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Chinampa in marshy area - water terraces

 
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One of my favourite things is playing ‘fantasy gardens’ and since I’ve nearly finished the construction of my simple farming area down the hill, and have decided to leave the crater garden till spring I’ve been turning my mind to another area. I’ve been fascinated by chinampa systems and have wondered how they might be a system that would work for me.
chinampa
I’m lucky enough to be in a wet climate and have a little burn (stream) running through part of our holding in an area we tend to refer to as ‘the gully’. It’s not a big flow, but very rarely runs dry – probably only twice in the fifteen years we’ve been here. The gully is a narrow valley with steepish banks. I’ve done very little planting there. We tend to use it as a dog walking area and I encourage the wild flowers – heather at the top and yellow flag iris at the bottom, so it’s sort of zone 4/5 at the moment. At the low end where the burn exits our property, there is a bit of slightly flatter and rather boggy land. I think there are subterranean surface springs there. I’m thinking of making some chinampa/water terrances there. The gully is a little sun trap. Most of our land slopes down to the East, but the gully faces almost due South due to the structure of the underlying rock strata. The prevailing wind skips over the top a bit so in summer it seems a bit warmer, but in Winter it can be a little more frosty. The burn however is fed by springs just above us on the common grazings, which come out at a pretty constant 12 degrees summer and winter. There’s enough of a flow in winter to mean it never freezes up, just a little ice forming on slower pools.
I think my ‘chinampa’ would differ in many ways from the original concept. Mine would be predominately perennial plantings, since I want this to be a low maintenance area; just clearing aquatic growth to keep the pools clear and feed the dry beds, and harvesting produce a few times a year. Obviously I don’t have big lakes, just small pools or ditches, so the organic material I clear will be semi rotten vegetation, rather than fertile lake silt. I’ll probably make the dry areas only about 4ft across, so that I can walk along them, and the wet areas similar. I don’t want the water too deep either, probably shallow enough that I can paddle along them in my wellies to do harvesting. Most of the plants I’m thinking of are marginal or bog plants, so don’t want deep water. I’d love some water lilies, but I may leave them for my future fantasy pond! I’ll need to make sure I have enough water flow to prevent freezing – the temperature is ideal for wasabi which I have grown successfully in the past, but disappeared when I tried planting it out in the grass – I think the slugs had it.
I made a simple bunyip with a piece of transparent pipe and marked out a series of contours across the area. The lines are very different from how I had sketched the terraces in my mind. Some of them turned out quite wide, and others where the slope turned out to be steeper, are a bit on the narrow side. I may adjust the actual terraces a little to make them more even in size. The height between them doesn't really matter. I've marked the contours on the photo below with the possible water terraces hatched in blue.
water
So has anyone tried something similar, what problems do you foresee that I have missed? Any other opportunities I should think about? What exciting plants would you try in a wet area?
 
Nancy Reading
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The weather hasn't been kind (rather wet for digging) but I've made a little start on the first of the water terraces and chinampa beds. I laid a thick layer of twigs under the chinampa on the existing surface, before turning the turf dug from the water terrace upside down on it. I'm hoping that this will help keep it damp, but well drained, like a flat hugelbed. Apart from being extremely muddy work, I also came across an old net that has been buried there which makes digging a bit difficult. Hopefully I'll be able to get that out and dispose of it, although it does extend beyond the terrace area into the turf on the downhill side. I'm going to need quite a bit more wood than I was expecting, so I'll need to gather more. I don't want to use too much that could be useful for our wood stove, so am trying to collect up older, rotten stuff that may have been left lying outside for a bit. The water terrace is already filling with water which will make digging the rest rather unpleasant - it might dry out again if the rain stops for a bit...

digging water terrance and chinampa Scotland UK

I've also made a bit of a planting list:
For the wet areas: wapato, bogbean, calomus acorus (flowering rush), bulrush, Houttuynia cordata, caltrop, colocasia, watercress, butterbur (Petasites hybridus)
For the dry areas: Blueberries, Bilberries, cloudberries, hosta, bistort, alpine bistort, alpine strawberries/wild strawberries, cranberries, bog myrtle, wasabi, rhubarb, comfrey, fennel, Darmera peltata
Of these I still need to source Wasabi (I think I've lost the plants I had), bulrush, caltrop, Bilberries, and cranberries.

I've been digging up Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) and meadowsweet in this area if anyone in the UK would like some. I've moved some to the area between the water terrace and the stream, but there is plenty of roots still.

