Celebrate the Three Sisters: Corn, Beans and Squash | Renee's Garden Seeds:
Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb.
Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following years corn.
Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind.
Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years.
Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans.
The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure.
Corn, beans and squash also complement each other nutritionally.
Corn provides carbohydrates, the dried beans are rich in protein, balancing the lack of necessary amino acids found in corn.
Finally, squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthful, delicious oil from the seeds.
Instructions for Planting Your Own Three Sisters Garden in a 10 x 10 square
When to plant: Sow seeds any time after spring night temperatures are in the 50F/10C degree range, up through June.
What to plant: Corn must be planted in several rows rather than one long row to ensure adequate pollination.
Choose pole beans or runner beans and a squash or pumpkin variety with trailing vines, rather than a compact bush.
At Renee's Garden, we have created our Three Sisters Garden Bonus Pack, which contains three inner packets of multi-colored Indian Corn, Rattlesnake Beans to twine up the corn stalks and Sugar Pie Pumpkins to cover the ground.
Note: A 10 x 10 foot (3mx3m) square of space for your Three Sisters garden is the minimum area needed to ensure good corn pollination.
If you have a small garden, you can plant fewer mounds, but be aware that you may not get good full corn ears as a result.
How to plant: Please refer to the diagrams below and to individual seed packets for additional growing information.
Choose a site in full sun (minimum 6-8 hours/day of direct sunlight throughout the growing season).
Amend the soil with plenty of compost or aged manure, since corn is a heavy feeder and the nitrogen from your beans will not be available to the corn during the first year. With string, mark off three ten-foot rows, five feet apart.
In each row, make your corn/bean mounds.
The center of each mound should be 5 feet apart from the center of the next.
Each mound should be 18 across with flattened tops.
The mounds should be staggered in adjacent rows.
See Diagram #1
Note: The Iroquois and others planted the three sisters in raised mounds about 4 inches high, in order to improve drainage and soil warmth; to help conserve water, you can make a small crater at the top of your mounds so the water doesn’t drain off the plants quickly.
Raised mounds were not built in dry, sandy areas where soil moisture conservation was a priority, for example in parts of the southwest.
There, the three sisters were planted in beds with soil raised around the edges, so that water would collect in the beds (See reference 2 below for more information).
In other words, adjust the design of your bed according to your climate and soil type.
Plant 4 corn seeds in each mound in a 6 in square. See Diagram #2
When the corn is 4 inches/10cm tall, its time to plant the beans and squash.
First, weed the entire patch.
Then plant 4 bean seeds in each corn mound.
They should be 3 in apart from the corn plants, completing the square as shown in Diagram #3.
Build your squash mounds in each row between each corn/bean mound.
Make them the same size as the corn/bean mounds.
Plant 3 squash seeds, 4 in. apart in a triangle in the middle of each mound as shown in Diagram #4.
When the squash seedlings emerge, thin them to 2 plants per mound.
You may have to weed the area several times until the squash take over and shade new weeds.
TIPS FOR GROWING THE THREE SISTERS
To try them in your garden, in spring, prepare the soil by adding fish scraps or wood ash to increase fertility, if desired.
Make a mound of soil about a foot high and four feet wide.
When the danger of frost has passed, plant the corn in the mound. Sow six kernels of corn an inch deep and about ten inches apart in a circle of about 2 feet in diameter.
When the corn is about 5 inches tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk.
About a week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the perimeter of the mound.
Plant the cucumber seeds seven to 14 days after planting the corn seeds.
Mound up 4-inch tall and wide piles of soil, spacing each mound 36 inches apart, along the eastern side of each row of corn.
Space the mounds 12 inches away from the corn rows.
Pat the top of each soil mound to flatten it.
Place four cucumber seeds in the depression.
Watch for cucumber seedlings to germinate seven to 10 days after planting.
Thin the cucumber plants a week after germinating.
Pull up one or two of the weakest seedlings, leaving two or three plants per hill.
Three sisters planting | Life and style | The Guardian:
My 'two sisters' planting.
The sweetcorn and squash are rubbing along together marvellously, squash swelling and cobs very close to harvest, all happy and healthy with barely a weed in sight.
When the squash vines get too long, I just hook them back over the entire bed and they hang from the limbs of the sweetcorn, squashes dangling just above the ground, so avoiding any rotten patches.
One of those neat, perfect little solutions after all.
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