Making a “Milpa” – An Update on our Edible Landscape

Much of the food grown in our edible landscape is perennial. We have fruit trees, nut trees, and long-lived and self-seeding greens: sochan, nettle, wood sorrel and lamb’s quarters, to name a few. Once established as part of the landscape, perennials and self-seeders won’t rely (much) on human hands. Convenient! But annual crops are an important part of the landscape, too. Inter-cropping the annuals with the perennials can be beneficial to both.

Preparing the ground for sowing corn

This year I wanted to make a “milpa.” This is a term for the ancient practice of interplanting corn and other plants in a way that benefits the ecosystem. It’s commonly called the “three sisters” although we have more than three sisters, and even a few cousins 🙂 Wild raspberries and strawberries, yarrow and goldenrod for the bees, and many greens, including lamb quarters, lady thumb, and sheep sorrel, all play their parts.

Preparations for cornfield. Photo taken last November

We mow the meadow, so creeping perennials with robust root systems tend to win out. Last November, in order to kill the grass we cut a 30′ x 30′ section as low as possible to the ground, and then mulched heavily with grass clippings, leaves, and wood chips from a hardwood we felled nearby. This worked well to delay the emergence of grass in spring, but it didn’t kill it completely.

One block of emerging popcorn
Later on, loads of compost were added on top to block out sun from the creepers and feed the crops we wanted to encourage. Overplanting, and then thinning, can discourage weeds. It also keeps the ground shady and moist for the young plants.
Corn needs to be planted in dense blocks to encourage pollination. It emerged after Spring rains–no watering needed. The corn is now in the reproductive stage, with tassels releasing pollen daily and cobs thickening as the kernels develop.
Our meadow “milpa” in late July. Winter squash, beans, nettle, and of course corn.

So far so good! Stay tuned and we will see what we get.

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This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.