Ancestral Pueblo Farming

squash bloosom
Corn, beans, and squash were the most important crops.

Photo by Sally King

The Ancestral Pueblo people depended on agriculture to sustain them in their more sedentary lifestyle. Corn, beans, and squash were the most important crop items. Called the "three sisters", these foods were essential to survival because together they provided for many of the people's nutritional needs. For example, when eaten together corn and beans contribute a full protein.

Field Locations
Mesatops were used for much of the farming. Small plots were probably located in the narrow canyons as well. However, steep canyon walls blocked much of the day's sunlight and the canyons worked as cold sinks making growing crops in the canyon somewhat problematic. Field locations dotted the mesatops where afternoon thunderstorms were the most likely to offer necessary moisture.

Corn grows taller than beans or squash and can provide shade and support for the other plants.

Photo by Sally King

Dry Farming
Water is the most important ingredient for successful agriculture in this arid climate. The Ancestral Pueblo people developed a number of farming techniques that conserve water. Pumice (a light, frothy rock that is full of gas) is a major component of the local volcanic tuff. Pumice can act as a sponge, absorbing water and releasing it slowly over time. It was used as mulch to preserve moisture in the soil. Other water-preserving practices included terracing, check dams that slowed water moving across slopes, and waffle or grid gardens. Waffle gardens are constructed by forming small depressions surrounded by a low earthen wall. Seeds are planted within the cavity. The selection of plants was also a good one. Corn is sun-tolerant and grows tall. Beans and squash are less tolerant but grown shorter and can be shaded by the corn plants which also provide support for growing.
waffle garden
Waffle gardens employ small depressions surrounded by earthen walls to maintain moisture.

Photo by Sally King

Last updated: February 18, 2017

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