Chinampas comes from the Nahua language and means square made of canes and refers to the method of constructing these 'floating fields'.
In shallow lakes square areas would be marked out with canes and then woven cane walls would be fixed in place and the area inside would be filled with sludge taken from the floor of the bordering area.
The 'island' would be built up of sludge, earth, plant matter and stones until it was higher than the surface of the water. Willow trees were often planted at the corners to help hold the land and protect against erosion.
Vertivert and soto caballo (or relatives) which have strong wide reaching root systems were also planted to protect and secure edges.
This small field would be planted with food crops and flowers, while the canals of water between were wide enough for a canoe to pass along and gave access to the farmer.
Chinampas were used widely in swamps too: canals were dug into the swamp and the sludge dug was piled up on the adjoining land to create raised beds.
Free floating aquatic plants were allowed to grow in the canals and were harvested annually to use as mulch on the fields.
The pioneer species, guava, wild orange, cenizaro, ronron, espavel and a few others, bring in their own community of non grass plants and soon small islands of woodland spring up in the pasture.
Small trees form canopy and underbrush appears which in turn provides shade and mulch for ground covers, more delicate species and fungi.
The whole now provides habitat for insects, toads, reptiles, birds and mammals and as it grows it is nourished by the manure and decaying remains of insect and animal life. With more animal species there is more chance of seeds being dispersed, and so the little wood grows.
Pioneer species gradually make way to settler species which at some point will overshadow those first small trees, and over time the pasture will disappear under the growing forest. It's all very natural and very beautiful.
Why Chinampas Gardens are part of This Permaculture Design
- a micro-climate that prevents early frost damage;
- an extremely productive soil that is mostly self-sustaining;
- a self-watering system created by water wicking in from the sides as moisture evaporates from the surface of the beds; and
- the growing of plants and fish within the same area.
- Increased nutrient uptake
- Less susceptibility to drought, frosts, and other weather calamities
- Ability to grow more food (vegetables, fish and water foul).
- Converting “unusable” low-ground into a productive food system
- Dramatically reducing the need to water a garden. (Still need to water seedlings)