 
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Wow, that looks like it'll be really nice once done! Roughly how wide will the wet areas be?
If it was me I think I'd put the cloudberries on the sides of the dry areas, or even the border between wet and dry. I wonder if they might find the top a bit too dry.

Which bulrush species are you looking for? Typha latifolia?

 
Nancy Reading
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Hi Eino, just catching up now! The water areas will be between 2 and 4 ft across. I want to make sure I can walk on the dry areas without slipping off, so they will probably be a bit wider. Thanks for the advice (and the cloudberry seeds!). I'm thinking of making the ends of the dry bits an overflow from one water terrace to the next, so there will be a bit that is more boggy there (I may need stepping stones...) which may be the best place to try the cloudberries, and other more bog loving plants. I'd love to plant Typha latifolia, but I think the area is not really big enough and I worry about it taking over the whole lot. I may try Typha minima, which should have similar uses, but be less of a nuisance size-wise. It might not be an issue; I do see large bulrush around on the island, but given how damp we are you'd have thought it would be everywhere if it were that way inclined (I expect the sheep eat it!).
scotland chinampa building
Frozen chinampa in progress

I have been busy gathering up any stray bits of wood from around the holding, and have succeeded in getting a fair bit towards the second dry bed. The weather has turned quite frosty now however, so the bits of wood lying around are frozen into the grass and ground meaning that I can't get much done outside now. Usually the cold spells don't last long here, so I expect I'll be able to finish it in January.
My new blueberry plants have arrived. I ordered a nice selection from scotplants direct. Mainly because they appeared to have blueberry Reka in stock and lots of others at a very good price. There was a bit of a mix up however and they sent an almost completely different selection of blueberries (no Reka) along with the bareroot trees I had ordered. However the bareroot trees are very nice quality as far as I can tell, and they sent me three larger size Reka (free) to make up for the mix up, so I'm pretty happy now. Some of the blueberries (including the Reka) are for my main blueberry area down in my tree field, which is a similar 'hugel-ish' bed system, but without the standing water.
 
Eino Kenttä
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Hi Nancy! Yeah, that's what I was going to say about Typha latifolia, that it does tend to take over, and that many of the other bog plants handle shade poorly. I'd also be a tad concerned about planting butterbur, for the same reason. What sort of pH/nutrient situation are you looking for? Will you try to create different soil types on the different dry areas, to get a diversity of habitats? Really looking forward to seeing how this develops!

Also, are the cranberries you're looking for Vaccinium oxycoccos? If so, we have a bunch around, and bilberries are everywhere here. Just remind me next summer if you want some seeds of either one.
 
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Cool project.

Were I to do wetland planting I would also go for cranberries and if possible I'd try to grow rice of some sort. I don't know what rice you can grow in Skye, but there must be something. Even if you don't have enough space for a calorie crop type something like wild rice could give you a little something to make rice snacks or zakkoku style topping.
 
Nancy Reading
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Eino Kenttä wrote:I'd also be a tad concerned about planting butterbur, for the same reason.


the butterbur we have growing locally isn't that big. I haven't tried eating it yet. If we don't like it and it looks like taking over, I guess I'll just have to learn to be ruthless (my name is Nancy after all*)

What sort of pH/nutrient situation are you looking for? Will you try to create different soil types on the different dry areas, to get a diversity of habitats?


I'm not looking to amend the soil particularly, although things like rhubarb do like it a bit richer, so I will probably need to think about improving the soil for them, although I'll probably do it mainly in retrospect and as I plant, since I prefer to do the detail planting plan by just laying the plants I have in situ. The soil is pretty acidic, but I've not found that particularly a problem, and indeed most of these plants will prefer that

Also, are the cranberries you're looking for Vaccinium oxycoccos? If so, we have a bunch around, and bilberries are everywhere here. Just remind me next summer if you want some seeds of either one.


Thank you Eino, I may take you up on that. The cranberries I have now are V. macrocarpon. I've tried growing them before and they didn't do well for me, and I've never succeeded in growing bilberries, although have tried taking cuttings locally a few times. They do grow on the hills, but are not very prolific. I'm hoping that this area will be a better habitat for them than I've had before though.

* 'Swallows and Amazons' reference
 
Nancy Reading
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L. Johnson wrote:Cool project.

Were I to do wetland planting I would also go for cranberries and if possible I'd try to grow rice of some sort. I don't know what rice you can grow in Skye, but there must be something. Even if you don't have enough space for a calorie crop type something like wild rice could give you a little something to make rice snacks or zakkoku style topping.



