It’s been a while since I got caught up with a Grow It Forward Friday post, but rest assured that I have some good stuff lined up for the next several weeks. In fact, this post goes hand in hand with next week’s post on heirloom beans, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, let’s talk about Three Sisters. The three sisters are traditionally corn, squash, and beans, three plants that are excellent garden companions. When this Native American planting method is followed, the corn provides something for the beans to climb on; the beans fix nitrogen, making the soil richer in necessary nutrients; and the squash vines help hold moisture by shading the ground and the roots of the corn.
Having some space to create a Three Sisters planting was one of the driving forces behind my most recent garden expansion. For my three sisters, I chose to grow popcorn rather than sweet corn, dried beans rather than snap beans, and pumpkins as the squash. Since my garden is planted densely, using dry crops eliminates the challenge of having to get in there to pick beans or corn on a regular basis. All are heirloom varieties: Calico Popcorn, Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans, and Small Sugar Pie Pumpkins. All together, it should be a pretty gorgeous harvest this fall!
I used one of the new 4′ x 4′ beds for my Three Sisters planting, which made the spacing easy, as I wanted each circle of corn and beans to be approximately 2′ x 2′ (they are slightly smaller than this, when all was said and done). I started by planting corn in circles (this helps with pollination), and discovered that using an empty five gallon paint bucket is a pretty slick way to get perfect circles. I just pushed it in and twisted a few times, leaving a nice little trench for me to space eight seeds evenly around each circle.
After the corn had germinated (about 10 days), I needed to wait until it was about 4″ tall (another two weeks) before planting the pole beans. If the beans are planted too soon, they’ll over take the corn before it has a chance to grow tall enough to support the beans.
When the corn had grown tall enough, I planted the bean seeds in a ring about 2″ from the corn seedlings. I planted one bean per corn seedling.
There was another week or so waiting, as the beans sprouted and grew a few inches, before planting the pumpkins in the very center of the four corn and bean circles.
And now, just over 5 weeks since planting the corn, the corn is about knee high (and it’s not even the 4th of July!) and the beans are just starting to get ready to climb.
Traditionally, a Three Sisters planting is planted on a mound, with the corn on top, and the beans a little further down (to give the beans a little more distance before climbing up the corn, I presume). As you can see, I didn’t do that in my raised bed, but I did start another three sisters planting in my new community garden plot, and I decided to try it with mounds in that garden. It will be an interesting experiment to see how the two plantings compare as the season goes on.