Friday, April 12, 2013

Weekend Gardening: The Three Sisters

 squash blossoms
   Growing up, corn stood majestically row by row as far as the eye could see. Each garden plant had it's place and were spaced to allow tillers to 'clean up' the walk way. We feed ourselves, shared with others, sold it, and put it up for off season meals. In my quest to produce the maximum amount of food in the space available to me I found the three sister's garden layout.
   The premise of the three sisters is that each element works together for maximum yield with minimum pest and efficient use of space. When interplanted together, corn stalks work as poles for the beans which add nitrogen to the soil feeding the corn and the squash provide ground cover retaining soil moisture. Each confuses ore frustrates the pest generally drawn to the other supporting organic practices.
   Corn is planted  in rounded mounds a foot high and 24 inches across with flattened tops (each center four feet apart). Five or six kernels are planted in a small circle around the mound. After a few weeks when the corn is about five inches high, beans are planted six inches away from the corn. A week later on the side of the mound seven or eight squash or pumpkin seeds are planted.

   Admittedly, I don't follow the layout exactly. My corn is planted in traditional rows with kernels planted 24 inches apart (rows are spaced walking distance apart). Beans are planted between each corn shoot when the corn is five inches high. A week later I plant pumpkins or melons offset from the beans every five feet. This has been my practice for several years now and I really like the way it comes together. Once the harvest is complete, my herd of goats graze the stalks and vines alternately with the chickens cleaning up as well.
   A few notes: wear boots when harvesting or working the sister's garden- snakes love the undercover of vines..during initial growth some training of the vines may be needed to ensure they climb or trail where you want creative- I have seen this garden plan set in semi-circles and open circles for beauty or children's garden hide-aways.

   If you have children at home, consider adding a three sister's garden as a unit study in garden practices or native American culture. My children loved studying the gardening methods of other's amazing how ingenious people can be.



Michelle said...

I plant the three sisters every year. I add different squash each year. This year is spaghetti squash and watermelon.

Dicky Bird said...

My Native American heritage had us doing this my whole life. I thought everyone planted a garden this way, until I moved out to our farm. My neighbors don't do this. I know plant sunflowers in the mix too. I plant them between my hills of corn at the same time and the beans and ornamental gourds love to climb on both. Blessings from Wisconsin