Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Three Sisters Gardening

The three sisters garden is a traditional native American method of growing corn, pole beans and squash together.  The individual crops benefit each other in multiple ways, make beneficial use of growing space, and together they provided a healthy, balanced diet.

The pole beans climb the corn, the corn utilizes the nitrogen the beans fix in the soil and the prickly squash leaves keep critters and pests away and act as a living mulch--keeping the soil cool and moist.  Nutritionally, protein is supplied by the beans, while carbs & fiber are provided by corn; squash supplies important vitamins (including C) and antioxidants.

I have always wanted to try the three sisters method, and am using a modified version this year--why not grow some corn and beans amidst the bed of squash?  

Soaking the beans before planting helps ensure moisture
and speeds germination.  Left: peas. Right: Hidatsa Shield Figure beans.
In the foreground is a bed prepared for squash, with several mounds running down the middle of the bed (where the flags are).  The mounds are meant to provide adequate drainage, while allowing the soil to warm.  I have planted 6 mounds, with two more to go for a second succession, with corn and beans, then I will plant my row of squash down the middle of the 46' bed.

Foreground: squash bed with three sisters mounds.
Background: pole bean trellises. 
The beans we are growing in the three sisters method are different varieties of dried beans we want to try out, so we'll have a little of each to eat at the end of the year--Cherokee Trail of Tears, Kentucky Wonder and Hidatsa Shield Figure.  The Cherokee and Hidatsa varieties are traditional Native American varieties, and are also both listed in Slow Food USAs Ark of Taste.  Kentucky Wonder is an excellent snap bean, which can also be used as a dry bean--we are growing then as snap bean this year as well.

As for the corn varieties we have Bloody Butcher and Bear Island Flint corn.  Bloody Butcher can be harvest young, for sweet corn, or used at maturity for decorative purposes, meal or flour, and has excellent drought tolerance.  Alternative corn varieties!!  But we have sweet corn coming up too!!

A simple diagram of a three sisters mound.
[Photo from: kidsgardening.org]

What one mound might look like into maturity.
[Photo: AIHDP]

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