Introduction to Permaculture Earthworks


David Spicer AKA Doc Spice & Danial Lawton of Permaculture Tools

Date:  16th & 17th of March 

9:00am - 5:00pm

Place: Snowy Mountains Tumut, NSW, Australia

The venue is Doc Spice home situated on half an acre, 10 minutes from Tumut

Price:  Early bird $300* / Standard $350 

* 3 weeks prior to course commencement

Maximum of 20 places


Caravan park in Tumut, 15 km away from the venue as well as local pubs and motels or Gundagi the same distance from the venue


Earthworks are much like the skeletal frame of our bodies they support the system allowing us to fill the body or land with a living muscle and skin.



Thinking Earthworks: When thinking about earthworks design the aim is to keep the water as high in a distance and as long in time, in the landscape as possible. Water and the water’s edge is 30 times more productive than land, this is the classical edge effect. Earthworks are the major element in a design.


Water is Life.

Hardware and Software

When designing it’s always essential to keep in mind what will run water off (called hardware) e.g. roads, roofs (will give almost a 100% runoff) and what will absorb water (software) i.e forest, healthy soils, and gardens. We are always looking at hardware as water harvesters to divert to our software, water storages.


Students will understand the basic Principles of Permaculture Design in Earthworks: reading the landscape, interpreting contour maps and using surveying tools, and placing elements in a design.

Students will leave the course and be able to understand terminology for Earthworks and Soil Water Management.




Learning how to survey is a simple process once you have been shown using water levels/bunyip levels to the high-tech laser levels.



Keypoints are where the landform goes from convex to concave, the point of transition, the highest economical place in the landscape for dam placement, not all landforms have them, it's only in the humid climates they are formed.


Planning of Earthworks



A water harvesting ditch on contour, swales are a tree growing mound and have multiple

benefits. Aid the reforestation of landscape through the rehydration of soil across a section of land and providing seed for dispersal by wind or gravity.

Flood proof and drought proof land

Swales can be a link to dams/pond to help charge the dam once full, plus act as an emergencies back flood system for the security of the dam if the swale is linked to the dam spillway.

Swales doesn’t work if there are no trees they become a contour drain. It is essential that swales are planted out with a mix of tree species which aid in the water peculating into the subsoils through the roots of trees. Swales help clean water before leaving the site allowing sediments, manures, detritus to drop out by gravity to swale floor, fertilizing trees and anything else below.



Barrage/valley dam, consist of constructing a compacted earth wall across the valley.

Keypoint dam is the same as a barrage dam but much higher in the landscape constructed so the high water mark is at the keypoint of the valley, it is the most economical dam to build; also using the natural ley of the land to harvest water. Contour dam is as the name suggests it is constructed on contour of usually gentle country with interlinking swales or diversion drains to fill the dam.

Ridge point dams are constructed at the end of a ridge usually it’s the highest dam on a farm.

Saddle dam is similar to a ridge point but much cheaper to construct as there is less earthmoving required it consists of constructing 2 walls either side of the saddle on the ridge. Turkey’s nest or ring dam is mainly constructed on flat country as an open earth tank for either flood irrigation or water storage for stock. It’s best to plan all aspects of the earth-moving process before the machines or labourers arrive.



When constructing a dam/pond or excavate below the original ground level for the keyway much like a woodruff key on a drive shaft it locks the wall in place also excavating below ground level you stop water from leaking under the wall. The keyway is constructed with the best quality material you have from the site.


Dam sealing

Sealing of problematic dams that are leaking, with gleying, manurial pugs or bentonite.


Dam wall and spillway repair and retrofits

Often exiting dam walls don’t have enough freeboard and the spillways are badly placed, it’s really a simple matter of raising the wall height and fitting back flood swale and a level sill spillway.

Minor land forming for benches, house/shed sites, terraces etc. Weather your retrofitting or building new infrastructure installing gardens there is always minor earthworks to be done.




Diversion drains

A maximum fall of 1m in 400m or less, for every meter it falls 2.5mm which is hardly perceptible but enough to make water move to a point usually storage point e.g. Dam/pond but not fast enough to erode or carry sediments.


Earth moving machines types and uses

There all sorts of earth moving machines finding out what’s best for your job can save you $1000’s.


Roads as water harvesters 

Roads can cause erosion and concentrate overland flow of rain events to culverts/pipes where the water speeds up when forced through the pipe coursing more erosion. But they can be a great source of hardware to harvest water from. In farm roads where possible we can design roads with a 1m in 400m fall to harvest water to charge dams, we can get multiply functions from a road ease of access water harvesters, fire breaks ect.

 About the trainers

Doc Spice

David Spicer

Doc Spice Permaculture

Danial Lawton

 Permaculture Tools 

Danial and David have worked in the permaculture education field for close to 20 years and have seen the need become more apparent for a course to skill people on the ground, in the basics. They have both worked on large permaculture earthworks hydrology projects within Australia and overseas, including both operation and instruction. Danial and David are a dynamic team with many years of knowledge and practical experience between them, and each with their own charismatic teaching style, making them a teaching duo that is a pleasure to learn from. When we understand earthworks hydrology on a macro and micro level we can apply it to the urban built environments, from stormwater catchment to raised beds on contour for main crop production, and water harvesting and storage on a large scale for farm use. Water and the water’s edge is 30 times more productive than land, having the classic edge effect. When thinking about earthworks design the aim is to keep the water as high and as long in distance and time in the landscape as possible. Earthworks are major elements in design; we are always starting with water in any design.


Work boots, Hat, Water bottle, Wet weather gear, Ear and eye protection, Notebook and pen and Sunscreen.


Please make your booking by our Booking FormAfter you booked, PayPal emails you a link to the invoice then you can view invoice details and securely pay by Credit or Debit card, your Paypal account or Paypal Credit. All prices are in Australian dollars, including GST.


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