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Unit 5 Part (D). Aztec Floating Gardens

The Aztec floating rafts, called chinampas, were located on the shores of Lake Tenochtitlan, now in Mexico.

The rafts were built of rushes and reeds. Stalks were lashed together with roots.

Once the raft was built, they dug mud from the bottom of the lake, and piled it onto the raft.

Then plants were grown on the chinampas, with some of their roots reaching down to the lake below. The plant roots grew through the rafts down to the water. The chinampas were an early form of hydroponics where the water table remains consatnt and the plant always knows where its water table is. The gardener never has to worry about water for his crops, as long as there is water in the lake.

It is also a form of organic hydroponics because a nutrient rich media is used in the lake mud. Lake bottom soil was rich in organic plant nutrients, and produced very rich gardens.

Chinampas were used to grow vegetables, flowers, and trees.

These rafts were sometimes joined together to form floating islands as much as two hundred feet long. Some Chinampas even had a hut for a resident gardener.

On market days, the gardener might pole his raft close to a market place, picking and handing over vegetables or flowers as shoppers purchased them.

Some chinampas floated about like rafts and others were secured in one place.

Some chinampas are constructed by driving reeds into the lake bed and filling them with varying layers of soil and aquatic debris until an island is created. The islands are generally rectangular in shape and separated by canals. The surface is usually about a meter above the water level. The first layer of the island is nutrient-rich mud dredged up from the bottom of the canals and spread on the chinampas surface. Then aquatic weeds and animal manure are spread on top (Thurston 1990).

The seed beds are made by spreading a layer of mud over a layer of vegetation. Then the mud is cut into small rectangular blocks (chapines) and a seed is planted in each. The chapines are then transplanted into the chinampa soil. The chinampa system allows continous cropping because of its water control, multiple cropping, periodic addition of organic material, and transplanting of healthy seedlings (Thurston 1990).

The spread of disease is thought to be inhibited by the diversity of crops grown on traditional chinampas and by the organic matter, potassium, and other mineral nutrients found to stimulate biological activity in chinampa soil (Thurston 1990; Thurston and Parker 1995).

Chinampas continued in use on the lake well into the nineteenth century, though in greatly diminished numbers.

"Numerous commentators have said that chinampas are one of the most productive farming systems ever developed."

Revised: 1 May 2016
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