Meet “the three sisters”.
They’re very different. But they’re inseparable. They love each other’s company. As a matter of fact, they absolutely hate being alone. They go everywhere together. Everywhere… They do everything together. Yes, everything…
OK, before we go too far off course (after all, this is a permaculture blog), let’s get to business.
Companion planting is older than you think
Companion planting is nothing new. In fact, our grandmothers knew a thing or two about companion planting. They got their knowledge from … yes, their mothers and grandmothers. And their grandmothers learned from their mothers. And so on.
It goes back a long way. Evidence was found suggesting that the Romans used companion planting to grow their crops. And that’s what, 2000 years ago?
Here’s another example. Probably the most famous companion planting guild – the three sisters were pioneered by Native Americans. That’s even before Romans.
Because this is arguably the oldest companion planting guild, it’s only fair that I cover it on my blog. Below you’ll find everything you know to make your garden look like those ancient Native American’s gardens.
Who are the three sisters
The three sisters are maize (commonly known as corn), climbing beans and squash.
Why are these three chosen to grown together? Well, as we know from the companion planting post, plants are grown together because they mutually benefit one another. The benefits in this case are:
- Corn provides the support for the climbing beans.
- The beans fix nitrogen from the air to the soil, providing the nutrients for the heavy feeders corn and squash.
- Squash acts as a living mulch. It prevents sunlight to dry out the soil, retains moisture, limits the amount of weed growth and prickly vine hairs even discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans.
So, it’s a win-win-win situation.
Step by step instructions for growing the three sisters
These are just general guidelines. Make sure to adjust them to your situation.
- Prepare a mound, about 30cm high and about 60cm across.
- In late May, sow 5-6 corn seeds around the centre.
- About 2 weeks later (when the corn plants are 15cm high) sow 6-8 climbing bean seeds on the edge of the flattened top of the mound.
- At the same time sow 6-8 squash seeds round the base of the mound.
- In about a week thin out the weaker plants:
If your site is dry, it’s better to plant in beds with soil raised around the edges to retain as much water as possible.
- leave the strongest 2 or 3 corn plants,
- leave at the most 2 bean plants per 1 corn plant,
- leave 2 squash plants per mound.
Enjoy your bountiful harvest
Well, there you have it. Simple, right? Just one more thing. Make sure you enjoy what you get from the three sisters at the end of the season.
Not only do the three sisters grow well together, they also complement each other on the plate.
Unprocessed corn is a nearly ideal cornerstone food. I say nearly, because it does lack some nutrients: two essential amino acids (Lysine and Tryptophan), riboflavin and niacin. Guess what, these are provided by beans. The squash fruit takes care of vitamin A (and carbohydrates), while the seeds provide the fat. Together, they make for a balanced diet.
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