When we first started our garden I spent a lot of time on figuring out where to plant all the different things I wanted to grow. There are so many plants that don’t do well near each other or do better when they are planted together. When you don’t have oodles of space (like me) it turns into a complex problem very quickly…especially if you have to add in factors like where there is more hours of light in your garden.
This was the coolest garden lay out trick I came across in my first year of gardening.
It was amazing because:
1. It Saved Space
2. It is Said to Improve Soil
3. It is Pretty Darn Fun (I recognize that I am a Nerd)
and a Final bonus…Drum roll
4. Awesome History Lesson for the Kiddos
What could this awesome educational, soil improving history lesson be?
THE THREE SISTERS
We are family, I got all my sisters with me…We are family oh no not that kind of sister I digress
These kind of sisters: Corn, green beans, squash
Here is the magic:
You make a handful of more mounds of dirt appropriately spaced fro growing your corn.
Next you plant corn at the top of each mound of dirt
Then you plan a pole variety of green beans on the mound with the corn. A pole variety is any green bean that sprawls and winds as opposed to a bush variety.
Finally after the corn and the green beans have a bit of a head start sprouting you plant a squash variety between the mounds. I prefer zucchini.
As the corn grows start out by helping the green beans grow to wrap around the corn. Once this has started they will take over. They will grown and wrap and connect from one corn stalk to the next and entwine until you have a thick web of green beans growing around your corn.
These 3 plants work collectively to help each other thrive. They take and provide different nutrients to and from the soil in ways that benefit each other. The corn provides the beans a place to climb and a means of supporting without having to put up a trellis or any sort of additional support structure. Then the squash plays the important role of shading the soil at the base of the plants keeping the area moist. Since the other plants are so much higher the shade does not impede their growth.
Corn, Squash, Green Beans= The 3 sisters.
Each of these crops takes up quite a bit of space. Corn because of the distance needed between the plants and the fact that you need several corn stalks in order to get the necessary cross pollination. Green beans because of their sprawling nature. Squash because of the massive size of the leaves and their sprawl over time. Together they take up 1/3 to half of the space.
This is the best part for me. I am always looking for ways to engage my kids in the process and make meaningful connections for them. They know we can go to the store and pick up veggies. The point would be to help them understand the connections between these plants and nature and the beauty and complexity of the growing process.
Here I got an awesome way to connect it in a real tangible way to the history of agriculture.
The 3 sisters is a means of growing these crops that originated with Native American tribes all over. The Iroquois are possibly the most well known for the practice but it was a wide spread practice. There is such a rich history there. When you explain that to a child and work with them to recreate the practice they can almost feel for a second how significant gardening is to life. I mean for a second I can almost picture a point in time when crop management was a foremost priority for survival. Then to watch it grow and entwine and produce such a variety of great produce in a small space.
Another neat fact is that the mixture of the beans, corn, and squash allowed for a balanced diet because much like they give and take different things from the soil they also provide very different nutrients to the body.
AND if you want to end the lesson with a giggle from the kids tell them– Many Native American tribes put a dead fish in each of the dirt mounds before planting the sisters to enrich (fertilize) the soil and feed the sisters. This was especially true of areas where the soil was of poor quality.
It is just a super fun and practical way to garden–with an added educational bonus. You can’t go wrong. What’s not to like?
Recipes From the Garden:
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