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MILPA Project – Growing THICK Food Plots with BIG Advantages

MILPA Project- Growing THICK Food Plots with BIG Advantages

What is MILPA?

I had never heard of MILPA either. However, after reaping all the benefits of this gardening technique, it is now one of my go to options for producing lots of food in a small area with little to no effort.

No seriously, I did nothing to this food plot except harvest food and seeds for next year.

Should MILPA be your next choice for a garden? Follow this short documentary of 8 months as I, Dr. Arland Hill, walk you through what is sure to be your next garden.


Hey, everyone. Dr. Arland Hill with you today and I wanted to share with you an experiment that we’re going to be doing here on the property that revolves around a Native American farming technique called MILPA, and that’s M-I-L-P-A. And I almost hesitate to call it a farming technique because it’s definitely not consistent with traditional agriculture. I’m going to show you where we’re going to do it at and kind of the context to this.

The MILPA Difference

So the reason I’m implementing this MILPA and MILPA is where you put several different species of seeds into a single area as opposed to having individual rows of the same type of plants, say, for example, rows of tomatoes, or rows of corn, or rows of cucumbers. Instead, what you end up with is a diversity of food so versus what’s typically thought about as monoculture, now you’re looking at more of a poly-culture approach and using several different types of plants in a single area.

Now, the reason that I was interested in trying this is if you’ll notice this little plot of land that you see behind me here that was previously tilled up, there was a dirt pile sitting back there about where kind of back about right there just in front of where you see that little green hutch out there that used to be a part of a compost pile. But there used to be a dirt pile there and that dirt pile was a mixture of clay. It had some sand in it and I moved some of that stuff around, had different uses for it. Didn’t really want a dirt pile sitting around so we got it out of there.

Using the MILPA to Restructure Soil

But if you just look across the land here, one of the things that you’ll notice as we walk across just looking in the background there, you’ll see you’ve got some clay still sitting out there. It’s mixed in. You’ve got the sand that’s further off in the back. So I wanted … and one of the other things that’s interesting about this is that this has been … this land was broken up. It was plowed under probably about a month to six weeks ago at this point.

And with the rains that we’ve been having, the ground has gotten hard as the rain hit the ground. It compacted the ground. And so I need a way to break up that compaction in the ground, but also because this is a new plot area. I don’t have any familiarity with it. This is first season we use this for food production.

From MILPA to Vegetable Garden

I want to go in here and actually want to start to establish a base. So we want to completely cover this ground with something that’s edible. So we wanted to cover it first, but if we’re going to do that, why not cover with edible food. So we decided to do a vegetable mixture.

And what I’m going to do as part of this experiment is just go out and just spread these vegetables out on the ground here and then we’ll come back in a couple of weeks, month, whatnot, and we’ll see exactly what this land looks like after I’ve had a chance to break up some of this ground, soften it up, get some of the seeds in here, allow them time to germinate. And we’ll compare it in, like I said, in a few weeks and a few months. All right.

All right. I thought I’d show you the actual planting of the MILPA seed. I’ve got 10 pounds of seeds here, and I’ll show you exactly what I’ve got. Just a warm season blend there. In case you’re wondering where I got these from, Green Cover Seed carries these. This is where I picked it up. But let’s go ahead and sow. This is about a tenth or two tenth of an acre. So I’m just going to hand broadcast these out and get them out here. So let’s do it.

Now, I’m showing this to you. You can see there’s all kinds of different seeds in there. So we’ll go ahead. All right. Let’s cover these up. All right. I’ve got more raking to do. So after a few weeks we will see how much these have grown.

MILPA – The First 30 Days

All right. So today is June 20th. We’ve had this MILPA in place for just over two months now. And so I wanted to show you what this looks like. You can see in the background here. We’ve got you can see the vining plants that are starting to spread out pretty well here. I’m going to do an up close on some of these in a minute to give you a little more perspective. But you can see this looks a lot different than where we started at.

Squash, Okra and So Much More

So let me actually flip the camera around, and I’ll show you exactly what we’ve got growing and yielding in this plot. There’s a watermelon that’s starting to grow. It’s increasing in size. Here’s a corn, they’re coming off here. Several different beans. I’ll show you on the beans here. You can see we got several different beans that are starting to come out here, and those are really scattered everywhere throughout this. There’s several different types of squash that have been yielding in here. I’ll show you some of these flowers. You can see we’ve got a squash bloom here. There’s actually another one.

And so there’s several different ones of these that are scatted throughout different types of squash. You’ll notice we’ve got different types here, there as well. There’s a butternut squash, actually. If I go down right here, you can see we’ve got a pretty large squash growing right there. So there’s several different types of squash that are in here. The sunflowers, as you’ll notice here have really taken off. They got a lot of flowers on them and they’re … just if a pan across here, you’ll notice that we’ve got several different ones that are scattered throughout the entire plot. There is okra that is starting to form now as well. So, we should have some okra yielding here pretty soon.

Building Carbon and Nitrogen Stores

If you can see it, there’s several different brown clusters scattered throughout this. That’s buckwheat that’s started to come up. So we’ve got several different types of plants that are yielding here. So ultimately, we’re going to obviously get some good carbon, some good nitrogen back in the ground with these plants. But one of the things that I wanted to also show in this is that you’ll see just as the grass goes up to the edge of the plot here, there is some grass scattered throughout this plot. So I know that’s always kind of one of the thorns in our sight when it comes to planing a garden.

