The “Three Sisters”

And he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.  –  Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s TravelsIMG_4700.JPG

It was spectacular over the weekend, so I spent a lot of time out in the gardens weeding and planting.  I was able to get ¾ of the beds planted in the vegetable garden.  I’m still hardening off the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, so they won’t go in the ground for another few days.  But I was able to get most of the vegetable seeds planted, other than the pumpkin patch which I will tackle this weekend.

I haven’t planted corn in the veg garden for several years because it was just too depressing to lose most of it to our very persistent crows.  But with some pressure from my other half, I caved this year and bought some seed to try it again.  I decided though, after my permaculture reading of late (and listening to my youngest brother who’s been using this method for the past couple of years), to give the “Three Sisters” method a whirl.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it was/is a planting method used by some of the Native American tribes to grow their 3 staple crops – corn, beans and squash.  It’s a natural fit for the permaculture crowd because the method makes use of the symbiotic relationships of these 3 types of plants. 

In theory (not having tried this yet, it’s all “in theory”), the corn grows first creating a pole for the beans to wrap themselves around.  The pole beans (they can be any variety – I planted Kentucky Blue pole beans) fix nitrogen in the soil, which in turn feeds the corn.  The squash plants (this should be a vine growing squash rather than a tall sprawling mass like a zucchini or yellow squash variety) provide shade to retain moisture in the soil and keep the weeds at bay.  The prickly leaves also act as a deterrent for some pests.   I planted a table acorn squash.

From a permaculture standpoint, the three vegetables also provide nutritional essentials for human survival – starch/sugar/fiber from the corn, protein from the beans, and vitamins from the squash.

For anyone interested in trying this method, you create a small mound about 8-10” wide and 2” high and plant 3-4 kernels of corn in the center; then plant 3 bean seeds at different points around the mound.  Create each mound 3 feet from the next and plant your squash half way between the mounds.  That’s all there is to it.  I’ll take photos throughout the growing season to document how well it works….if the crows don’t pluck the corn seedlings that is!

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