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Chinampas - Has anyone built one?

 
Posts: 225
Location: S.E. Michigan - Zone 6a
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Hello,

I have about 2 acres that would be (I think) ideal for a chinampa system. I'm able to find a lot of information about the ones in Mexico and Central America from times gone past, but I cannot find anything about them being built in riecient times or in my latitude (S.E. Michigan). I would like to know if anyone here on permies has built chinampas or knows any that have been built in the past 50 years.

I would like to form a group to collaborate on building a chinampa system. This would including documenting what works and what doesn't and how to best deal with the various departments of making you sad. I'm all for doing what I know is good and then asking for forgiveness latter, but I have a fear the fines that could be imposed. In my area it doesn't matter how great for the environment something is, if it is against the rules then YOU MUST BE PUNISHED!!! Therefore we need to brainstorm some strategies on how to get this approved by the powers that be. Much like Ernie & Erica with the RMH, this is unknown and new (to them) so it doesn't align with something they already have a box they can check. Therefore anyone that has any letters after their name or some other credentials that would impress those in the permit approval process would help as well. There is evidence that there were prehistoric garden beds in MI & WI and there is a retired professor from Univ of MI (only a few miles away from me) who has had a long interest in the chinampas of Mexico and did field research there in the past. This may be something the help with the approval process.

Is there some kind of wiki type of function at permis to document the final findings? Or would it be better over at Appropedia?
 
pollinator
Posts: 439
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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I think there are a few aspects of the chinampas that could come into play.

One is in raising some vegetative production near a standing water source (ditch, stream, soggy lowland..) and using that as a source for watering the bed while keeping the plants out of permanent water. That one I have done and out whatever scale it's really just mounding some earth next to the water feature.

The second is where I think traditionally most chinampas were put in to reclaim land for crops from streams and swamps (like being Dutch on a very small scale..). That side I haven't really done, and that side is more ligely to have strict regulations around it.

I'm sure you can see that you really need to think through future access with a chinampas design. Also I think it pays to design the aqua side at the same time as the terra side because of the close interactions.

What are you thinking of producing?
 
Jerry Ward
Posts: 225
Location: S.E. Michigan - Zone 6a
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To be honest I haven't considered what to plant. I was thinking some traditional vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, squash ...) and wondered how fruit trees would do. Plus there is the fish harvest and I want some bamboo which should do good. I was thinking of all the mound fingers connecting at one end and all the water fingers connecting at the other. I would need to have at least one deep hole someplace for bigger fish to live. I have tried to figure out that the laws are regarding wetlands. I understand the rules are trying to prevent draining and filling, but this concept of creating open water and mounds does not appear to be covered.
 
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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To me, Chinampas look like wicking beds on a grand scale. And yeah, lots of people use wicking beds.
 
master pollinator
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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One issue in colder climates would be the effect on soil temperature. You might need to build a little higher off of the water source when growing hot weather crops.

Lots of people here on Vancouver Island grow peppers, egg plants etc. Just a few feet down, soil temperature can be in the 50s. Boggy ground allows the lower soil to absorb heat. Those crops can't grow here under those conditions.

Some crops such as brassica will benifit from a reduction in summer heat. Southern Michigan can get pretty hot. In northern Michigan, low soil temperature and slow spring warm up can be detrimental to many crops. It could shorten the season in places that need every frost free day to count.

I think the trick will be to set things up for wicking, without creating too much of a thermal connection to cold ground water.
 
pollinator
Posts: 3738
Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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Dale, what about the thermal mass of the water helping? I know Bill Mollison has suggested grapes would do well in chinampas because the would be less likely to frost.
 
Dale Hodgins
master pollinator
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Cj Verde wrote:Dale, what about the thermal mass of the water helping? I know Bill Mollison has suggested grapes would do well in chinampas because the would be less likely to frost.



Yes, I think you could stretch the cool end of the growing season. This would be great for lettuce, not much help with melons. The temperature of the surface water and the thermal connection to it are the important factors.

I saw some really nice gardens in Dawson City in Canada's Yukon Territory. There, gardens are situated to avoid contact with cold water that touches the permafrost a couple feet down. An extreme example for sure.

