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How did the Aztecs farm?

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Quick Answer

Aztecs used chinampas, or long, narrow man-made islands built on the shallow lakes of Central Mexico, for their most intensive farming. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states that these chinampas provided fertile, dedicated fields composed of layered dirt and mud divided by wide navigable canals.

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Full Answer

Chinampas typically measured about 20 to 50 feet wide and 325 to 650 feet long, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. People created them by marking rectangular sections of lake with tall stakes then weaving a fence between the stakes and filling in the area with fertile mud and vegetation. Farmers built chinampas up to a few feet above the lake's water level. Where the water was deeper, farmers planted willows along the edges to anchor and stabilize the soil.

Aztec-History.com states that this led to a highly efficient and effective farming system. Farmers irrigated the rich soil directly from the nearby canals. The canal system attracted fish, providing another source of food, and waterfowl nested in the willows and other swampy areas. Farmers easily reached their crops using shallow-draft boats, fishing on the way to and from work.

The Aztecs planted smaller farms on the mainland as well, mostly to supply fresh vegetables to private citizens. Aztec-History.com points out that in both chinampas and mainland farms, bright-colored flowers and vegetables were popular crops, making these fields beautiful gardens as well as productive farms.

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