Thursday, June 28, 2012

3 sisters agriculture

I have this big weedy patch in a sunny spot in my backyard by my shed, and last year I grew sunflowers there, but this year I decided to try out three sisters agriculture instead! I don't like growing low-growing vegetables here because the dogs hang out in our backyard and I don't favor dog pee flavored vegatables. But corn and beans grow high enough that they can't get peed on, and I'm not going to eat the pumpkins anyway, so this is perfect for the backyard.

3 sisters agriculture was developed by the Native Americans, so has been practiced in my country for hundreds if not thousands of years. Basically they would grow the 3 sisters- corn, beans and a type of squash. They discovered that planting these plants in the same area worked out really well for the plants because of their symbiotic relationship. The beans (pole beans- the type that climb up poles vs. bush beans the kind that form little bushes) grow up the corn, and also stabilize the corn from falling over. The beans also add nitrogen to the soil, and corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so having a nitrogen additive helps keep the corn growing and getting the nutrients it needs from the soil. The squash creeps along the ground and grows huge leaves which shade out the weeds, keeping weeds from taking over the patch and stealing nutrients from the soil. Then beans, corn and squash can be cooked together for a fall harvest stew (although I probably won't be doing that since I don't intend to eat the squash).

I decided to go with Heirloom golden cross bantam corn, heirloom "Kentucky wonder" beans and jack-o-lantern pumpkins as the squash. I also planted some seeds from a wildflower mix in between the corns. That particular type of pumpkin is not great for eating, but is great for carving, and I love Halloween, so I am growing them for Halloween decorations.

You'll notice the corn is not all in a row- it's more of a clump.  That's because if you plant corn all in a row it prevents it from fertilizing properly for some reason, and you'll only get tiny corns.  I planted around 7 hills that were in 3 rows of 2-3 hills (5 feet apart) each. Each hill (hill= around 2 feet in diameter mound of dirt amended with grass clippings) got 4 corns in a 6 inch square, and when the corns were about 6 inches tall I planted the beans kinda in between each corn (But a little out, making a kinda triangle with two corns and each bean plant). The dogs trampled two of the hills, and I only got 1 corn out of those, so I was left with 5 hills and around 16 corn stalks.

When it gets up into the high 80s and 90s the tops of the corns sprout these seed thingies that dangle in the wind until they are picked up by insects and/or the wind and spread to other corns? I'm not quite sure how this stuff works, but I know it has something to do with fertilizing other corns so that you can get full sized corns.

There are already some baby corns growing!  You can also see the beans climbing up the plants in the back a bit- that's the vine that has clumps of 3 leaves. Those are starting to flower a bit too. In just a few weeks we'll probably be able to start harvesting sweet corn (The early corn- if you leave it on the vine to full maturity it becomes less sweet, but also keeps for longer).

After hearing about a friend who "planted 4 hills of pumpkins and ended up with 60 pumpkins" I decided to plant only 1 hill. I planted 6 or 7 pumpkin seeds and around 4 vines survived. All along the middle of that picture you can see just one of those vines with those big giant leaves, and it already has more than half a dozen flowers on just this one vine (and the others have more). No pumpkins as of yet, but I wonder if you can set up a pumpkin stand in your front yard? That's just like having a yard sale, right, it's legal? Cause I suspect this may become somewhat of a pumpkin fiasco. Or maybe not, we'll see.

B pointed out the other day that pumpkin flowers are the same color as the fruit, which is fairly unusual.  They open in the morning to get fertilized by bugs, but close up in the afternoon heat. You can make breaded fried pumpkin flowers the same way I made breaded zucchini flowers last year, but you have to make sure to pick the flowers in the morning, because when they close up in the afternoon sometimes bees and other bugs get stuck inside, and that would not be a fun surprise when cleaning your flowers.  Maybe I'll have time to make some of these sometime soon before the flowers stop flowers...or maybe I'll just wait for the zucchini to start flowering and I'll make both at once.


  1. There are a bunch of cool Mexican, Indian (native American), and Southwestern dishes that use squash flowers. They are hard to come by in super markets because they don't keep, but if you are growing squash, they are awesome.

    When I started to diet and lose weight, squash was critical to my success. It adds a thick, "meaty" vegetable, reduces the calorie density of foods, and is generally delicious. We use the various summer and winter squashes as a core of our diet when we are concerned with health.

  2. Very wise. Seriously, a great use. I especially enjoyed reading about the seed thingies. My description exactly.

  3. I love your gardening adventures! I am a frustrated 2nd floor apartment dweller so I am living vicariously through your blog. Please have a squash blossom for me,please!


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