Friday, July 3, 2015

3 Sisters Garden Planting

This was the year I decided to delve into a little "history gardening". 

In my yard, each new garden season brings with it some type of new project or planting experiment. I have long been intrigued by the Native American, and subsequently early colonist's, planting of the "3 Sisters" -corn, pole beans, and squash.  

The contents: "Indian" Corn, Pole Beans, Winter Squash

I wanted a dried corn that I can use. I purchased an heirloom corn, Cherokee Long Ear Popcorn, which will be ornamental, can be used for popping, or ground for corn flour. Since I bake my own bread, this was a plus. For beans, I chose three pole beans I had prior experience with: Rattlesnake, purple, and yellow Kentucky Wonder.  I personally use each of these as a fresh eating bean, but you can allow for them to dry on the vine for use as a dried bean. Last, for the squash, I chose several winter squash varieties for long term storage: Acorn, spaghetti, Long Island Cheese, Delicata, longneck, butternut, and one hybrid, Sugar Dumpling.

The Planting:

Next, I did some research on how to plant.  I found an article written by Renées Garden that explains simply how to layout and plant as well as some history behind the three sisters garden.  This is the plan I followed.

I chose my area and used a marked string to center my holes on.  Using a 5 gallon bucket, I made the outline for each hill, and placed a couple handfuls of compost on top of each one. This made it easier to see as well as was a great starter for the seeds.
A marked string & 5 gallon bucket made outlines for the planting hills
When all the outlines were completed, I went back and made hills around the outside leaving the inner compost as a depression in the middle.  This made a little "bowl" to help retain water.
Completed hills with center of compost for seed planting
The first item to be planted is corn, so 4 corn per every-other mound was planted. I had one volunteer squash from last year that just so happened to be In the middle of a hill.  I decided to leave that in place.
"Volunteer" squash was left in place
The corn planting was actually followed 1 week later with the squash seeds planted in the other hills. This is sooner than called for in the plans, but I was already late in my plantings and wanted to get things started.  I did follow the recommendation of waiting for the corn to be 4" tall prior to planting bean seeds.


I did keep a pretty constant eye on the progress. Two hills of squash did not germinate and had to be re-seeded. I also discovered while young, the corn tended to blow over in the storms we experienced and had to be uprighted and reinforced with some soil. Next, as the beans grew, I made sure they were climbing the corn vs. rambling the ground. Simply "wrap" the end gently around a cornstalk.
Beans climbing up the corn, squash between

Overview of entire planted area - Late June
So far, so good in this garden experiment. I feel a connection to history through this process. Due to time and "supply", I did leave out one "authentic" item in this planting (as my children pointed out)...I did not bury a fish in each hill. I originally planned on doing this but my fishing and garden timing were not in sync. Furthermore, our ancestors did not have spigots nearby and watered everything by hand.  I did this in the early phase when I watered the seeded hills daily, leaving the surrounding soil dry.

Follow me on Twitter @AlisonRolen, where I will continue to post progress on this and more.


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