Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Sisters

Probably one of the best known companion planting groupings is the "Three Sisters." As children we were introduced to companion planting along with our Native American studies. Said to have originated with the Iroquois, the "Three Sisters" method of planting combined three staples in the Native American diet, corn, beans and squash.

The Story
Corn, the oldest sister, was said to grow strong and proud. Squash, the youngest sister, crouched at the feet of the other two, keeping them protected from predators. Beans, the middle sister leaned on her older sister for support and twined the three together.

How It Works
The sturdy stalks of the corn plant provide a natural trellis for the beans to grown on. Because the corn needs to be planted some distance apart for better pollination, gaps are left between the plants. The squash then fills the gaps, covers the soil and shades the ground to reduce moisture loss. Beans have the remarkable ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen making it available not only to itself, but the other two. Since both corn and squash are heavy feeders, the beans help keep them supplied with food.

How to Plant
At the appropriate planting time for corn in your area (see corn packet) create a mound about two feet across with a flat top and gentle sloping sides. In the center of the mound, plant about 6 corn kernels. About two weeks later when corn plants are 5-6 inches high, plant beans about midway between the corn and the edge of the mound (make sure to use pole bean varieties and not bush). About one week after that, plant squash around the base of the mound. Once everything gets going, thin to no more than two corn plants and two bean plants per mound.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Best of Friends

As I prepare for my own vegetable garden this year, I've been doing a bit of reading on companion plantings. Some plants just get along better than other plants. One of my new favorite companion plants is borage. This lovely herb gets along with pretty much everyone. Plus it's best buddies when pared with tomatoes. In addition to improving the taste and repelling the nasty tomato worm, it also attracts bees which improve pollination and beneficial insects which help destroy a whole slew of nasty bugs. Plus, it's darn pretty. Very few flowers are truly this blue and it's a snap to grow from seed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Forcing Spring

I recently taught a class on planning a cutting garden and one of the suggestions for having flowers all years long was to force spring blooming shrubs into bloom. I've always loved the delicate blossoms of peaches, cherries and apricots, but growing up, my father would have killed us if we cut a branch off the tree. Even as an adult, I would have felt guilty trimming a fruit tree about to flower. But this year, a customer asked me to trim a bare root tree they were buying and left me with a handful of branches. Instead of throwing them out, I decided to give forcing a try.

To force spring blooming shrubs to do their thing follow these simple steps:

1. Select branches from trees who's buds are already starting to swell.
2. Lay them in a bathtub overnight filled with lukewarm water.
3. Wrap the branches in moist newspaper. (I find it easier to wrap them in dry paper and then spray the paper until it's wet).
4. Slit the bottom portion of the stem about two inches so they can absorb water better and place in a vase.
5. Mist the paper daily and change the water in the vase.
6. Remove paper when color begins to show in the buds (about one week to 10 days).

It's best to avoid a location near a heater because this dries the flowers out. You can keep them in a garage while forcing as long as the temperatures are above freezing. Misting the blossoms daily will help keep them longer.