Saturday, May 04, 2013

Growing the Three Sisters in the Waffle Garden

New Mexico FoodCorps Service Member Erin Weaver shows students at Coronado Elementary School  how to plant the Three Sisters (Corn, Beans, and Squash) in a waffle garden to help preserve water in our high desert climate. "The ultimate goal is to build a strong understanding and appreciation in youth of where food comes from, that they can grow and prepare nutritious foods without needing a great deal of funding, and become healthier and stronger from eating more fruits and vegetables," said Ms. Weaver, who is doing her FoodCorps service via La Plazita Institute.

Coronado, a bilingual elementary school in Albuquerque, has hosted the waffle garden for three years.  The Southwest Organizing Project helped start the garden of as a community project for the Barelas Neighborhood of Albuquerque before it was given to Coronado School three years ago.

Waffle gardens are sunken planting beds that the Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico have used for generations. The Zuni people originally developed these gardens to preserve and protect some of their high-value crops like chile and tobacco, but the concept was later used to grow other crops. (Check out this picture of an early garden from the New Mexico digital collection).

This planting method allows crops to be grown using meager amounts of precipitation because they’re designed to capture every raindrop and hold it close to plant roots. The grid of raised soil, with a lower area inside, keeps rainfall in place around the plants' roots, and not run off and be wasted.  The waffle beds are often surrounded  with short adobe walls or large rocks to help their gardens remain warm during cold night-time temperatures. Gravel mulch pulls any rainwater deep into the planting holes and to slow evaporation.  If you would like to build your own waffle garden, the Vegetable Gardener site offers step-by-step instructions

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