Photographer: T. H. O’Sullivan. Expedition of 1873.
xPlanting a waffle garden, Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico
Museum of New Mexico photo by Jesse Nusbaum, 1911The Zuni people developed this waffle-garden design, which is still used today as an ecological method of conserving water. The garden was surrounded by a clay or adobe wall that rose 30-50 cm above the ground. The waffle plot may have had a gravel mulch as well. Both methods served to hold the water in the soil longer, to retard evaporation.
About those walls! Study this little airflow diagram…better to make a porous windbreak!
In a cooler climate, a wall, maybe of berry producing shrubs with dwarf fruit trees behind, can reduce cooling and drying winds, allowing the warmth of a food forest! The waffles still reduce water use. Mulch in summer keeps weeds down and the plant roots cool and moist though the plants are getting lots of heat.
Waffle gardens at the Zuni Pueblo were planted near the Zuni River. Sadly, today, it is an unreliable water source for sustainable farming, but if you live at the bottom of a drainage area, take advantage of it as they did. If you are selecting land, choose wisely.
This Zuni field, left, takes advantage of the shade of the trees. Notice that the pattern follows the contour of the land, and the waffles are not all square or the same size. Shape them as suits your needs.
OCTOBER 28, 2014 The University of Arizona plans a simple Community Garden that incorporates water conservation structure where the higher ground acts as waffle berms.
June of 2002 the A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center had put in a waffle garden to help the children of Zuni understand the ways of their ancestors. July and August, Zuni usually experiences monsoon season with afternoon thunderstorms coming from the south, a common (hoped for, prayed for!) occurrence. When we visited Zuni in August we found that the garden had changed significantly and that there had been lots of growth to all the crops!
Use and modify your areas to good advantage. High berms deflect the prevailing drying wind. Deep basins hold water where it is needed.
Teach! Visit local historic native gardens in your area. In Santa Barbara CA that would be our Mission Garden, called La Huerta, The Orchard. The Albuquerque Demonstration Garden, at the Open Space Visitor Center, is a hands on volunteer effort learning feature designed to teach about historical foods and methods of farming in the Rio Grande Valley.
- Your berms don’t need to be amended.
- You don’t need berms, or very high berms, if you dig down and amend.
- Generally, make your waffle 2′ or smaller square. Make them a size workable for you to comfortably reach across.
- Make pathways close enough between patches so you can easily reach across to tend and harvest your plants, and haul in your amendments.
- Plant sprawlers like squash, melons, at a corner.
- Plant corn so it doesn’t shade plants that need full sun.
- Lovely as the Three Sisters, beans climbing corn, squash at the feet of the corn, sounds, some say the corn shades out the beans.
- Put up a trellis along one edge if you are ok with breaking tradition a bit.
Squash and corn starting in a single dug down Waffle! Give it a try! You can do it anywhere!
And that, became this! Happy Planting!