We are very cool here for any sort of real rice to do well. Andrew Williams of Dun Croft has been growing mountain rice in Caithness even further north on the mainland, but he starts it off undercover and plants it out and I can't be bothered with that! North American wild rice (Zizania aquatica) might be a better possibility (although again probably wants warmer summers), but I think it impossible to get plants in the UK. The seed needs to be kept wet to retain viability, so seed is unlikely too. Being an annual I would have to keep replanting and I'm not wanting to do that here. If you have suggestions for another perennial grain for wetlands I'd be interested!
Wapato (sagitarria latifolia), bulrush (Typha sp.) and caltrop (trapa natans), should all be good for starchy foods. I don't know if I'll be able to grow them or like them yet, but I'm going to give it a try!
Alpine bistort has grain-like bulblils which I'm very excited about. See Stephen Barstow's write up on it here and bistort, although usually thought of as a leaf crop, has seeds rather like buckwheat which are edible. I haven't got mine to set seed well yet. I'm thinking I need some dissimilar clones to cross fertilise...
 
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L. Johnson wrote:Cool project.

Were I to do wetland planting I would also go for cranberries and if possible I'd try to grow rice of some sort. I don't know what rice you can grow in Skye, but there must be something. Even if you don't have enough space for a calorie crop type something like wild rice could give you a little something to make rice snacks or zakkoku style topping.



A friend of mine Andy Williams not far away from us in N Caithness has been experimenting with rice and has recorded his work here   https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmjYEOcdi0m6W9O5HzlxADy-oMUzXlYhJ  
 
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Hello Nancy,

Although it looks like you may not necessarily have that much woody material, tree/shrub prunings, brash available where you are, you might want to consider fascines as well. There is some kind of connection and similarity between fascines and chinampas. If I understand you correctly, it seems like you are in part looking for dry surfaces to walk on so as to be able to cross the wet areas. Maybe it would be instructive to look at Chris Dixon's article on causeway construction (see the link to the complete article after Dixon's quote below) as there are some commonalities and potentials to your scenario in Scotland. The interesting part about your setup (by the looks of things gleamed from your photographs) is to tap into the wet area as a "birthing" place for planting shrubs and other plants which create more organic material to then build more structure to slow, spread, sink the water. This watery edge begins a process which can provide feedstocks for creating more earthworks to increase the water's reach and benefits. You can tap into the coppicing or resprouting nature of these plants as well—especially if you do not want their tall(er) or shading characteristics. Also even if these plants were kept low, their roots would also help to anchor the hills in place (erosion seen in photographs). Good luck with your project.

"I use my fascines mainly for causeway or dam construction on our marsh, building up the water-storage capacity and also sequestering carbon in the construction. They can also be used to stabilize banks and steep slopes and for light-track construction, but imaginative permies will see other applications, such as inclined planes and large-scale earthworks. By staking fascines in lines along contours, similar effects to swales can be achieved. If you use willow for stakes, you can then grow materials for more fascines to extend the system."
--Chris Dixon.
"The Causeway Approach" The Permaculture Activist #78, November 2010, pp. 37-40.
https://fliphtml5.com/hyxr/zncm/basic

Also check out my article on fascines in a different context yet which shows the diverse uses and potential of fascines.
https://www.biodynamics.com/blog/fascines-ecojewels-landscape

Louis
 
Nancy Reading
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Thank you Louis for teaching me a new word "fascine". It seems like a more military word for what I would call (being politically correct on a US board) bundles of sticks or (more UK colloquially) a different word beginning with F.
I found another useful site for using fascines for coastal and river bank stabilisation here which may be of interest.
I did think about using stakes and woven willow/hazel as bank stabilisers, but decided that in my case it is not necessary. The willow does regrow from cuttings rather easily in my damp climate, and I do want the area to stay pretty open. The idea of using the willow to create biomass is attractive, and I think the key for me would be to use the willow cuttings to mulch themselves, since then any regrowth would be naturally shaded out over time, creating a slowly spreading island of biomass. I may try this at the upper edge of the water terraces where the willow could provide a bit more shelter and not too much shade.
The erosion you can see in the picture is my neighbour's property - steep slopes with sheep grazing causing poor turf with very short grass - they also make little sheep tracks which make little terraces over time. I do have a little erosion on my property on the opposite side to the chinampa, but the slope there is too steep and the erosion there is the gradual erosion of rock which I don't consider a problem, but a natural feature. The rock is washed into the stream, down into the river and is either deposited further down in the flood plain, or into the sea and beaches. This picture is taken in summer a few years ago from further up the gully and you can (hopefully) see how steep the bank on the left is.

source
 
Nancy Reading
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Here is a schematic I drew with me paddling in the water terraces!
chinampa_schematic.jpg
chinampa and water terrace schematic
chinampa and water terrace schematic
 
Nancy Reading
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Mud!


