Thursday, June 30, 2011

Three Sisters Garden

I officially feel like a true Iowan. Why, you ask, since I was born and raised in Iowa, and only lived elsewhere for all of 5 years before I came crawling back? Because this year I am growing CORN!  Last year I read about the concept of the Three Sisters Garden - corn, beans, and squash - and I was very intrigued. Since I had limited gardening space last year, and even less sunny space, I didn't make my foray into corn last year. But with the addition of the raised beds this year, I claimed two whole beds for the Three Sisters. My good friend GardenMom received some free seeds from Renee's Garden and was kind enough to get me the Three Sisters Garden trio pack.

The Three Sisters approach to planting is a fabulous example of the ways that plants derive mutual benefit from one another. The corn grows tall, the beans climb up the corn stalks, the squash spreads out, smothers weeds, and assists in moisture retentions, and the beans provide nitrogen for the next year's crop of nitrogen-sucking corn. All sorts of happy things going on here, and no nasty chemicals needed. Mother Nature works very well on her own, thank you very much.

The only regret I have is that I didn't pay much attention to the variety of corn included in the Renee's pack, so it was only after I planted (yeah, I get distracted by shiny things like pretty plants) that I realized that I was planting dent corn. That is, decorative "Indian" corn. Now, any of you who know me know that I am generally unimpressed with plants I can't eat. I put minimal amounts of energy into aesthetically pleasing plants, like flowers, and pour most of my energy into plants which produce food. I have now decided that I am even less impressed with something that looks like it should be food, but is inedible.  Like decorative corn.  However, I have since learned that I can use the dent corn to make cornmeal, so not all is lost. But if anyone has a grain mail they'd like to loan me this fall, let's talk!  I'll pay in (very small amounts of) cornmeal!

On to planting. Like I always do, I planted things a little closer together than recommended (I can get away with it now that I have raised beds with really good soil, right? Right?). You start by planting the corn in mounds. As you can tell, my type-A personality does not seep very far into my gardening... I was far from exact on the space between mounds and symmetry in the beds.
Once the corn was about 6 inches tall, I planted beans in with the corn, and created squash mounds between the existing corn/bean mounds.
Instead of sticking just to the beans and squash in the Renee's Packet (rattlesnake beans and sugar pie pumpkins), I added quite a few other types - zucchini, acorn squash and two types of squash I recieved from My Kitchen Garden in a seed giveaway he did this spring, blue hubbard and neck pumpkin.
Some of the squash plants I purchased as starts were and already flowering, so I have some squash that have a head-start on the rest. I hope that doesn't mess up the timing of the companion planting! For bean diversity, I planted southern cowpea blackeye peas I saved from last year and Christmas limas to compliment the rattlesnake beans.

I'm so excited to watch this trio grow, and to be able to judge time by the height of my corn! Have you ever tried growing with the Three Sisters approach?

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