Three Sisters

Spring planting is well underway in our vegetable garden. This season, we have extended the garden to include another three beds. This has taken a lot of work, since the soil in that area was rock hard with a sandstone pan in some places, and the whole area was covered in rampant kikuyu grass. We followed our usual routine of covering the area with black plastic for several months to knock back the kikuyu before we prepared the beds. Kevin has had a lot of exercise from preparing these beds — with all the digging, breaking up stubborn clods of clay, and hauling cow manure and compost. I have stayed away from the heavy digging and hauling part of the job, but have been gainfully occupied by pulling out as many as possible of the numerous ropes of kikuyu rhizome that remained in the soil despite our efforts to kill them off. We are both very satisfied to see the new beds completed.

Rows planted Three Sisters style

Over the last couple of days, I have undertaken the exciting project of planting these new beds with Indian Flint Corn seedlings (started in flats). We decided to plant some squash at the ends of the corn rows, in hopes that the runners will spill down the slope in front of the beds. I’ve also put in some seed for climbing beans next to some of the newly planted corn. All going well, the beans will be able to climb up the corn stalks. With the wide raised row formation we are using, this doesn’t conform to the traditional Native American “Three Sisters” planting — but it is neat to be trying (in some form!) the age-old formula of growing corn, beans, and squash together. Let’s hope it works out ok.

Our “Three Sisters” planting is experimental for us in another way, too: The corn, bean, and squash varieties that we are growing in these beds are all newcomers to our garden this season. The Indian Flint Corn is meant to be a multi-coloured variety, good for drying and grinding up to make corn meal. This is our first attempt at growing heirloom corn, and I was enchanted by the luminous quality of the kernels as I planted them in the flats. As we plant the corn, we find ourselves wishing that a bit more of our land was on a flatter contour. It would be much easier to deal with the corn if we had a decent-sized flat field for long rows! Still, all going well, we hope to continue to grow a viable population (at least 200) of heirloom corn year after year so that we can save our own seed for this important crop. We may spend a few seasons experimenting with different corn varieties and growing methods before we choose a favourite for saving. The squash in the “Three Sisters” bed is called “Musquee de Provence.” It is a moschata squash, so won’t cross with any of the other kinds we are growing. It is supposed to have a delicious flavour and good keeping properties. The beans are a drying variety called “Selugia,” given to us by a kind friend. They are very beautiful — dark and glossy brown/black speckled. It will be interesting to see how these vegetable varieties perform in our garden.

4 Responses to “Three Sisters”

  1. mims says:

    i experimented with patch of three sisters myself this year
    a success…but saving all my corn for next year’s seed. (maybe i should try making conrbread with it to see if it is worth growing again first!)

    I noticed that my corn wrapped in beans seem to generate so much shade that the sprawling squash plants did not really do well. Once I harvested the corn and beans in
    Sept the squash really took off…luckily we have had some perfect weather even into november for growing. So nice i have some nice big fat squash for the pantry. YOur varieties sound great too…so many things to try!

  2. gaile says:

    oo, I always wanted to try the three sisters planted together. How exciting – I look forward to hearing how it all comes out.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Hi, and thanks for the comments. We, too, are looking forward to updating with more news and photos as the season progresses. We had wondered about the shade issue with the squash, and have tried to get around it by only planting the squash at the ends of the beds. We’ll have to wait and see how this works out.

  4. sarah says:

    Hi, I enjoy your blog. I don’t know much about your local conditions but corn grows better in blocks than rows…….. so you don’t need to worry about not having enough flat ground! The reason is that it pollenates better. Corn is wind pollenated and each grain needs to be pollenated to get full ears.
    I have grown a 3 sisters garden and because I seeded directly into the ground the corn went in first, once the ground was warmer in went the beans and squash went in when it was hot. I planted the corn 4 to a hill with a couple of beans then stuck the squash around them. As the hills were a couple of feet apart there was lots of room and sun for the squash. It worked really well even though I didn’t bury a fish under each corn hill as the natives used to.