More mud!


Finally we've had a couple of days without rain and I've managed to get a little but more digging done. First off I dug out that piece of netting. Of course it went right under my lowest water terrace and into the area below, as well as through the lowest chinampa. Hopefuly it won't have broken the 'seal' at the bottom lip too badly. I replaced the turf there and stomped it well in. It turned out to be quite a large bit of netting, no idea why it was lying in the marsh. There used to be a family with children here 30 odd years ago, so maybe the kids were playing with it. I don't have much use for it unfortunately, although I may keep it for a bit just in case.
chinampa digging Skye UK
Chinampa area from hill on West side - found net spread out to dry

So having had to move most of the wood on the chinampa, I put it all back again plus some more and dug the turf along the top edge of the second water terrace as well. I'm losing my reference sticks a bit, so that seemed the easiest way of keeping track of where the edges of the beds are going. The turf went upside down on the chinampa bed. Looking from below it makes me realise now quite how steep the area actually is. it didn't look so when it was a gentle slope before I started digging, however the lower wall of the chinampa is already as tall as my spade. I do need to make the water terrace a little deeper, but it is still pretty wet there and I don't want to lose my wellies in the mud!
Chinampa digging Skye UK
Spade showing height of chinampa lower bank

I still need to sort out some more wood for the higher chinampa, and I'd quite like to generate enough to make a raised bed above the top water terrace as well, but that could be a future exercise I suppose. It's nice to have been able to get on with preparing it a bit however - I'm looking forwards to planting things!
 
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Just thinking outside the square.
Is there something like a show shoe you can wear to stop sinking into the mud>
Just thinking!!
 
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Believe it or not!!
May I present " mudderboots"
snow shoes/ mud shoes

From; Utilize expandable wings to provide 180 square inches of support when crossing soft terrain.
Worn over boots or waders, the wings expand as you step onto soft surfaces to increase boot area by four times and then retract to 8” when you lift your foot.
Webbing on the underside of the wings forms a sealed chamber to trap air and eliminate ”suction” common with other footwear.
Quick cinch-and-release boot straps
Sold by the pair, One size fits all
There are surface conditions that are not suited for Mudders. We do not warranty top performance in all mud conditions.
Please use caution when using Mudders in new areas.
Mudders are not a flotation device and will not perform in certain suspensions (i.e. quicksand, glacial silt or areas which are comprised of centuries of decayed vegetation).
Snowshoes have the same challenge. Smaller snowshoes work well in packed snow. Large snowshoes are needed for light new fallen snow.
In some “powder” snow conditions, snowshoes will not function well.

$US150 They have a mix of reviews on the web site that are worth reading
UK OUTLET has more information https://www.bushwear.co.uk/products/bushwear-ex-demo-mudders-used-good-condition
 
Nancy Reading
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John C Daley wrote:Believe it or not!!
May I present " mudderboots"



Brilliant! I loved the video on the site, thank you. I'm pretty sure my wellies will suffice once the rain eases off though. But those do look well engineered for estuary conditions. I remember in one of the Swallows and Amazons books (The big six?) that they had mud shoes like snow shoes made of wicker to spread the load on the tidal mud.
 
Nancy Reading
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Well the weather has not been conducive to much digging so I haven't got much further. I did dig a little more out of the first water terrace and got  some depth to that. Interestingly I found a bit of what appeared to be perfectly preserved manure (horse?) at a depth of about 18 inches. Somebody must have been wallowing in mud a few decades ago!
First snow stopped play, then it rained and rained and rained.....
It hasn't stopped raining much yet, but I'm happy to report that it looks like I got the levels pretty good on the first water terrace:

chinampa-paddy-water-crop-skye
water terrace level full

This has just filled itself from run off and the surface springs. I'm still wanting to make the water a little deeper, and am longing to start planting! I have been gathering more wood for the next chinampa and probably have enough to get that laid out now at least.

I've put in about 5 elderflower bushes uphill from the chinampa to give a bit of habitat diversity. I learnt on the garden master video course that  they have extra-floral nectaries -i.e. feed pollinators even when the flowers aren't in bloom, so more elder seem like a good idea. At least, these are Sambucus nigra, not American elder, so I hope the nectaries are there on the European species too.