But this is really, this thicker seeding has done a really nice job of allowing some of the … suppressing some of the grass growth as well. So that has been really maintained under control without any added extra effort in this whatsoever. So we’ll continue to look at this in the coming months and just see how this plot continues to evolve.

Month 2 with the MILPA

All right. So today is July 23rd and I’m on the opposite end of the MILPA today compared to when we shot the other videos just to give you a point of reference. You’ve noticed the little green hut in the other videos or the other months that we’ve shot these videos and so you can see it there. So we’re just on the other end.

But MILPA is starting to actually produce really good now. We’re getting consistent yields of vegetables out of it. I’ll just show you one example here with the okra. You can see we’ve got good okra pods that are starting to form in several areas throughout this MILPA. The corn has started to really come up and we’re getting stalks throughout the whole plot now. This has been a good little area. I don’t know if you can see it. There goes my dog. She just found a rabbit that’s literally running right at my feet if you could see that.

Wildlife and Water Conservation – Added MILPA Benefits

So this has been a great area for wild life. I usually end up kicking doves out of this area about every day. So it’s attracting wildlife in here. The beans in this area have been really good. We’ve gathered up several different beans in here as well. And with the dry weather right now, this has been a really good plot because with all of the biomass here shading off the ground, it’s allowed the ground to stay pretty dry, or not stay dry, but to keep some of the moisture down and not dry out. So these plants are continuing to flourish when some other plants with more of a traditional types of cropping techniques have begun to suffer at this point.

So that’s where we’re at through the heat of the summer here at about the three to four month mark in terms of what this MILPA’s looking like and it’s still on track to do what we were expecting of it to do. We’re giving good ground coverage and being able to get some yield out of it at the same time.

MILPA at the End of the Summer

It’s August 27th, and at the time that you’re watching this, there hasn’t been rain for about the last three weeks and even very little into that fourth week. So for almost a month now there’s been pretty negligible rainfall. And you can see as a result of that that the corn stalks, the sunflower stalks, those have all dried up.

Little Rain, Still Producing

But even with that being said, there is yield of still some of the various squash varieties in here, the spaghetti squash are still yielding and there’ll be several of those that will be able to be picked out and that will be edible. The okra, I’ll show you some of the okra pods here. They’ve been consistent yielders. These are the Clemson Spineless variety and those have been consistent yielders even at this point letting some of those dry on the stalk so that we can harvest those for future seeds. And there’s a couple of peas that are scattered throughout this.

We picked a watermelon out yesterday that was pretty good size that was ripe. And then one of the surprises that we’ve had in one of the drier areas through the middle of the MILPA has been this acorn squash. And you’ll notice that this is a pretty niche acorn squash, has good color to it as well. So that should be a good squash anyway.

But point being on this is that the MILPA at this stage has produced as we would have expected. It’s done a good job of keeping the ground covered which was the original intention behind putting this in in the first place so pretty pleased with where we’re at currently at this point.

Completely Utilizing MILPA Resources

All right. So it’s December 2nd today. And obviously, there’s been a couple of months since we showed any activity in the MILPA and a lot of the reason for that is that a lot of the plants were going dormant and we were just waiting for the ones that were in there to give us any final yield and then to allow something, for example, okra, to reach the point where they were just going to be able to produce seeds or we would be able to pull the seeds from them.

Introducing Animals

And so, they obviously reached that point. And now, what we did after we had our first killing frost, which was about November 14th this year, is we got the animals in here. We started out with the donkeys. There was quite a bit of biomass in here at the time that we put them in. So what they’ve done is they’ve significantly taken that biomass down for us and this has just allowed us to completely use the MILPA to its fullest extent. They’ve in turn provided some manure, started to put that down. And now what we’re going to do next is get the chickens in and let them finalize the process here for the year with the MILPA.

And finally, the last step for the MILPA for the year is we’ve got these chickens introduced. I want these guys to help get the ground tilled up. Finish up where the donkeys left off. They’ll have some forage here still to work with to use. And now we got some of these layers (chicken) that we’re bringing up right now. We’ve got them in the chicken tractors so that they can put some direct pressure on individual spots as we move them. And then we’ve got a couple of our older more mature layers that are out and we’re going to let them free range through this and go ahead and finish using the resources that are available to us as well as put down their manure and prep the ground for the next crop that’s coming in here.

The Final Verdict

So for the MILPA, we’ve had a lot of success with this. There’s been a lot of advantages. We’ve had the ability to … my original intention, if you remember, which was simply to cover this ground up to help rejuvenate the ground. And we’ve actually found that it’s been able to do a lot more for us than just that. The cost of what I had in the seeds, we far exceeded the cost of the seeds just in what we were able to pull out of it and use for food, not to mention that we have several seeds for the coming year. We’ve got okra, we’ve got corn.

We’ve got several different types of beans that we have to turn around and replant for next year. So it’s been in my opinion a valuable asset for us to do this and it’s actually something that we’re going to continue to experiment with and in the future years look to use some alternate seeds incorporated in that weren’t specifically a part of this MILPA protocol.

So maybe that’s something you could try for your farm. I appreciate you taking the time to go to see how this experiment played out. Look forward to joining you in future videos. If you like the information, make sure you give it a thumbs up. If you think someone else that you know could benefit from this and know and understand about real food and just how easy it is to start growing your own food, let them know. Make sure you share with them. I appreciate you joining in and listening. I’m Dr. Arland Hill.


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