Most gardens are rooted in soil, the seeds sown within plots of dirt firmly attached to the earth. But the communities around the shores of Taunggyi’s Inle Lake use a different technique to cultivate their crops. Rather than limit themselves to land, they’ve crafted a series of floating gardens that bob atop the water.
Around a quarter of the massive freshwater lake—the country’s second largest body of water—is topped with these manmade gardens. Farmers glide between their plots from atop boats, plucking produce from patches of “land” that rise and fall with the currents.
Tomatoes are the most prominent crop to come from these unconventional gardens. They’re so successful they make up around 90 percent of the gardens’ yields. Depending on the season, farmers can also harvest beans, cucumbers, flowers, and gourds. Naturally, root vegetables don’t fare so well in such shallow terrain.
Creating these tiny islands is no easy task. Farmers must gather clumps of water hyacinth and seagrass and secure them in place with large bamboo poles, which they then stake into the lake’s muddy bottom. They then heap even more layers of seagrass and silt atop the mounds before planting seeds.
The practice of farming atop the lake, rather than around it, is thought to have started in the 19th century before intensifying in the 1960s. Though the unusual agriculture has boosted the region’s economy, people have since started to worry that chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and runoff are destroying the lake’s natural ecosystem.