 
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Could you say more about your approach for growing wasabi? I am just a year into growing it in the Kentucky mountains and I wonder if our climates might be similar enough for me to learn from what works with you. It's quite wet here, and our coldest winters reach down to 10 Fahrenheit/-12 Celsius.

Do I understand your post to be that you know wasabi to do well growing in a dry space along a waterway that doesn't freeze in the winter?
 
Nancy Reading
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Hi Mark. I have an extremely temperate climate - not only relatively warm in winter: -5 (Celsius) is a really hard 'normal frost we have had -10 C but not while I was growing wasabi. Also the summer temperatures are typically 12 -15 degrees Celsius. 22 degrees is about the hottest I've experienced, so protection from heat is likely to be just as important for you perhaps? We also get rain year round.
When I've grown wasabi successfully before it was in a wooden tub - half barrel filled with spent compost. It was located just by our kitchen door and only got a glimpse of morning sun perhaps. It also got most of the dregs from our teapot (we drink a lot of tea!) so with that and the rain was kept pretty damp. It seemed to do well, and got to flowering after a few years. I knew we needed to move the planter, so I made the mistake of planting the wasabi all out in the ground. They were in all different places here and at my borrowed garden. They all seem to have gone unfortunately. I actually suspect slugs as being the main culprit, so intend to take a few extra precautions when I plant out my new plants.
Logically, running water cannot be less than 0 degrees Celsius, and I've measured our stream to be pretty constantly about 12 degrees year round (the springs are only a short way up the hill). When we had the hard freezing spell a decade or so ago the burn did freeze in places so I suspect extra precautions may  need to be taken if that happens again. I gather the plants need constant humidity but not necessarily to be standing in water. I found this irish wasabi site which has some lovely photos!
 
Nancy Reading
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A week's dry weather meant that the lowest water terrace was dry enough for me to finish off digging it out today. Because I'm hoping to plant in the water as well as the chinampa, I didn't make it one depth, but deepest in the middle. There was still a bit of water, but I managed without losing my wellies in the mud. I'm not intending to add water creatures myself, but I spotted a water beetle already scooting about in the puddle.
I found a bit of old hose, cut off the worst bit and mended a hole, and used this to fill the hole with water from the stream. While that was trickling I had a go at the next water terrace and chinampa. I had already tidied up the wood I had collected, so it was ready to be covered with turf/soil. It was fairly steady going, but much easier than earlier in the year. There did seem to be a bit of a spring still running once I got down to the second spit of soil, but I managed to get that dug out as well.

chinampa in scotland
digging second water terrace

Initially I thought I'd need to run some pipes through the chinampa to get the water levels. Actually, by extending the water terrace beyond the chinampa on the uphill side, I am hoping to let the water overflow over the ground there. This makes a marshy edge to the chinampa, where I can do more marshy planting. It does mean that the water only flows in one end of each water terrace however. It would be better if there was a flow along it, but I think it is deep enough that the water won't get stagnant at the far end. There will be seepage all along the water terrace under the chinampa anyhow if I got my levels right! The idea is that only the top water terrace will be hose fed, the lower ones should be filled by seepage from the upper one.

chinampa in scotland
Second water terrace and chinampa finished - lower terrace full

Having dug the two water terraces and two chinampa, I'm hoping to start planting those tomorrow, and maybe get the last water terrace finished too. I've been gathering up the various water plants to see what has survived the winter. I think my Colocasia may have died. We did get a pretty hard winter, and my polytunnel (where it was living in the pond) has no cover. I've just popped them still in their pots into the water for the moment, although I am intending to plant into the soil there.
I still have a bit of wood left over. I was going to do a third chinampa, but I think I will do a larger upper water terrace instead, mind you I will need to put the soil somewhere so I'll have to have another look in daylight. I am planting more blueberries in my tree field, so the wood would come in there as well to make mini hugelbeds for them.
 
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Nice inventive use of space!

How does caltrop taste??

 
Nancy Reading
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Joshua Myrvaagnes wrote:Nice inventive use of space!

How does caltrop taste??



Thank you.
I actually don't know first hand what caltrop tastes like. It is supposed to taste like water chestnuts, although it is a bit more fuss to cook. I've had difficulty getting seed to start with here. I'm not sure how it will do outside; it may need warmer summers. I initially hoped to grow it in the polytunnel pond, which will still be the fallback if it doesn't like it outside.

I've got a bit of an update to write up as well on the earth moving/digging, so watch this space.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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In Massachusetts caltrop is/was invasive.  There are lots of recipes on line for breads and stuff (singhara atta is the name).

