Thursday, April 16, 2009

The First of the Three Sisters

Well I've started the seed for the three sisters garden (along with my eggplant and next lettuce succession). Or at least I might have started it. Our Boston weather in the spring is very variable each year. Some years May is cold and rainy in the 50°Fs (10-15°C). Some years it is warm and sunny. We have even had 90°F (32°C) temperatures, which for us in the northeast is HOT. If we get a warm May corn will grow just fine. If we get a cold May it will rot and not even germinate. Corn is the first of the three sisters. She is planted before the others. She has to get a good start before the beans can climb up her stem.

So my solution is to plant in soil blocks to germinate the seed. There will be no rotting since it is on a heating mat. I seeded 35 blocks, each with one seed. That ought to give me about the 28 I need to plant.

So where did I get 28? The three sisters garden is traditionally planted in hills. The corn hill is thinned to the best four. Most hills are planted 4' apart, but some people that do intensive gardening say 3' is enough. My garden bed is 21' long (about) so I'm going to try for 7 hills each, three feet apart. Yes math in the garden.

I'm still debating on internal distance. The most traditional seems to be 6" apart, but some go as far as a foot apart. I'm thinking spreading them out a bit might be useful. So maybe 9"? Hmm I'll have to think about it. If anyone has any experience, let me know.

I'm hoping for at least decent weather in May. If I get sun, even if the temperatures are a bit low, I will be fine. I have plastic over much of the bed right now and can keep it on as a tunnel when the corn is transplanted and possibly switch to remay later. I don't intend to keep the corn in the blocks for any length of time. As soon as they are up they will be planted out. I'm crossing my fingers that this will work. I'm going to be out of town in May until Mother's Day. If they aren't thriving by then, I can always reseed.

You would think I would have learned my lesson from my chard seedlings, but no. I'm still trying to push my seasons. Unless I move to a warmer climate, I always will. But at least I learned something from the chard. If you are pushing the seasons, use protection.


  1. Good luck, Daphne! I've always loved the idea (and history) of the Three Sisters. Are you planting "Indian" (colorful) corn or conventional? And what kinds of beans and squash? Inquiring minds...

  2. Yes, always use protection, haha. I have never grown corn, maybe next year. I'd love to grow the original sweet corns, before they breed them into sugar cobs.

    I am intrigued to know what corns you are growing as well.

  3. I'm growing Bon Appetit, which is a modern hybrid sweet corn. Bicolor. So not very historical. At least I do better with some of my other choices. My beans are:

    Cherokee Trail of Tears: dried bean, Native American bean, very historical and apropos for a three sisters garden

    Cranberry bean: dried bean, heirloom, often grown in the northeast so I'm hoping it grows well

    Kentucky Wonder green bean, old heirloom

    I haven't quite decided on all my squash hills:

    Costata Romanesco: vining zucchini, heirloom will definitely be planted

    Magdalena Big Cheese: Native American. I ordered over a month ago and should have gotten it already. I'll have to email and find out if it is coming. I hope so. It is a C. moschata and very resistant to my nemesis the vine borer. It is also a very historical squash. Some people say it is the oldest variety in cultivation.

    Neck Pumpkin, heirloom which I might grow

    Dark Green Zucchini: open pollinated which I might grow

    So most of my seeds are heirlooms, and two are actually old Native American seed. The corn however is not either. My husband loves the really sweet corns, so that is what I'm growing.

  4. I'm trying the Three Sisters, too. I couldn't bring myself to do the hill thing (do you know what this is for?) I planted my corn in groups of 4 and gave each group it's own 7 foot bamboo stake (it gets very windy here). I'll plant the beans and squash as soon as the corn is up. I also figure that the pole beans can climb on the bamboo stake and that I can secure everything around the stake.

  5. Daphne - This Three Sisters concept is GREAT! I just went online and read all about it and it's such a cool idea - what a great learning experience for kids too!!! I can't wait to follow this and see how it all turns out.

    I'm I mean... growing...corn this year too. Poor corn seed - they sure ended up in the wrong garden.

  6. Prospero, whoops sorry I missed responding to you earlier. Yes hills actually do have a purpose in the three sisters garden. Squash hates wet feet and love warm weather. If you plant in a hill it helps with both. Also they did hills because Native Americans didn't broadcast fertilizer over the beds. They put fish under the hills as fertilizer. So all your plants needed to be in one area. BTW some did separate hills for corn and for squash, some did the squash around the corn and beans. But the corn was planted first (in a group but not on a hill), then the soil was hilled up before the beans were planted. This stabilizes the corn plants better, so they don't blow over in the wind.

    I may have to put in stakes if this corn planting fails. If I plant later, I just don't trust my beans ripening in time if I have to wait for corn to grow.

    Kate, I'm hoping it works. I've grown corn before, but always block planted it.