Friday, May 31, 2013

Two Sisters Planting

There is a gardening technique called "three sisters" planting, which supposedly refers back to a technique the Pilgrims learned from the Native Americans in their first years in America.  Supposedly, you plant corn, squash, and beans in the same hole, and let them grow. The squash controls the weeds at the base of the corn, the beans use the corn stalk as a pole, and you get three crops in the same area you would use for one, not a small consideration when you are working your soil by hand (either as a Pilgrim or as a glutton-for-punishment microfarmer).

It's a great idea, and I'm sure someone can get it to work, but I never have.  If I plant all three crops at the same time, the squash shades the corn when it is young, the beans grow faster than the corn (knee high by the Fourth of July, and all that), and I wind up with a tangled mess.

Of course, one should always be wary of trying techniques that have been passed down in that sort of lore.  After all, the same type of story of the first Europeans in America also has the Native Americans giving the absolutely ridiculous advice to put not one but three whole fish in each corn-planting hole.  Now, I will readily believe that the Pilgrims were told to enrich their soil with fish heads, tails, and guts, as fish is one of the best soil amendments around, but if anyone ever said to put perfectly-edible fish in their corn rows, I hope they followed that suggestion with the words "April Fool!"

Anyway, since "three sisters" doesn't work for me, I thought I'd try "two sisters" this year.  I planted my rows of corn, using a new hybrid that is meant for small spaces and gardens, and then I planted butternut squash between the rows, not in the same holes.  So far, the two crops are getting along famously.  (This picture was taken about a week ago, so I'm further along than it looks.)  I might very well do a late planting of beans in July, once the corn passes that "knee high" point, but right now I'm hopeful that I will be able to get at least two crops in the space intended for one.

What traditional planting methods have you tried?  Have you had to alter them at all?
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  1. Actually, you don't plant all three at the same time or in the same hole. Plant the corn and let it get six inches high. Then, plant the beans in a circle around the corn, about six inches away. Let it start growing. Then, plant squash around the beans. This way, the squash shades the area and keeps it from drying out. Try again, and not at the same time or in the same hole. Google "three sisters" to see if you doubt this.

    The corn does need to get a head start.

    1. Good to know, Practical Parsimony! I may add some beans to this bunch, once the corn gets higher. I knew my readers would know the answer.