Chinampas: The Floating Agricultural Gardens of Ancient Mexico

Categories: Green

Chinampa farming system (sometimes called floating gardens) is a form of ancient raised field agriculture, used by American communities beginning at least as early as the 10th century AD. The word chinampa is from a Nahuatl (native Aztec) word, chinamitl, meaning an area enclosed by hedges or canes. The term refers today long narrow garden beds, separated by canals. The garden land is built up from the wetland by stacking alternating layers of lake mud and thick mats of decaying vegetation; this process is typically characterized by exceptionally high yields per unit of land.

Aztec farming has become most famous because of the brilliant chinampas system that Aztec farmers used.  Certainly there were a number of techniques used in the Aztec empire.  But with the great city of Tenochtitlan built on swampy but rich ground, the chinampas became key to the food production of the people.

Chinampas were, of course, not just used for the capitol city, but throughout the Valley of Mexico around the lake bed.   As the empire grew, more sources of food were required.  At times this meant conquering more land, other times it meant expanding the chinampa system.

Historical mentions of chinampa gardening date to the early Spanish colonial period.

Ancient chinampa systems have been identified throughout the highland and lowland regions of both continents of the Americas, and are also currently in use in highland and lowland Mexico on both coasts; in Belize and Guatemala; in the Andean highlands and Amazonian lowlands. Chinampa fields are generally about 4 meters (13 feet) wide, but can be 400-900 m (1,300-3,000 ft) in length.

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