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Chinampas

 
Cj Sloane
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I've decided to attempt a few chinampas & I'm looking for suggestions about orientation. Should they be set up to mimic the edge of the pond (i.e. on contour) or perpendicular to the pond edge? Does solar orientation have any sway on the decision?

According to this pic I guess perpendicular to the edge but I'm looking for comments:


The chinampas will be next to a large man-made pond which is probably 40 years old. It gets filled up in the fall and stays full till summer and then level starts dropping. I've got a golden opportunity now to set these up while the water level is low. I've got tons of wood available & will use it to mark out the chinampas & build them up above future pond level. That's why I picked the hugelkultur thread as opposed to earthwork.

The plan is to plant productive trees in the chinampas. I'll post some pics later.
 
bob day
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Hi,

I'm going to ask about something you've probably thought about, so i would like to hear your solutions.

it seems like prolonged time in a saturated bed would be damaging, or at least limiting to many trees roots, some of course thrive in standing water, were you only going to plant those tolerant species, also unless you were using dwarf stock it seems like the beds would have to be very wide to accommodate the roots

how did you plan to manage the settling of the beds as the wood rots?
probably more important factors than perpendicular or horizontal( chinampas are normally set up on a flat level area)

would be designing according to light sectors or any other factors that might impact the particular crops or types of fish, natural barriers, convenience to harvest, etc

It also seems at maturity the trees will cast a lot of shade, how will that affect whatever you have growing in between?

and if there is a slope where you are digging the canals that could be an interesting edge to design with if the beds were set up so there was less water at one end than the other

I think the original chinampas that were so productive were always flooded, and a large part of the productivity was fish systems and other water crops

what are the specific advantages of a chinampa type system here over other possible arrangements?
 
Cj Sloane
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Bob, I think those are all good questions and I want to take some time to think about them.

In the meantime, here's a question I asked geoff lawton during the online PDC last year:
Vermont is famous for having 5 seasons, the 5th is known as "mud season." What permaculture techniques would help during mud season?
His answer was "Chinampas."

Also, here's Ben Falk talking about swales in Vermont but I think the benefits could apply to chinampas too (start at the 2 minute mark)


 
Cj Sloane
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Here's the spot I'm going to try this:
CHINAMPA.png
[Thumbnail for CHINAMPA.png]
 
Cj Sloane
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bob day wrote:
it seems like prolonged time in a saturated bed would be damaging, or at least limiting to many trees roots, some of course thrive in standing water, were you only going to plant those tolerant species, also unless you were using dwarf stock it seems like the beds would have to be very wide to accommodate the roots


Based on how the black locust is thriving in Ben Falk's video, despite not liking wet feet, I don't think it'll be a problem as long as the chinampa is high enough. I'll probably plant a variety to see what works best but water loving trees like Mulberry and Willow are bound to be included. Also, there is already an island in this pond and it's totally treed.
 
Cj Sloane
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bob day wrote:
how did you plan to manage the settling of the beds as the wood rots?


Not sure. Maybe by chopping and dropping material it'll make up for the settling.
 
Cj Sloane
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bob day wrote:
would be designing according to light sectors or any other factors that might impact the particular crops or types of fish, natural barriers, convenience to harvest, etc


I hadn't really thought about the any of those factors.
 
Cj Sloane
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bob day wrote:
It also seems at maturity the trees will cast a lot of shade, how will that affect whatever you have growing in between?


I'm picturing this as like a fedge (food hedge) with maybe a few tall fruit trees thrown into the mix, or maybe the trees will be pollarded to be kept on the small side.
 
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bob day wrote:if there is a slope where you are digging the canals that could be an interesting edge to design with if the beds were set up so there was less water at one end than the other


There is a slope but I'm not digging canals - just raising land above water level. I agree, there are some interesting edge possibilities.
 
Cj Sloane
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bob day wrote:
I think the original chinampas that were so productive were always flooded, and a large part of the productivity was fish systems and other water crops


Your correct - but - this land is basically not productive at all right now which is weird because is should be more productive because of the edge effect. There are fish in the pond but very difficult to catch (cat fish & crayfish). I have toyed with the idea of a short dam wall that would allow water and fish access when the water level is high, and as the water lever drops the fish get trapped there.
 
Cj Sloane
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bob day wrote:
what are the specific advantages of a chinampa type system here over other possible arrangements?


Now that is the trickiest question of all!

I could try to plant water edge species like blueberry and asparagus except that during spring (traditional planting time) the area would be underwater! So the chinampa would correct that.
 
alex Keenan
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Why not go with something that likes wet areas like elderberry. It will not grow super tall and berries can be harvested.
 
bob day
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I think much of this is a question of definition and naming new types of systems

swales work well because oxygenated water is flowing, albeit slowly, downhill, with water on both sides and on level ground, the water would be more anaerobic, but you are right that the idea of digging a trench (or swale) or chanampa can solve mud by simply putting half of the land higher and giving half of the land to water, having those trenches connected to the pond would also serve to give the pond more water during the drought of summer, since probably there is excess when it is raining that will easily fill to max both pond and trenches, so as the pond recedes the water in the trenches will feed down to the pond, so even though the trenches may go dry they will keep your pond higher in summer, which could be a benefit in several ways. you might even consider wider deeper trenches or enlarging the pond and building an island, all sorts of possibilities for edge effects

have you got any other water projects for above the pond, swales, gabions, anything that might increase available water for the summer months, being able to keep those trenches full most of the summer would help your production in many ways, the idea of having gates like the ones geoff installed on that feeding station adjoining his fish pond, where he trains the fish to come into the pond for food and then traps them there for harvest

you might even set up some sort of food production for the bigger fish in the chanampas, i think catfish primarily are vegetarians and scavengers, maybe giving them access to some kang kong, duck weed, or azolla... might be enough to make them regular feeders in the canal

there are probably other fish that might do well with them--we used to fish for catfish and carp that were in the same places (more or less) maybe you could introduce some carp /goldfish--i have some that grew from 1 inch 38cent walmart specials that now have a hundred or so babies and are 6 or 7 inches long, took about three years or so,
 