At my place, tomatoes do great on my hot southern slope. Water in my bog stays cold all year. For tomatoes to have a chance there, they would need to be thermally separated from the cold water. They are harvested before frost is much of an issue, so an extended season doesn't help them. I expect to carry kale and other stuff through the winter near the bog. The slope freezes solid sometimes.
 
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I would look at aquaponics and hydroponics or even bog gardens to find crops that tolerate lots of water. Myself, I was trying to imagine a system for growing rice or wild rice, or something like that. Duckweed and watercress are marvelous for feeding animals. You can also grow willow in a bog garden, for summer fodder and kindling and basket-making.
 
Posts: 3373
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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I built one once before I new what they were, basically on accident.

I had a boggy back yard, so I built a raised bed and ended up with a standing moat around it. Kept the racoons out of the corn!
 
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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i have built chinampas terraces here at the farm, they are amazing. i wish all the terraces i did were chinampas.
 
Jerry Ward
Posts: 225
Location: S.E. Michigan - Zone 6a
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Well in Paul's last podcast with Geoff they discussed my question about wet areas and Geoff said Chinampa, so I think I'm on the right track. However I'm very un-clear on navigating the various departments of making you sad. Is there anyone in MI that has experience in getting approval for this kind of thing? Before Google Earth and satalight images you might get away with doing something 1/4 mile off the road, but now....
 
Eric Thompson
pollinator
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Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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Phrase it in a more acceptable sense: "Improving an existing drainage system."
 
pollinator
Posts: 517
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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From what I have read, a chinampa was not simply a grow bed with a moat. It was more like a lasagna garden bed with a moat. It was constantly subsiding through decay of the lower layers and constantly being renewed with fresh layers of nutrient rich mud and mulch. The canals acted as a sewage lagoon for the city which is why the mud was such a good fertilizer. It was highly productive, highly labor intensive and required massive water works to maintain consistent water levels and water quality.

I am unsure how the powers that be would react to developing chinampas. They can get pretty officious and offensive when it comes to wetlands. A wetlands designation is one of those things that allows them to effectively take away your land. A bureaucrat's ...dream (there's a good joke that can be made, but I will refrain).
 
Posts: 1444
Location: Fennville MI
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Yeah.. designated wetlands area often means you are not allowed to do anything to it. So the first question might be to determine how you learn whether a given location is a designated wetland. If it turns out that yours is, then you have to look further into what you may be able to get permission to do - or make an informed decision about going forward without permission.

If it turns out your area is not yet designated - then it would seem a good time to get busy making sure it won't be, because you are actively utilizing it and it is not simply a natural wetland ecosystem.

 
Jerry Ward
Posts: 225
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Wow talk about confusing regulations

regulation

I cannot even tell what they are saying.
 
Peter Ellis
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Jerry, that actually looked pretty good for you. Provisions for farming use without permit under that statute were broad. There is another section that deals with the "inventory" of wetlands and has the counties maintain records of designated wetlands. Should be able to contact a county person and get information on where the wetlands are.

Might start by asking an extension agent if they know where to get the info.
 
Jerry Ward
Posts: 225
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Yeah I was particularly glad to see a permit is not needed for "Construction or maintenance of farm or stock ponds". But can I use the dirt I dig out to build raised beds?
 
Cj Sloane
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Jerry, have you started work on it?
 
Jerry Ward
Posts: 225
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Not yet, finishing the house has took far longer than I expected. It is sounding like a 2015 project.
 
pollinator
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Maybe this has already been thought of since this is an ancient technique, but I wonder if there's any wisdom in these systems to selecting the corner trees to provide a canopy over the canal portion to reduce evaporation so your water levels can remain more consistent. The trees can be trained to canopy over the water but not too much over the growing bed while also fixing N or providing a crop/forage or both while sending down roots that help hold the substructure together and not wash out. Could one also select trees that work in a coppicing system to harvest RMH fuel or forage? In addition to fish, these could also be excellent for growing frogs and harvesting for legs and using the rest as a fertilizer for the beds once the system is cycling. I also wonder if the system could actually be termed a grey water purification system if designed properly to take in less than desirable water and output water that is useful for something. Gosh, the potential for these seem pretty amazing in the right environments. stack stack stack!!!
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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Dan Grubbs wrote:Maybe this has already been thought of since this is an ancient technique, but I wonder if there's any wisdom in these systems to selecting the corner trees to provide a canopy over the canal portion to reduce evaporation so your water levels can remain more consistent.



