:29:47 AM

Hi, I am very impressed and feel motivated reading the information from the website. I am working in NZ but planning to go back to India(Haryana) and want to start a small farm may be 1 or 2 acre big. My main aim is to to open a small farm using local cows and the way your plan shows. but i want to have more knowledge regarding the crops, vegetables and other system using the scientific but not the chemical methods. so that i can create a self sustained farm and can make it bigger. Can you please guide me what types of crops and vegetable i can grow which way that suits the soil and also good for business purposes. I am desperately looking for the reply. Thanks & regards Lokesh

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