Cj Sloane
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bob day wrote:...chanampa can solve mud by simply putting half of the land higher and giving half of the land to water, having those trenches connected to the pond would also serve to give the pond more water during the drought of summer


The thing is I'm building the chinampa where the water has receded so it's not going to have more water draining in.

bob day wrote:have you got any other water projects for above the pond, swales, gabions, anything that might increase available water for the summer months, being able to keep those trenches full most of the summer would help your production in many ways,


There is a nearby stream that has a small (6") dam wall and a pipe coming out of it. I used it to give water to the livestock and sometimes the garden. It runs all but 2 weeks of the year but this year it never dried up. I could probably put in yet another "T" to have water going to the chinampa but it's probably not necessary. The water table is pretty high.

bob day wrote:there are probably other fish that might do well with them--we used to fish for catfish and carp that were in the same places (more or less) maybe you could introduce some carp /goldfish--i have some that grew from 1 inch 38cent walmart specials that now have a hundred or so babies and are 6 or 7 inches long, took about three years or so,

Carp are already well established, we just don't utilize them. Unfortunately the pond doesn't stay cold enough for bass or trout.

We might be getting some [free] ducks soon. There are 3 species that fly in at various times of the year.
 
bob day
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can't think of much else to offer, sounds like an interesting project. there are probably lots of equally good designs, would be good to see your progress with whatever you decide

 
Cj Sloane
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Here's my first layer of wood/outline for the chinampa:


The water level should be about 2' higher in a few months. I'm a little worried about the wood floating away but I think I can weight it down after it gets built up.
 
bob day
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it looks like most of the wood will be above the water level anyway, does the slope there get lots of water running down?

it may be a trick of the camera, but that looks like the slope is well above 2 feet above the current pond level , and laying out the beds more on contour might be the better alternative, especially since ot looks like the area has more of a slope to it.

the beds would get somewhat drier as you went away from the pond, but edges can be fun to play with.
 
Cj Sloane
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I didn't explain it well. The highest log would be 2 feet under water.
 
bob day
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so how much does the water level actually rise-- or what is the difference in elevation between the level now and the expanded level after the monsoons
 
Cj Sloane
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If you scroll to almost the top of the thread you'll see a pic I posted before I put the logs down. There is a culvert which acts as an overflow point and it does get used. In the winter the whole thing is covered in snow, including the culvert.

I'm not sure I understand the elevation question. The current water level could rise 3-4' I guess and it was the 3rd wettest July on record. Not that I could tell because it conveniently rained at night.
 
bob day
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I'm trying to understand if there is a hill above that culvert, and i assume there is at least some elevation, and whether "chinampas" arranged perpendicular to the contour might increase erosion.

if the land was flat the arrangement of the chinampas could be done according to sun sectors etc, but it almost looks like this might be better treated more like a seasonally inundated swale on contour, especially if you want nutrient from the land above to be trapped in the beds, rather than eroding down the slope into the lake.

if you need a ditch to allow water to come up and fill the channels between them you might slightly bend that end of the swale slightly higher off contour to help trap nutrients carried up from the pond, while retaining what was already there from runoff

or even have one perpendicular ditch and ditches coming off that run away from it slightly downhill

or do like geoff did, have the perpendicular channel there but fill it with gravel, or install a mini gabion down near the pond

i don't have a worked out design in my head, too much about the landscape i don't know, just throwing out ideas as they come to me, maybe you can use some of them, maybe not

were you thinking the ditches and land between would all be level ie ditches at one level maybe low enough to be permanently under water or at least filled more of the year and elevated land at another level, or would the height vary as they approach the pond
 
Cj Sloane
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It's a small test to see if I can make a 3' x 40' strip of land productive which isn't productive at all right now because it's underwater half the year. I foresee many unforeseen issues!
 
bob day
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are you doing this by hand? looks like a lot of work
 
Cj Sloane
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Yes by hand but I'm cutting down a bunch of trees close by. In a month or so I could use those logs like that for mushrooms but right now it's either stack 'em up for a chinampa test or cut 'em smaller for next years firewood, and I already have a fair amount cut up for next year.

Why not wait a month to cut them down and use them for mushrooms? While the leaves are still green I can feed the tops to my cows.

Not sure how much I'll get done before the water level of the pond rises. If it doesn't get finished this year then there's always next year.
 
Cj Sloane
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Haven't made much progress but the dry spell has continued, giving me more time:


I've moved the logs closer to the pond and will work my way outwards. If they logs stay put I plan to cover them with mud & dirt in the spring, then plant ... I'm not sure yet, maybe hazels & mulberries. Any productivity would be a vast improvement because this area is totally unproductive right now.
 
bob day
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looks like you've been busy.

sounds like a great experiment. i have an overflow from my pond where i've started to pile up rocks leaving a nice flat area in between and it's getting lots of branches and such as part of cleanup, and i'll add some soil and hopefully start a nice little reed bed to trap escaping nutrients from the fish, maybe if i get a little more light in the area grow kang kong.

 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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