The Milpa Cycle

The Milpa Cycle project aims to bring awareness about different crop systems used by indigenous people throughout the world, in particular the ancient and modern Maya people and how they use the Milpa system in their daily lives and how agroforestry and permaculture practices are used within tropical forests.

We aim to build an awareness of the different plants used in the Mipa system and their association with tropical agroforesty systems, plants like cacao, avocado, bananas and others. We will learn how these plants play a large part of the daily life and at times, in the belief system of Mayan People.

The Milpa Cycle project will connect with other traditional agricultural and agrofostry systems used throughout the world. We will promote the Milpa system to communities, students and universities in the UK and we will develop links and an exchange programme with Guatemalan universities.

The Milpa Cycle promotes working with the land and the community in an organic and natural way to grow sustainably. Please get in touch if you would like to learn more or if you are interested in setting up a milpa system of your own.

Milpa is a crop-growing system used throughout Mesoamerica. The word milpa is derived from the Nahuatl word phrase mil-pa, which translates into “cultivated field.”

Traditionally there are three main crops grown within the milpa cycle, corn, squash and beans. The corn provides the community with carbohydrates, it grows tall and requires a lot of sunlight and nitrates. The beans can provide the much-needed nitrates, they use the stalks of the corn as a trestle as they grow vertically together. Squash is packed with nutrients and is very versatile for cooking with, it provides the ground cover within the milpa system acting as a natural weed-suppressant. In Guatemala, these three crops are known as ‘the three sisters’.

The milpa system at Chester-le-St allotments

in 2019 we trialled our second milpa planting. We used a corn suited to the UK climate and sowed these indoors in early April.

Rows are made in the earth for the milpa cycle

26 April 2019: Once the corn plants were 6-7 cm tall we transplanted them outdoors 2-3 feet apart.

13 May 2019: The transplanting proved to be too early as we had two weeks of seemingly constant rain. Whilst we were able to will some seedlings back to life many had perished.

23 May 2019: The following video shows the corn having recovered from the rain. We also have some black beans starting to climb and squash.

1 June 2019: Corn planted directly into the soil a few weeks earlier is starting to germinate. The other corn, planted earlier in May is regaining its strength from the onslaught of rain. We can also see how weeds can very easily take over and compete for nutrients.

19 July 2019: A growth spurt for the milpa system. The squash, corn, beans are growing well (as are the weeds). You can see how the beans are physically reaching over to the corn and using the corn stalks as a trestle. Some of the corn is already starting to fruit.

21 September 2019: The milpa system has proven to be a good success and is continuing to grow. The black corn and sweet corn are growing well and have possibly hybridysed. The squash is growing very well. The beans are maturing with some ready to harvest.

Stay tuned for more

We’ll update this page as the milpa cycle progresses. Don’t forget to get in touch if you would like to establish your own milpa system. Please make sure that you like our page on facebook to learn of new developments.