I finished putting my Three Sisters Garden in the ground yesterday. It started last winter as an idea. I wanted to try more interplanting techniques to try to get a better harvest out of my garden and the most classic of all companion planting is the Three Sisters Garden. The corn is the support for the pole beans, while the pole beans provide nitrogen to the soil that the corn takes out. The squash provide a mulch for the soil and its prickly vines help to keep intruders out of the garden. It in turn likes the partial shade from the other two.
Throughout the winter I collected seed for my garden. Corn, which was the first seed planted in the garden was from Pintree. It is Bon Appetit, a hybrid sweet corn that I thought my husband would love. It was germinated in soil blocks on April 16th.
From the Ottawa Gardener I received seed for a Vermont Cranberry Bean and Cherokee Trail of Tears. The latter was reportedly carried on the trail of tears and seems apropos for a traditionally Native American garden. The last bean is Kentucky Wonder, which I've grown for years in my garden and is my favorite green bean. These were planted out three days ago, after the corn had been hilled up. At the time of planting the hilled corn was 6-8" tall. I planted one hill of Kentucky Wonder and three of each of the other beans.
The last of the sisters is the cucurbits. I received my Armenian cucumber (really a melon) as a gift from Wintersown.org. My Diamant cucumbers are from Johnnys. They were planted last night after being germinated in soil blocks. Not all of them germinated. I'm still missing three blocks. I hope they make it. The cucumbers are being grown up a trellis that is at the end of the bed and goes between two hills of corn. Usually in a Three Sisters Garden the plants would sprawl on the ground, but I really like my cukes trellised, so I'm breaking from tradition.
For my other cucurbits, I have four varieties of squash. Two of zucchini and two of C. moschata. The first zucchini is seed from last year. Dark Green Zucchini did very well for me last year and still produced even with some vine borer damage. Costata Romanesca was a gift from Ali. I thought it would do well in a Three Sisters Garden because unlike most zucchinis, this one puts out runners. It doesn't have the bush habit like Dark Green Zucchini does. And one of the points of the squash sister is that she covers the ground and helps to mulch the soil.
I'm growing C. moschata instead of my typical C. pepo that I usually do because C. moschata is resistant to the evil and frustrating vine borers. They usually take down my pumpkins before I get any fruit. The first C. moschata I picked was Neck Pumpkin. It is very similar to Butternut, but has a much longer neck. I planted one hill of this. The last two hills were reserved for Magdalena Big Cheese. This was the one seed that I got through the Seed Saver's Yearbook. I felt I had to have it. It is often said to be one of the oldest varieties of squash still being grown. I'm hoping that means it has been grown in Three Sisters Gardens for hundreds of years. Its description is that it is very insect resistant and makes great pies. Yum! Pies!
Yesterday I planted out the squash seed in hills (the ones in the front are the squash hills, the ones in the back are the corn and bean hills). The hills are different than the ones I made for the corn. The corn started low and got hilled up. The squash starts out on a hill. First I dug a hole about a foot down. Into the hole I threw about a cup of coffee grounds and filters. It isn't fish, which would be more traditional, but I get more than I can use free, so it is my fertilizer of choice. I added a bit of lime since coffee grounds are acidic. Then I mixed it well in the next 6" or so of soil. The hole was filled with a five gallon bucket of compost. Then soil from the hole and some of the surrounding soil covered that up.
My hills are really mesas. They are flat on top and have a slight depression in the middle to catch the water. I've thrown my half finished compost all around the outside of the hills as a mulch, but not on top. Those seeds need to be able to get out of the soil.
You might notice that there are plants in the bed that are not Three Sisters plants. I have marigolds between every two hills of corn to help protect from nematodes. The other random green you see is cilantro. Cilantro self seeds all over the garden, but mostly in this bed. I tried to leave as much of it as possible while still making my hills. The rest was harvested.
The other weird non traditional thing you will see in the garden is posts here and there in the corn hills. Each hill had four corn plants and when one of them was very weak, I pulled it out and replaced it with a pole. That way the beans can still grow up the pole even without the corn.
I'm really very excited to be growing a Three Sisters Garden for the first time. I'm a bit worried that the beans will outgrow the corn, but the first year of doing something is always a learning experience.