Monday, January 4, 2016

The History of the Garden Soil Block for Starting Seeds

GLOSSARY

Definition of Chinampas:
An artificial island, or land surrounded on at least three sides by water. Properly maintained, they can produce remain fertile for centuries without having to lie fallow. Each Chinampa is 300 feet long and between 15-30 feet wide(and any size with this proportion). The surface of the garden is a 2-3 feet above the water and is topped every year A long, narrow strip of farm bottom of the water canal that land surrounded on at least A long, narrow strip of farm surrounds it. Chinampas are three sides by water. Properly held together by planting trees maintained, they can produce on at least two sides to contain several crops a year and will the plot with tree roots. Once the plot gets too high, it must be broken up and leveled out, therefore each garden has its own built-in compost heap.

Chinampa Zone:
A large scale land reclamation process through drainage of a land locked basin completely surrounded by mountains.

Chapines:
(see photo 1.) Little rectangular blocks of mud or soil that has been dried in a slab and cut into squares. Spanish for soil blocks.

Chinampero:
A native Aztec or Mexican American who tends the garden plots(chinampas).

Xochimilco(pronounced So-chi-mil-co):
The most famous chinampas town center in the world, south of Mexico City. The origin of Chinampas farming and chapines. Also the name given to the small band of barbaric Aztecs who settled the Lake Xochimilco or Lake of the Moons. Xochimilco means "place of the flower gardens" in the Nahuatl language spoken by the Aztecs and older people of the chinampa towns.

Coa:
A cultivating stick used by the chinampero to hoe or cultivate the chinampas. It is made of hardwood and is considerably broader at the digging end than it is toward the handle. Overall end is roughly 6-8" at the widest and tapers down to about 3" to a knife-like point. Overall length of blade is 2'. See reproduction of an ancient Aztec drawing with a farmer using a coa to cultivate his corn, bottom page.

Most recently developed in Holland, the potting blocker is now made of a zinc coated prefabricated steel. The oldest known users of ‘perspotten’ (soil blocks) in Europe have used them since the late 1890's. The Netherlands take up the soil block method even further with the invention of the metal soil blocker, both hand-held and stand-up models in the 1930's, below. The manufacturer is Goradam.

Soil BlockerStand up soil blockerbottom of blockerbottom of blocker

Soil blocks with finger holes and seeds

1.) Soil blocks with holes made with fingers. This is what they looked like 2000 years ago when soil blocks were first used by the Aztecs. Peppers seeded to the left, and tomatoes seeded to the right. Note the amount of seeds in each hole. The chinampero will thin to the strongest seedling, ensuring generations of vitality, production, and nutrition.

Chinampero planting seeds2.) Chinampero, or canal farmer, poking holes and dropping seeds in his soil blocks. Most men are Aztec today in the craft of canal farming. However, fewer tend their farms, due to the drainage of the their farms in the shallow lake basin to make room for buildings and resorts. The farmers at Xochimilco are some of the last Aztec farmers practicing canal farming. Their existence hangs from a thin thread: Can we save them in time? Or, will they become lost forever? Will the birth place of the soil block disappear? Or, will enough tourists, ecological lodges, and conservation groups save their land, farms, families and "artificial island" culture? Readers: Would you be interested in a guided tour to these floating gardens and their ancient people? Tell us!

Lettuce in blocks

3.) Lettuce in blocks of chapines.

Zinnias, other flowers

4.) Zinnias, Dahlias, and Carnations are the original soil blocked flowers in Native Mexican America were they are still raised the same way.

Covering a bed of blocks with plastic

5.) Covering a seed bed of soil blocks with plastic. A board straddles the nursery. Here we find the largest vegetable soil block operations in North America. Only the Netherlands produce more, albeit for chrysanthemums, on a commercial scale.

View of a canal

6.) View of a canal and a chinampa. Trees hold in the sides.

The floating gardens are man-made peninsulas

7.) The "floating gardens", actually an artificial peninsula.

Breaking up a plot to redistribute the compost.

8.) Digging deep. Breaking up a plot to redistribute the compost.

Covering the soil blocks completely with canal muck

9.) Covering the soil blocks completely with canal muck or wet peaty sediment.

Intensive planting of green and red lettuces

10.) Intensive planting of green and red lettuces

scooping up canal muck

11.) Chinampero scooping up canal muck.

Floating down a canal!

12.) Floating down a canal!

Photographs of the Chinampas in Xochimilco courtesy of Dr. Phil Crossley. See his site for a complete tour of the Chinampas! http://www.western.edu/faculty/pcrossley/chinampasofmexico/index.htm

Drawing reproduced from an ancient Aztec pictograph showing a coa stick and a chiampa farmer. Funny, corn was the only plant that was NOT started in soil blocks by the Aztecs. I've added the blocks to remind us Northerners that corn transplants quite well in soil blocks!

Drawing reproduced from an ancient Aztec pictograph showing a coa stick and a chiampa farmer.

 

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