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Water Harvesting Tools & Techniques: Waffle Garden

Laura and I recently decided to plant an herb garden by our yurt with partial shade from our shade structure. When looking to design a new growing area in any climate it’s best to look at what cultures before you found success with in the same habitat, which led to us settling on utilizing the Zuni People’s technique of Waffle Gardening.

What is a Waffle Garden:

A Waffle Garden is simply a grid of sunken beds dug into the soil and separated from one another by earthen walls or berms. Giving the appearance of a waffle grid. It was the primary method for Zuni families to maintain a home garden in the arid climate of western New Mexico. They can range in size depending on what’s being planted in them, we settled on having ours be 3’x3′ but that’s generally the largest you would go with 10″ squares being on the smaller side. They can be planted with one plant per waffle or a collection with similar needs.

Why use a Waffle Garden:

A Waffle Garden is a multifaceted Water Harvesting tool. It keeps all the water that falls in it concentrated in the root zone of the plants making it a very water efficient design. It also being a sunken bed keeps soil temperatures around the roots lower leading to happier plants and less evaporation. The recessing also provides a windbreak for soil and young seedlings, preventing them from getting destroyed in spring winds that can reach 90+ mph in our region, and reducing the evaporative effects of wind on the soil. When you live in a place with about 5′ per year of evaporation like we do any little thing you can do to slow it down is an immense help.The Waffle Garden also provides a convenient way to organize your garden and maximize planting space while allowing for plants with different water or soil needs to be planted in close proximity to each other.

How to build your very own Waffle Garden:

Picking the Location

Materials

  • Shovel
  • Level
  • Tape Measure(Optional)
  • Square(Optional)
  • Stakes(Optional)
  • Masons Line(Optional)
  • Hammer(Optional)
  • Soil Amendments(Optional)

Instructions:

  1. Decide where you’d like to have your garden, an area with high clay content helps the walls between waffles stay solid.(Optional) Mark out your area and stake the corners. Laura and I decided to be particular about this and make sure everything was square and carefully measured but it really isn’t important to the functionality. Putting up a line does help you get cleaner edges.
Marking the outline
2. Dig out the entire area about 1′ down, this will be the base for you to build soil and the waffle walls from.
3. Make sure the bottom is level to prevent water from seeping to one side. It doesn’t have to be perfect as the waffles will naturally keep the water in the section it falls in.

4. Build your walls, we decided to use stone instead of soil because we liked the look but that isn’t necessary or traditional. Simply build up earthen berms about 4″ thick in between your waffles.

5. Finally fill your newly made waffles with soil and any amendments you choose. We did a 1:1:1 mix of native soil, compost and peat moss with a healthy layer of soil on top. But you can just use good top soil if you have it available.
Here are the clover we planted coming up just a few days after planting!

~Evan

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Laura Shaw

Owner of Terlingua Oasis Project

Former Bartender, Baker, Forager, Trail Guide, Cowboy, and Horse Trainer(which I’ve returned to part time).  I decided to lay down roots in the desert and help enact ecological and social change in the area by starting the Terlingua Oasis Project.

-Laura Shaw

Terlingua Rain

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