Micro-Earthworks – Gentle Steps Boost Soil-Life

Without water, the soil beneath our feet is just unused nutrients and rock. If a lifeless patch is lucky, a few weeds will volunteer to try to help build soil and stop the soil from eroding away.  Throughout the world we find a strong correlation between lifeless soil and a lifeless climate. Rainfall is generated by forests. Once the forest is gone, the soil can wash or blow away and the degradation cycle begins.

Earthworks by machinery can be expensive so most of us try to manage without.  But when water management is neglected, the site struggles to reach full potential. The principles of permaculture earthworks are valuable in the preservation of soil and creation of abundance.  These basic permaculture earthworks principles help build mirco-organisms, enable plants to access the nutrients, save water and reduce erosion. We can apply these earthworks on any scale: a farm or a small patch of earth.

  1. Aim to catch and use every drop that comes to your site
  2. recognise that there are at least 3 sources of water: Condensation, Rain and underground springs
  3. Slow any potentially erosive water. This is the core value of Natural Sequence Farming.
  4. Take the water out from the gulleys and onto the ridges (this is a  powerful tool from keyline water design)
  5. Set up filters so that the water leaves you site cleaner than when it entered.
  6. Use natural energies and filters as much as possible to support your food forests. Filter, store  and transport water through the permaculture system with biological resources (rather than plastics hoses and pumps).
  7. Design with patterns (such as streamlining) to create opportunities for the water to actively maintain the direction and speed of flow.  The water will follow the design intention. It will pool and settle-out fine minerals and keep the channels productive and flowing.
  8. Ponds hold potable water, they are static and unable to evolve. Bogs and forest are more effective to release the water safely.  Once a pond is full, it can do nothing to manage the next drop. A forest is a continually working water-filter. It can even respond to a deluge. The forest floor fungi bursts, under-storey plants cup and store water, tree branches and leaves fall to protect the soil, seeds germinate. The forest is constantly adapting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


You can learn with us about how to make small, slow yet effective ways to build soil. You can enjoy learning about earthworks and have a play in some mud.

Schumaker College has raised garden beds
Schumacher College has productive raised garden beds with trenches to direct water flow and duck traffic