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Thoughts of Milpaculture

This is the first of the brighter mornings on the astronomical path that brings us to springtime. So, this morning, my thoughts are tending toward the garden, which, even in its current frozen state, retains some green beneath the snow. I’m reminded of how much work it needs – work in the soil, with the roots of plants that have crowded out those that I want to grow.

So, I’m having fantasies of milpaculture. The milpa is an ancient mesoamerican form of agriculture. In a relatively simple form, it was found in North America with the three sisters: corn, beans and squash. In mesoamerica, however, a milpa has many more kinds of crops planted together than just these three. Imagine a garden with as many as 10 crops interplanted with each other – not in tidy, separate rows, but truly amongst each other.

I’ve been picturing that, and reading up on the idea a bit. I’ve found that there’s some controversy over the way that some milpas are grown after burning down tropical forest – an ecologically unsound practice, given the current mesoAmerican population. Some report milpas are able to remain under continual cultivation for hundreds of years, given the way that the polycultural system replenishes the soil. Is it true? I don’t know.

The truth is that any field is an unnatural environment. As long as there is a high human population on earth, natural ecosystems will give way to human-constructed environments. The fair question, as long as we’ve got a high population, is which human-constructed environments are the most ecologically friendly. Milpas may be prime among these.

The question in my head is what kind of milpa-like system could I have in my temperate North American garden. Which plants could work together? Time to read up on permaculture for inspiration.

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