SFPG friend Daniel Catalaa sent us an update about his swale project: This last weekend I dug long swales at my homestead in Madera, near Fresno. It was fun to rent and operate and excavator. Now I need to see how all the earthworks function once it rains again!
Two years ago I purchased a 2.5 acre homestead in the central valley. The soil is clay-heavy, compacted, dehydrated, and lacks any organic material. Overgrazing and trampling by horses in past years seriously compacted the ground and no vegetation grows on the surface. There is no natural mulch and the hot surface just bakes in the sun all day. To remediate the situation I decided to rent an excavator and dig a series of swales so that water infiltrates during the rainy season and plants have a chance to grow back.
Excavator Rental Tips
When working on large acreage it is better to rent an excavator that is slightly to big than too small because you can move the dirt with fewer scoops and when you come across hardpan, rocks, or poles in the ground, you can more easily dispose of them. Heavier machines also tip less and this is easier on your back because the machine does not slam down as much. Go for a 4 to 5 ton machine if you can rent one.
Excavator Rental Costs
You can rent an excavator without a deposit from Home Depot, but it will be a mini-excavator, though this can still be adequate for smaller jobs ($1,026.12 for 1 week rental including pick up and delivery, 1.5 Ton excavator). With a $500 deposit you can rent larger excavators from Ahern Rentals ($1,166.50, 1 week rental including pick up and delivery, 3 to 4 Ton excavator).
As you use the excavator you will need to refill the tank several times so purchase ahead of time a 5 gallon diesel tank. Also, when digging the swales on relatively flat ground allow enough space between swales (minimum 25-30 feet) so that you can access the inter-swale space with vehicles and heavy machinery during the project and in the future.