It should be easy to grow if you get some but I don’t know about processing and how good a fodder it would be for hogs or chickens.
 
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Regarding recipes, I may have spoken too soon, what I see in the picture looks different from the 4-thorned caltrop we have around here.
But different from the sedge version of “water chestnut “
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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They can be propagated by getting stuck in birds’ feathers, and are viable for 12 years, so maybe better to forage them rather than cultivating outdoors.

It looks like you boil the shells and then peel
 
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Joshua Myrvaagnes wrote:They can be propagated by getting stuck in birds’ feathers, and are viable for 12 years, so maybe better to forage them rather than cultivating outdoors.


Interesting - I suspect that this is climate dependent. I can't find any evidence that it is likely to be a problem in the UK (foraging therefore not an opiton! edit: or even an option!) but will bear that in mind if my experiment is too successful.
 
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Climate dependent, yes, and we're about the same as you--2-5 C average temperatures in January.  It certainly can overwinter here.  

If you have a livestock guardian dog then I doubt any birds are going in for a swim and smuggling them out in their feathers, but if not I'd really be careful on these, they didn't think it could possibly be a problem here in Massachusetts but people are still complaining about them half a century later...it might be fine keeping them in some form of containment.
 
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As promised, a bit of an update.
I've been a bit disappointed by the level achieved in my second water terrace. There is obviously a little underground fissure, and the water level is an inch or two below where I hoped it would be. This means it is not flowing over what was intended to be marshy area on the edge away from the stream. It obviously will still be pretty damp, but not as soggy as I'd hoped.
chinampa design
Dry marsh from bottom and plant holding area

So, what to do? I wondered about making the levels of the marsh gap a bit lower to achieve the overflow, but what I'm inclining towards is to actually fill in the overflow and blend the chinampa into the hill slope a bit more smoothly. Maybe also filling in the water terrace a little to make a marshy area at the upper end. I was thinking that the chinampa were turning out a bit taller than I had anticipated, so this way it will reduce their height slightly and also make the earthworks look more natural.
For the time being I've concentrated on extending the system and creating the third water terrace and chinampa. These are much wider and flatter than the lower ones. The chinampa is actually a bit more like a cushion hugel - just a raised bed with sticks underneath which will blend into the hillside above in time.
chinampa construction Scotland
marking out top water terrace

I haven't quite dug enough to be able to put the hose in the top water terrace yet, you get the idea of the finished area now. I think I'll be able to run the hose under the turf a bit, thus protecting it from the weather and hiding it from view making it all look a little more natural. I'm quite keen to see where the water level ends up on the top water terrace!
chinampa construction Scotland
Top water terrace and chinampa taking shape

The dogs have been playing and running through the water quite a bit, much to the detriment of my plant pots, but maybe they'll help to seal the leak! I have moved most of my accumulated water plants from their various holding areas to the lowest water terrace, so that I can start to plan where they are going to go. I've already spread the Wapato tubers along the edge of the second water terrace. Hopefully they will find places that they like there.



 
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Ah, I thought I'd put another update in, but not to worry, catching up now.

So, I finished digging the top water terrace and filled it. As suspected the water level was again a bit lower than I'd hoped. What I did then was blend the chinampa mounds into the hill, so they (hopefully) look a bit more like oxbow lakes or a more natural feature at least. The banks on the chinampa are still very steep, but the ends blend into the hillside and stream bank more softly. I turned the edging turf over to make a little beach to plant bog plants in.

 chinampa uk
view from below chinampa

I was looking at them and noticed the similarity between these and the natural springs I have slightly further up in the gully, and wondered why I didn't think of converting these; there would have been no need for an extra water source for example. I think the reason I didn't was because the springs are rather lovely natural features and "improving" them, would spoil them too. They have water mint and irises and other bog loving plants that blend into the drier ground around them. They are also not really wet all year round - just surface water springs, so would still need some additional water input if I wanted standing water as I do.
I cut the hose in two, in the hope that the spare piece would be long enough to act as the second feed, but had to extend it with another small bit of hose to make it reach. The water level, even with the additional feed, is still a bit low, but I'm thinking it will do.

chinampa pond water earthworks digging uk
finished earthworks from above

I'll leave both pipes in - the extra one will add a bit of redundancy should one pipe get blocked. I'll bury them in in such a way that I can get the lower ends out should I need to restart the syphon.
I've got a few plants on order, which ought to arrive tomorrow, so I can start planting soon! It's a little late to transplant some of the plants I've got in different areas (like bistort) but I think they'll recover OK. I may sow buckwheat and oats in the upper part just to cover the soil in the short term.

