Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Milpa Garden

Our milpa garden planted with Corn, Squash and Beans

Earlier this year we decided to experiment with planting a small, traditional-style milpa garden.

milpa is a plot of land planted with a number of different complementary food crops.

This efficient agricultural technique was developed thousands of years ago in ancient Mesoamerica. It is still in use today in many areas of Mexico and Central America.

Squash blossom in the milpa

The milpa garden has many advantages over modern single-crop plantings:

-- multiple crops can be grown in the same plot simultaneously
-- very low maintenance
-- reduced water usage
-- the different plants provide various benefits to the garden and to each other

We chose to plant the "Three Sisters" of Native American agriculture: corn (maize), beans, and squash.

Corn and beans can be planted close together, saving space in the garden.
The corn stalks provide a natural trellis for the beans to grow up.
Corn and beans provide complementary amino acids, for a nutritionally complete diet. 
The squash were planted in between the rows of corn/beans.
The low-growing squash plants help cut down on growth of weeds.
The taller corn provides cooling shade for the squash plants.
The roots of the bean plant restore nitrogen to the soil.

Our corn ripened about a month ago, just as the 120 degree weather hit. The ears got desiccated and we were not able to harvest fresh corn. So we left the ears to dry on the stalks, to eventually be ground into meal. The dried corn stalks are providing a natural trellis for the climbing beans, which are just beginning to flower.

Climbing beans using dried corn stalks as natural trellis

Butternut Squash

The squash was a different story. Protected in the shade of the corn stalks, there was enough squash for us and to share with friends.

We have enjoyed it steamed, mixed into stir-fry, and as a delicious vegan soup.

In the future we plan on experimenting with planting more heirloom and desert native varieties of traditional plants in our garden.

The milpa "is one of the most successful inventions ever created."
~ H. Garrison Wilkes, maize researcher at the University of Massachusetts, Boston
Quoted in the book  1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,
by Charles C. Mann

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this post! My son and I are reading Charles Manns book right now for homeschooling. We would like to plant one of these gardens. If you have any more thoughts we'd be very interested!