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The capillary fringe is the area where water creeps upwards from the groundwater.The final Central American farming technique for this week's lunchtime series is subirrigation.  Although I'm used to watering plants from above (or at least using drip irrigation slightly beneath the soil surface), many traditional Central American farmers watered their plants from below.  When farmers raise the water table to 1 to 6 feet below the soil surface (depending on soil texture), water naturally creeps upwards to roots through capillary action.  This damp but not wet region of the soil is known as the capillary fringe.

By raising or lowering the level of the groundwater, farmers can keep the damp soil within reach of plants' roots, allowing the plants to water themselves.  The zanjas (canals) I mentioned in a previous lunchtime series are primarily built to manage the depth of the water table in the surrounded garden beds.  Beds can be 40 feet wide in clay soil and still be watered by the surrounding zanjas, although beds in sandy soil are no more than 10 feet wide.  In either case, farmers do some hand-watering (dipped out of the canal) for shallow-rooted plants.

This post is part of our Central American Permaculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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