I think I forgot to mention I had relocated some tadpoles from my pond down the hill into the lowest water terrace. I wouldn't normally do this in such a new pond, but the pond they were in was down to a very small muddy puddle and I was worried that it may dry out completely, which it often does in spring. As it happened we did get a little rain a day or two later, so they may have been alright buried in the mud, however they seem quite happy in the water up here and are growing legs!
 
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Interesting that I'm reading this just after reading a foraging book about all the useful foods that cattails can provide. Unfortunately, the place I'd like to try to hold water and see if slow seepage from the slope above it would keep it wet enough for cattails, is inundated with Himalayan Blackberries.

So as inspiring as your efforts are, I will have to wait... but at least I can vicariously enjoy your chinampas in the meantime!
 
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This just keeps looking nicer and nicer! Shame about the marshy overflow area, but seems like it'll turn out just beautifully in any case.

Regarding water caltrops: I don't think those of us who live in Europe have to worry about these being invasive. They are native to at least large parts of Europe, and have become quite rare or regionally extinct in a lot of places. I don't know about the UK, but we used to have caltrops in southern Sweden up until the early 1900s. Apparently their range extended way further north during the Bronze Age heat period (up to mid-Sweden at least) so what with global warming and all it might be time to reintroduce them. I actually just ordered some plants...
 
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Eino Kenttä wrote:
Regarding water caltrops: I don't think those of us who live in Europe have to worry about these being invasive. They are native to at least large parts of Europe, and have become quite rare or regionally extinct in a lot of places. I don't know about the UK, but we used to have caltrops in southern Sweden up until the early 1900s. Apparently their range extended way further north during the Bronze Age heat period (up to mid-Sweden at least) so what with global warming and all it might be time to reintroduce them. I actually just ordered some plants...


Thanks for this comment Eino, I had beens slightly concerned about invasiveness, but rationalised that they need hot summers, so may not set seed here anyhow. According to pfaf, they were used as food in neolithic Britain, so at least used to be native here, so I'm not worrying now at all.
I've got my plants now. I wasn't really prepared for how pretty the water caltrop are, and the bladders that keep them afloat are fascinatingly spongy.
 
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The plants are in!
I'll put the pictures in as attachments so you'll be able to enlarge them to see details. It looks a bit bare at the moment - the plants are all pretty small, but will bulk up in a year or so (hopefully). I haven't got bulrush/cattails in the end. I decided that maybe this area wasn't the best choice for it. I would still like to try it, but I might put in in near my pond by the river, where there is more space and it won't be in danger of swamping other interesting water plants.
I've mostly buried the feeder hoses now and covered the last 6 feet or so with stones, so they will be easy to find but hidden from view. I've covered the ends so they run out over a rock into the top water terrace to avoid erosion.
So I'm pretty happy with how it looks now. I'm wondering though whether I ought to think about mulching the dry areas. We're going through a bit of a dry spell just now, and the earth is looking a bit dusty. I have plenty of cut grass and I'm thinking a covering of this might protect the soil and maybe give the soil organisms a helping hand.

Some minor issues:
The dogs like to bathe in the water, which is likely to disturb the marginal plants a bit. The caltrop is looking a bit bashed too! I'm not sure it's going to survive. Once the plants get established the dogs bathing won't be a problem.
This area is also not within my deer fence, so I may get issues with deer eating the plants and going in the water.
I've got a bit more planting to do above the top water terrace, and the soil is generally looking a bit bare. I did put in some comfrey and some more elder there, but they will take a bit of time to establish. I'm thinking for this year to sow some buckwheat asd a temporary groundcover. It seems a bit incongruous, but will be better than leaving the soil bare whilst the plants get going. I may put some herbs in there and keep my eye out for other sun loving plants. The top bank has ended up being rather well drained, although the sticks underneath should also help with water retention, it is really above the natural marshy area.
chinampa-fom-top-bank-after-planting.jpg
Chinampa and water terraces in marshy area edible pond plants
Chinampa and water terraces from top bank after planting
top-terrace-after-planting.jpg
marshy area edible pond plants
Top water terrace after planting
 
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I just finished a pdc and have developed a fascination with chinampas too. They featured in my final design for 4 acres in the UK. Looking forward to following yours Nancy.
 
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Nancy, it's just amazing what you've done.  I get exhausted just looking at the piles of saturated clay.  How did you shovel all that?? while you probably had 5 pounds on each boot, and some stuck to the shovel?  