I think of seen this in the PDM. Mulberry's forming an arc over the canal with grapes growing up the Mulberry and a guy in a canoe picking the grapes.
 
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Here are two different takes on chinampas

First
Some Chinampas were actually floating beds. In many areas with ponds a inversion layer is created with warm water on the surface. In your northen area it is likely that surface area could be warm enough for crops late in the season. Think of it as pond hydroponics with the raft being the floating bed.


Second is using the water fingers as heat sinks to extend things like potato and cold fall crops. If you can miss early frosts you may get another week or two of growing time.
Your chinampas become raised beds between the water fingers protected by the heat coming off the water.


 
Posts: 231
Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
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How about combing chinampas and hugelkulture? This may be better in a cool climate. What I've envisioned is creating a pond or wetland and then placing a mixture of large diameter (like maybe 20 inches or more) and smaller blocked up timber vertically on end. One would have to experiment with what species to use but for the large pieces I'd start with silver maple or cottonwood which are in abundance here. The top would be covered with soil.

I'm thinking that the end grain of the wood as well as "veins" of soil extending downward would wick moisture up. Maybe the top end grain would take in excess moisture too. This along with the biological activity of hugelkulture could help with any spring warm-up issues.

I've been wanting to try this here for a couple of years now and will eventually get to it sometime soon. Has anyone else tried this?
 
Jerry Ward
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Another problem is the various departments of making you sad do not know what a Chinampa is and feel anything you do in a wet area is bad for the environment. I have yet found a way to deal with this.
 
Posts: 76
Location: central illinois
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Are you on a flood plain? If the state and federal regulators are involved that's a big deal and most people I know don't even try to get permits: they just do what they do below the radar.
 
michael Egan
Posts: 76
Location: central illinois
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one option might be mushrooms. If you have boggy land you could try getting some spawn and "planting" some inoculated sticks and you'd have a swamp full of shitakes or some kind of shrooms that need moisture to help them digest their food. If the regulator people don't like it you could just pull up the sticks.
 
Posts: 80
Location: Boston, MA, USA
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Jerry Ward, does joining the town's wetlands-delineating comission make sense? Is it volunteer-run?
 
Jerry Ward
Posts: 225
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Brian Cady wrote:Jerry Ward, does joining the town's wetlands-delineating comission make sense? Is it volunteer-run?



I don't think we have this in Michigan.
 
pollinator
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After a big and long period of the federal and state governments that dealt with wet-lands saying No ! Many have modified their positions, if a business wants to expand
into a wetlands area often now they can swap their old tired wetlands for a promise to build new modern and improved wet lands, often this involves a small change on a
map and you being allowed access to your own property via new roads and 'stuff 'to implement these changes, you get More control over your lands, lower tax's, a small
lease payment from the business that is now allowed to expand, and the Government gets to say they are the good guys ! Often your legislator will help close the deal to
get his face in the papers ! Y.M.M.V. Big AL
 
Brian Cady
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Jerry, can you get chinampas declared 'farmpond' before you build it, declared by the wetlands person? Could these chinampas go were no wetland was before, to ease 'farmpond' designation?

I heard once a horror story of a previous neighbor who dug a depression in a gravel/cobble glacial plain which filled with water. Years later when he went to fill it in, some said it might have become a wetland, so it had to get surveyed for wetland-characterising species. I never heard the final result there.

I think there's good reason for wetland protection in some places to protect habitat and flood zones. I also think chinampas are neat and hope to try some if these suit my topography. And I realize that these two thoughts don't exactly fit together, and am not sure what to do about that. Being currently landless, I've got time to figure myself and this out, I guess.
 
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Jerry, you have not actually said whether or not the land in question is in a designated wet land. If it is, then you can, according to Section 324.30305, 2e. Created and use Chinampas horticulture methods. The idea of creating fingers would come under 2e i and 2e ii, which would require a permit if not started by 1980, which it sounds like it was not.

If your land is not in a designated wetland at this time, you can do what you desire, and if in the future your land were to be included in a designation of wetlands, it would by these same regulations, be grandfathered in.
 
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