But the results look great.  Congrats.

For what it's worth, cattails are a real pain.  They multiply faster than anything, will dominate a planting, and are a real struggle to stay up with.  If the water  and soil doesn't freeze then you'll be the only thing that knocks them back.  I have hours every year of trying to keep them somewhat under control, they always race out ahead of me in the spring.  

I even put some in containers making a grey-water reed filter bed, they grew like crazy, almost burst the containers.  Then I stopped using a couple of the containers, needed the water for hugel trenches, everything looked dead, dry as toast in there, it started raining again, and some still came up!  Very difficult to stop them, it takes a lot of work.

But they are a good plant with lots of uses.  Even the fluff that comes out of the seed head can be used like down fill in a jacket, although I'd take care not to breathe in the little bits while handling it.  12 cattail heads to fill a medium jacket. But that fluff also is dispersed in the wind, and those things will show up wherever there's water, relentless.  
 
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Cristo Balete wrote:I even put some in containers making a grey-water reed filter bed, they grew like crazy, almost burst the containers.

Yes, they likely slurped up anything useful in the grey water like crazy! They are certainly not that aggressive in my ecosystem.

But they are a good plant with lots of uses.  

Have you eaten any parts of them? I book I just read has recipes for parts of them, but I'm wondering if you've ever eaten any parts and what your experience was?
 
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Cristo Balete wrote:Nancy, it's just amazing what you've done.  I get exhausted just looking at the piles of saturated clay.  How did you shovel all that?? while you probably had 5 pounds on each boot, and some stuck to the shovel?  

But the results look great.  Congrats.


Thanks Cristo! Luckily my soil is silt not clay, so it wasn't that bad to shovel - at least it comes off the tools fairly well, although I did get pretty muddy! My trouble now is that we are having an unusual dry spell (it's lovely!). The water is still flowing just now - the burn rarely actually dries up - fed by good long term springs, but the newly exposed soil is really dusty. I'm watering the new plants since they haven't got their roots down yet, and am thinking of using some cut grass and other summer growth for mulch. Next year it will be fine, and the water planst are obviously OK, but the blueberries, rhubarb, comfrey, elder, cranberries and strawberries are all a bit vulnerable just now.
I'm getting a bit of algae growth, as would be expected, in the lower two water terraces - presumably some nutrients washing through from the chinampas above.
 
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I was hoping to give a more positive update now the plants have had a chance to settle in. Most of them are doing fine. The cranberries flowered well, but haven't set fruit as far as I can tell. They seem to like it better here than where I have planted them in the past when they just faded away. All the blueberrie bushes are good, and we now have more consistent showers of rain, so I haven't needed to give them extra water this month. The rhubarb I moved from a spot where the soil was a bit shallow for it and already it looks happier in it's new home. I seem to have lost the bogbean, but that was a struggling little thing and I have seen some up on the moors so should be able to get more local plants.
Unfortunately the deer have been through and given many of the plants a haircut - one of the wasabi is just a few stems and they also grazed the Hosta and Colocasia pretty well. Hopefully they will grow back OK. I don't tend to see evidence of the deer here very often, so I hope it doesn't become a hangout for them or I'll have to look at some deterents,
I sowed in some buckwheat to fill in the bare soil a bit, but it hasn't germinated that thickly. On the upper terrace bank I have a lot of marsh woundwort coming through. This seems to have grown from roots that I planted last year and survived the earth moving. I wasn't going to put a root crop up there however, since it will be difficult to harvest through the wood of the hugel. I did plant some marsh woundwort below the lowest water terrace, but I'm not sure how that is doing. There is also a lot of regrowth of meadowsweet and yarrow, as well as grass and tormentil.
The water level has maybe dropped a trifle; one of the hoses has become slightly clogged, although is still trickling through. I need to fish them both out of the stream and sort out a filter to prevent debris from clogging them up again.

Pictures show the chinampa from above with Dyson demonstrating the dog bath, and the munched stalks from the deer damage.
chinampa_from_above_first_year.jpg
edible aquatic water plants planting idea chinampa
Chinampa and water terraces from above
truncated_woundwort_deer_damage.jpg
deer damage to marsh woundwort
deer damage to marsh woundwort
 
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Deer like hostas - they killed the ones that came with the property. Have you got extra garlic? Planting garlic bulbs 3-4 inches out from plants they like *might* discourage them, or something like Egyptian walking onions. Both of those might not fit your eco-system?

Nice to see plants are settling in. Good luck with not loosing too many of them!
 
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